Max L. Cohen, 97, and Bessie Cohen, 94, wedded 74 years, died an hour apart

September 16, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For more than seven decades, Max and Bessie Cohen had shared a loving and productive life together, blessed by two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and enriched by a wide circle of adoring friends.

Both died Monday, ending 74 years and nine months of marriage - he from complications of dementia at 97, and she in her sleep at 94 - in the home they had shared since 1978 in Northwest Baltimore's Pickwick Apartments.

"They died within an hour of one another. I still can't believe it. She died at 6 a.m., and he died exactly an hour later," said their daughter, Marilyn Berman of Pikesville. "Their hearts always beat as one, and they lived that way until the end."

Max Leo Cohen was born in Baltimore and raised on Bond Street, one of seven children. His father, Abraham, an immigrant tailor who deserted from the Russian Army, arrived in Baltimore shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

After graduating from City College in 1926, Mr. Cohen passed up a chance to attend college and worked as a shoe salesman at a store on Broadway. In 1928, after passing an exam, he went to work as a city real estate tax assessor, the job he held until retiring in 1975.

Bessie Schwartz was born in Russia and left in 1914 with her mother and six siblings, as steerage passengers aboard a steamship, arriving at Ellis Island in New York Harbor. They traveled to Baltimore for a reunion with their father, a rag merchant who had left Russia earlier and settled into a rowhouse near Patterson Park.

Mrs. Cohen attended Eastern High School, but cut short her education after her mother became ill and she was needed to help raise her siblings.

The couple met on a blind date in 1927, arranged by one of Mr. Cohen's brothers. The relationship had a bumpy start.

"On their first date, while sitting on a park bench, he tried to kiss her, and she slapped him," Mrs. Berman said. "I don't think she was so impressed with him initially, but her mother loved him and wouldn't let her go out with anyone else."

They dated for three years before marrying at the Schwartz home Dec. 14, 1930 - the first day of Hanukkah. They made their home first in East Baltimore, later moving to the Park Heights area.

Mrs. Cohen, who became a U.S. citizen in 1942, was a fastidious homemaker who washed her windows every day, and prepared their growing family such foods as brisket, meat rolls and cabbage, shoulder steak in gravy, split pea soup, and her own bread and marble cake.

After Mr. Cohen's city workday ended, he went to a second job as a men's clothing salesman at the old Harris department store on East Monument Street and later Young's in the Ingleside Shopping Center.

"When he came home at 10 at night, she'd always have a nice hot meal waiting for him," Mrs. Berman said.

For years, the couple traveled by streetcar and bus, and neither learned to drive until they bought their first car in 1959. They called each other "Hon," family members said.

"She managed the family's finances, always proud of the fact that, despite a modest income, she never borrowed money," said their son, David S. Cohen of Timonium.

In 1930, Mr. Berman began a tradition of writing a poem to honor his wife on her birthday, their wedding anniversary, Valentine's Day and the Jewish New Year. He continued writing the poems for her until 2001.

On their third wedding anniversary, Mr. Cohen wrote:

That star was my love! / She is now my wife! /To me, she is everything; / All there is in life.

However, this year, we are both content/ For our love is complete and whole/ This came with the presence of another/ An innocent little soul.

That innocent soul is our baby daughter/ So lovely, so precious/ So fair

Whose pleasant smile makes us forget/ All our worries and cares.

In 1963, he wrote:

I look back in retrospect / Upon thirty-three years of our wedded life. / I note with a deep sigh of contentment / That has been free from strife.

"They were perfect opposites who were devoted to one another. I never heard them criticize each other. They always looked out for each other. They were one," Mrs. Berman said.

They were members of Montifiore Hebrew Congregation and Ner Tamid Congregation.

After services Wednesday, the couple were interred side by side at the Lubawitz Nusach Ari Cemetery in Rosedale.

In addition to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the couple's lone immediate survivor is Mr. Cohen's sister, Flo Cohen of Pikesville.

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