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Foundation names Johnson Countian of the Year

March 17, 2015 | By Diane Carroll

Mary Davidson Cohen

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – The Johnson County Community College Foundation has selected Mary Davidson Cohen as the 2015 Johnson Countian of the Year.

Cohen, a leader in education and a long-time community volunteer, will be honored this fall at the Foundation’s annual Some Enchanted EveningSM gala on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Overland Park Marriot Hotel. The black-tie event raises money for scholarships for JCCC students.

"Mary Davidson Cohen has been a supportive friend of the Johnson County community in general and of Johnson County Community College in particular," said Joe Sopcich, JCCC president. "Her civic activities and her lifelong dedication to education, history and the arts have been an example to us all. We look forward to honoring her in November as the Johnson Countian of the Year."

In March 2002, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige appointed Cohen as the secretary's regional representative (SRR) for Region VII. With headquarters in Kansas City, Region VII includes the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

As the secretary's regional representative, Cohen served as the department's liaison to state and local education agencies, public and private schools, colleges and universities and elected representatives of local and state government organizations along with a variety of other education stakeholders.

In addition, Cohen served as assistant director of the William T. Kemper Foundation from 1993 to 1997. She was assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Kansas Regents Center from 1976 to 1992.

Cohen began her education career as a teacher. She taught fifth, sixth and seventh grades in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District at Edwin C. Meservey School and the William Rockhill Nelson Demonstration School. She taught science for K-7 grades for the Kansas City School District's educational television station KCSD – TV Channel 19. She also hosted a program called "Something of Interest" on Telecable, which is now Time Warner Cable.

Presently, Cohen hosts a television program called "It's Our Community" for the Johnson County Community College television station and is executive director of the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust.

Cohen and her late husband, Bart, have been long-time supporters of JCCC and its Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2005 an area on the second floor of the museum that serves as a project space for local artists was named the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Gallery. In 2009 the college accepted a gift of $1 million to establish the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Art Acquisition endowment.

Last summer, the college accepted a $700,000 gift from the Cohen trust to create the Kansas Focus Gallery in space on the Nerman's first floor and acquire works from artists associated with Kansas. In addition, Cohen is personally donating the couple's collection of more than 175 works of art to the college.

Cohen received a doctorate in education administration from the University of Kansas. She received her master of arts in science education for elementary teachers from Columbia University and was awarded a bachelor of science in education at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

In a volunteer capacity, Cohen served as chair of the Board of Overseers for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, receiving the Coast Guard medal for meritorious public service. In addition she served as president of the Overland Park Rotary Club and president of the Overland Park Rotary Club Foundation Board, commissioner of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Overland Park Planning Commission and the Johnson County Community College Foundation Executive Committee. She served as chair of the World War I Museum Board of Directors and as interim president and CEO of the World War I Museum. Cohen serves on the governance board of the Children's Campus of Kansas City, Kansas. In addition, she was a member of the executive committee of Freedoms Frontier National Heritage Area Board of Directors.

In 2007, Saint Teresa's Academy chose Cohen to receive the Mother Evelyn O'Neill Award for Excellence in Education.  In 2010, Cohen received the Hugh Speer Award for Distinguished service to Johnson County Community College.

Stewart Stein, president of the Foundation's board of directors, said that Cohen's lifelong involvement in education and tireless efforts on behalf of the community and college makes the Foundation proud to have her as this year's recipient.

“Mary possesses all of the traits that make her a perfect Johnson Countian of the Year,” Stein said.

The JCCC Foundation has helped thousands of students pursue their dream of a college education. Students with exceptional needs, such as single parents and displaced workers, and talented students in all areas of study benefit from Foundation scholarships. More than $6 million has been raised over the past 28 years for the student scholarship program through Some Enchanted EveningSM.