Cohen Passes, but Friends, Family Celebrate Life
NEWINGTON - Ask anyone who knew Al Cohen about Al Cohen, and they’ll tell you that he never wanted it to be about Al Cohen.

       The Dan Henry-described “heart and soul” of the Newington Kiwanis Club, Cohen was behind the scenes-the organizer-facilitating meeting logistics and lining up guest speakers that would pack the backroom of Paradise Pizza in New Britain, where the civic organization held its monthly gatherings.

       Those who worked with him-and there were many-say he was obsessed with the process, but shied away from the praise.

       “Al had a special talent. There’s people you meet along the way, and they make you feel like you’re their only friend,” said town resident Bob Newbold.

       But on the evening of August 31, his many friends gathered in the Club’s usual meeting spot without him. Just four days ago, Cohen passed away at Middlewoods Nursing Home due to lingering health complications. He was 99 years old.

       Those who were with him a few hours before his passing-NCTV radio personality and Kiwanis event host Steve Parker, as well as former Deputy Mayor Clarke Castelle-say that he was still actively planning the night’s tribute to the Newington Volunteer Fire Department, which packed the room to mark its 100th anniversary.

       “His whole life was bringing people together,” Castelle said the day after Cohen passed. “He was doing what he does best, right until the end.”

       And some even said that he was still doing it, beyond that point.

       “We’re missing our leader. I will tell you, Al put so much time in,” Parker told the audience. He was working on the program a couple of hours before he passed. It’s probably the biggest production he’s ever undertaken.”

       The Fire Department always had a special place in Cohen’s heart-his late wife, Myra, a longtime Town Councilor, spearheaded an effort more than 30 years ago to keep the town from knocking down one of the old firehouses.

       “I can only imagine what she said when he got there-‘what took you so long?’” Parker said. “But I’m sure they’re both smiling down upon us now.”

       Parker kept the event light-the way Cohen’s fellow organizers say he would have wanted it-and focused on the Fire Department, which ran event goers through a slideshow of history dating back to its 1871 inception. It was established more officially in 1917.

       “One hundred is the magic number tonight,” Parker said. “Al was almost 100, so we finally get to talk about something older than Al.”

       But Cohen, as his closest friends said, “was always young”.

       “He always said, ‘you have to get me out of Middlewoods-there’s a bunch of old people there’“ Parker said. “I think Al wasn’t gonna let himself get hung with that 100 number.”

       Henry admits that if Cohen did not push him to go to his first meeting many years ago, he would have never joined Kiwanis, let alone become President of the Club.

       “There is a void, but it’s hard to be too sad for a guy that lived such a full life,” Henry said over the phone. “It’s certainly a life to be celebrated.”

       A WWII veteran, Cohen followed a sales career with the opening of his own radio repair shop. But it was his people skills that shone the brightest in his role with the Kiwanis Club, friends and family members say.

       “He loved this group. He sent us all the emails of his PR. It just kept him going,” said Marlene, his daughter. “There was no way he was going to sit down and do all those things old people do. He was never old.”

       Castelle was close to both Al and Myra-serving on Town Council with the latter up until her passing. It was after that point that be began getting to know Al, who he ate lunch with every day during his time at Middlewoods.

       In a lengthy emailed statement, Castelle described Cohen as always full of “practical advice”.

       “Now it’s surely true that most people who have lived 99 years on this planet have seen and done an awful lot, and if they have their wits about them, have a lot of things to talk about,” Castelle wrote in the email. “Al had all of this, of course, and he also had a mind who could learn from what he had seen and done, and he was caring enough of his friends to share all of this with them.”