Honoring Her Family, Helping Young Artists Today

  • Deborah Cohen with Atanas Kocev, 2012 Johnathan David Cohen Memorial Scholar

As a senior development officer, National Music Camp alumna Deborah Cohen (IAC 57-60, 62) spends her days raising money for MIT’s School of Engineering. When she decided it was time to make a substantial gift of her own, she looked at the organizations that were important to her and quickly realized that, although she hadn’t been back to campus in nearly thirty years, Interlochen was near the top of that list. Her next question was, “What am I going to do about it?”

Deb answered that question by establishing the Jonathan David Cohen Memorial Scholarship. When asked why she decided to endow an Interlochen camp scholarship, Deb identified three specific reasons: she wanted to honor the memory of her late brother, create a legacy for her family, and make a concrete difference in the lives of young people today.

As a child in Gary, Indiana, Deb watched her older brother, J.D. (IAC 53-54), catch the overnight train from Chicago and head north to Interlochen, where he sang in the chorus and played clarinet at National Music Camp. When she was old enough for Junior Girls, she followed in his footsteps. During her five summers at Interlochen, Deb took full advantage of the camp experience, singing in the chorus, learning to play flute and cello, exploring other arts areas, and enjoying camp activities like swimming, archery, and crafts.

During the years that J.D. and Deb were campers, their parents were frequent visitors to Interlochen. When J.D. died as the result of an accident in 1958, the Cohen family funded the construction of the Jonathan David Cohen Scholarship Lodge on campus in his memory. The lodge supported student scholarships for many years, and Deb remembers the meaningful letters that her parents received from scholarship recipients.  

Last summer, Deb made her first trip back to campus in three decades and was able to meet one of the recipients of the Jonathan David Cohen Memorial Scholarship. “Scholarships ensure that kids who have talent but whose parents might not be able to afford to send them to camp are able to go,” Deb says, explaining why she specifically wanted to endow a scholarship. Meeting her scholarship recipient reinforced that: a clarinetist from Macedonia, he wouldn’t have been able to attend Interlochen without scholarship support. Donors often comment that interacting with scholarship recipients, either through letters or in person, is particularly rewarding. “You see that it’s doing exactly what you had hoped,” Deb says.

Deb is quick to point out that scholarship money is valuable even for those students who, like herself, don’t go on to a career in the arts.

“Attending camp gave me a first-hand appreciation for how much work goes into becoming a really good artist, whether in music, dance, theater, or visual arts,” Deb says. “Even though I didn't turn out to be a ‘practitioner’—linked, no doubt, to limits in both talent and practice skills—I did turn out to be an avid arts ‘appreciator.’”

When Deb returned to Interlochen last summer, she was able to stay in the Jonathan David Cohen Scholarship Lodge that her family built more than fifty years ago. She was struck by how familiar the campus looked and felt, despite the obvious growth and new structures. “Somehow the spirit and tradition of the place are intact,” Deb says with gratitude. Through her decision to create an endowed scholarship at Interlochen, Deb is very much part of that spirit and tradition, ensuring that the Cohen family continues to have an impact on the lives of young artists today and for decades to come.

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