By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield Jewish community has received one of its largest financial gifts ever – bequests from the estate of Frances Cohen totaling more than $3 million.
The recipient organizations are the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and the Jewish Foundation, Jewish Geriatric Services, the Springfield Jewish Community Center and Temple Beth El. These organizations jointly hosted a reception on Feb. 5 to honor Frances and Norman Cohen posthumously and to express thanks to attorney Jeff Sagalyn who facilitated the gift.
“We are honored and humbled by the generosity of Frances Cohen,” said Federation Executive Director Meredith Dragon. “Her bequest will do so very much for many people in western Massachusetts, Israel, and around the world. She is a wonderful role model for all of us. We are truly grateful. We are also very grateful to attorney Jeff Sagalyn who stewarded Frances’s trust so elegantly.”
Frances Cohen was a native of West Springfield. Norman Cohen was born in Poland in 1907 and settled in Springfield as a child with his family in 1907. They were married in 1946 upon his return from serving in World War II. The Cohens lived in Longmeadow for more than 60 years and were members of Congregation B’nai Jacob, which later merged with Temple Beth El. The Cohens founded and built Norco Appliance Distributors into the largest wholesale appliance business in the region. After Norman passed away in 1985, Frances, an astute investor and business-woman, built upon their financial success.
“She turned out to be a brilliant investor,” Sagalyn said. “She took a modest estate – what she and Norman built up – and really very successfully multiplied it many times over. And during her life she gave away millions of dollars, always discreetly, always under the radar.”
Over the years, Sagalyn and his family became close with Frances.
“She had a wonderful sense of humor,’ he recalled. “She was very elegant. She always dressed well, but was not ostentatious. She was very unpretentious. She liked everyone she met, and I think everybody she met liked her. But she was not a joiner – she did not seek to be on this board or on that committee. She had her own low-key style.”
When she died on October of 2011 at the age of 92, Frances left the sizeable bequest to the Jewish community. Cohen left $1 million to Jewish Geriatric Services; $900,000 to the Springfield Jewish Community Center; $400,000 to the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts; and $100,000 to Temple Beth El in Springfield. In addition, $1 million dollars was also donated by the Cohen estate to Western New England University.
“She was passionate about the local Jewish community,” Sagalyn said. “She had given substantially to the Federation during her life — probably over a million dollars – here and there. She felt strongly about keeping the Jewish community strong. She utilized the JCC in her 60s, 70s and 80s. She went to the JCC and went on their bus trips and met a lot of people she enjoyed… She assumed she would end up at Jewish Geriatrics. She never did.”
Michael Paysnick, executive director of the JCC called Frances “a quiet unassuming woman whose actions spoke volumes about her love and concern for the future of the Jewish community.”
“The bequest from Frances Cohen will be immensely helpful to the JCC and we are most grateful for Frances’ and Norman’s generosity,” he added. “We are also appreciative of the care and thoughtfulness with which Attorney Jeff Sagalyn stewarded Frances’ wishes. Frances enjoyed participating in education and travel programs at the JCC. In her and Norman’s memory the JCC is establishing an endowment fund to enable the JCC to enhance arts and education programs for adults. In addition the JCC will be able to undertake a number of renovation projects long delayed which will make the member and guest experience at the JCC more comfortable.”
Susan Halpern, vice president of philanthropy at Jewish Geriatric Services called Frances Cohen “a longtime friend and supporter of JGS.”
“JGS is honored to be among the institutions benefiting from the remarkable philanthropic spirit of Frances and Norman Cohen,” said Halpern at the Feb. 5 reception. “Tradition teaches us to make the world a better place for our children, their children and their children’s children. While Norman and Frances Cohen were not blessed with children of their own, through the remarkable legacy gift that we celebrate tonight, they adopted the recipients of our several programs and services – JGS, the JCC, Temple Beth El and Federation – thereby magnifying the impact of their giving…and improving the quality of life for thousands in our community, both today and tomorrow.”
The $400,000 bequested to the Federation and Foundation by Cohen at her passing, is in addition to a trust she had already made to the Federation, which now totals in excess of $1 million. Together, these funds are being used to establish four funds at the Jewish Endowment Foundation: The Frances B. and Norman N. Cohen Memorial Fund for Leadership Development; The Frances B. and Norman N. Cohen Memorial Fund for Israel Travel, Study and Programs; The Frances B. Cohen Lion of Judah Endowment Fund which will perpetuate Mrs. Cohen’s annual contribution to the Fed’s Annual Campaign; and the Frances B. and Norman N. Cohen Memorial Unrestricted Fund to support the activities of the Jewish Endowment Foundation, including its grants programs.
Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz of Temple Beth El thanked the late Cohens for their generosity. “We at TBE are very grateful for the generosity of the late Frances and Norman Cohen,” Rabbi Katz said. “The Springfield Jewish community was very precious to Frances and she was especially proud to be a member of B’nai Jacob. We hope to honor Frances and Norman’s memory in the work we do in the future and hope that many in our community are inspired by their generosity and love of our community. May their memory be for a blessing, now and always.”