Cohn named Rotary Citizen of the Year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The compliments flew as Selmians lined up to pay tribute to retired businessman and longtime volunteer Seymour Cohn. Cohn was named Citizen of the Year by the Rotary Club of Selma at its regular Monday meeting.

The tributes began with the opening prayer, when Ramsey Knight thanked God for sending Selma a man like Seymour Cohn. “He has done many things behind the scenes that have enriched all our lives, things most people will never know about,” said Knight.

Rotary spokesman Bill Gamble then introduced a number of guests who had come to pay tribute to Cohn. Among them were Janis Stewart, whom Gamble described as “Alabama’s finest principal”; Becky Cothran Nichols, “Alabama’s finest librarian”; and Jean Martin, “Alabama’s finest city councilperson.”

Janis Stewart spoke of the many years that Cohn had tutored at both Knox Academy and Meadowview Elementary. “We refer to our school as a castle,” she explained. “And so I want to present Seymour with a crown – he’s the king of Meadowview Castle.”She proceeded to crown “King Seymour” as the club dissolved in laughter and applause.

Becky Nichols spoke of the 15 years that Cohn had spent volunteering at the Selma-Dallas County Library. ” I think Seymour quit 15 times in those 15 years, when our computer system got to be too much for him,” she said. “But he was always back at his post by the next Monday.” Having witnessed Cohn’s involvement with patients at the hospital and his work with Meals on Wheels, Nichols felt that naming him “Citizen of the Year” didn’t go far enough. This was a man of faith, who had lived his faith both through loyalty to his Jewish heritage and through service to his fellow man. “There was a man sent from God, and his name is Seymour Cohn,” she said. “To me he’s one of God’s great archangels.”

Jean Martin introduced a lighter note, saying that she had come to tell about Seymour’s early days in Selma, when he was a “cute young soldier with lots of hair who knew how to do “the duckwalk.” Cohn covered his face in embarrassment as Martin told stories about his visits to Montevallo (then Alabama College for Women), “when the girls lined up on the banisters to whistle at him.”

She quickly added that she would never have let Cohn marry her best friend, June Eagle, had she not known he had a heart of gold. “He and June stood by me when my husband died. They have always been there for me and for so many other people,” she said. “Rotary could not have chosen a better person to honor.” Gamble reviewed the facts of Cohn’s life. Born in Atlanta in 1914, Cohn first came to Selma as a student at Craig AFB in 1941. “Seymour is a member of what has been called the Greatest Generation,” he said. “Seymour lived through the Depression and World War II, rising from private to major while serving with the Army Air Force in North Africa and Italy. And after the war, he did the best thing he ever did – – came back to Selma and married June Eagle!

“Seymour was a major presence in our business community, running Eagle Department Store and Eagle World Travel. But he is probably best known and most loved for the magnanimous, self-effacing way in which he has served our community since retirement. When he heard about this honor, he called me to say, `Bill, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel!’ But as far as I `m concerned, Rotary has selected the Cream of the Crop.”

Allen Reeves, president of the Rotary Club of Selma, told Cohn that a thousand dollars had been donated to the Rotary Foundation in his honor, and presented him with a medallion certifying hire as a Paul Harris Fellow. “You mean I don’t get to keep the money?” Cohn exclaimed in mock horror.

Cohn responded to the tributes by saying that he couldn’t have asked for a better life – “here I am ninety years old and only in the hospital three times!” He spoke of how much his 69 years of marriage to June had meant to him; “God has really smiled on me.”

Previous Citizens of the Year have included Jamie Wallace, Kathryn Windham, Byrd Looper, Becky Cothran Nichols, Jerry Siegel, Dr. Sam Moseley, John Crear, Julius Talton and J. Miller Childers.

SUGGESTED CAPTION:

`KING COHN’ CROWNED BY ROTARY – Seymour Cohn was honored as Citizen of the Year by the Rotary Club of Selma. Left to right are Rotary spokesman Bill Gamble, Councilwoman Jean Martin, librarian Becky Nichols, Seymour and June Cohn, and Rotary president Allen Reeves.