The Way We Were: Ron and Diane Cohen

The Way We Were: Ron and Diane Cohen
Ron Cohen with Puff, Diane holds Isaac

When Ronald Stuart Cohen was born at St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1946 the total bill for the delivery and five days’ stay for him and his mother, Rose Lena, was $70.20. His father, Benjamin, paid $50 then and $20.20 later. Ron still has the receipt.

Ron grew up with his brother Martin on Belote Place “in the heart of San Marco” and, in his lifetime, has moved only about three miles from the childhood home, which he now owns, and which his enterprising father bought in 1945 for $8,000 while working as a furniture salesman at where else – Cohen Brothers! 

Rose Lena Cohen with her sons, Martin and Ron

Rose Lena Cohen with her sons, Martin and Ron

Currently a San Jose resident, Ron still maintains a deep connection with his old neighborhood and friends of his youth. He recalls as a Patrol Boy while attending Southside Grammar School he oversaw the corner on Gary Street.

“That is where the expressway is now,” he said. “I drive to my office on Beach Boulevard every day and every time I go by I think of being a patrol boy and remember doing a square dance in a Johnny Tillotson show. After the show, we went to Preston’s Drug Store in St. Nicholas where the Mudville Grille is now to have a soda and there was Johnny Tillotson!” 

Tillotson, a native Jacksonville singer enormously popular in the 1960s, was inducted into America’s Pop Hall of Fame in 2014. Preston’s Drug Store was also the spot for celebrating Cohen’s Little League victories, especially if his team defeated the team sponsored by Preston’s.

After Southside Grammar School, Ron attended Landon Junior/Senior High School, where he lettered in tennis and was the top varsity player. His father was past president of Southside Tennis Club and they enjoyed playing together.

Upon graduating from Landon in 1964, Ron studied political science at the University of Florida, graduating in 1968. In college he played varsity tennis his freshman and sophomore years. When he returned home, he became president of the Riverside Tennis Club around 1974. Ron, a keeper of receipts, memorabilia and friendships, still socializes with many friends from that time, as well as with former childhood classmates from Hebrew School.

Having graduated at the height of the Viet Nam War, Ron said he soon received notification of three “job” offers – “one from the Navy, one from the Army and one from the Air Force.”

First, though, Ron taught math at Paxon Junior High School from 1968-1969, then went on active duty in the Navy as crewman of a guided missile destroyer, the Tattenall. “After the Navy, I went back to the University of Florida for law school while still in the reserves,” he said. “I worked about eight years for Proctor and Cain Law Firm in Jacksonville then opened my own firm. I’m still practicing.”

Playing tennis at the University of Florida

Playing tennis at the University of Florida

In 1984 Ron and his girlfriend at the time went to a party in Arlington and he spotted Diane Lynn Hamm shooting pool. “I ended up seeing her at three different parties,” said Ron. “Once you see her, you recognize her pretty easily. Her size (she is 4 feet 11 inches), her blonde hair and her brilliant blue eyes made her stand out. I didn’t know why she would like me.”

Eventually Diane did accept a date with Ron to the Silver Dragon restaurant. “I could tell right away that he was funny and kind,” she said.

Diane was from Illinois where, coincidentally, she was the No. 2 tennis player in the state in high school. She attended Florida State University, where she played tennis, then moved to Jacksonville and worked as an insurance adjustor for Wausau Insurance Company for 24 years. Diane was previously married with two children.

After that first date, it didn’t take the couple long to bond over their love of tennis, photography, dogs, and volunteering. Three years later, Ron, who is Jewish, and Diane, an Episcopalian, were married in an ecumenical ceremony on December 23, 1987.

“I married the farmer’s daughter and Diane is still a farmer,” Ron shared. “October of every year we meet her brothers and sisters and cousins at the family farm in Mt. Pulaski, Illinois – elevation about 3 inches. We grow corn and soybeans. We have a farm manager; the farmer gets 50 percent and we get 50 percent.”

The bounty of flowers at the Cohens’ home is a nod to Diane’s agricultural genes, which have rubbed on off Ron. He can frequently be found in the yard planting and mulching his hibiscus.

The couple have each suffered an injury severe enough to keep them away from tennis, which they miss. Diane injured her shoulder defending her now-departed champion Sheltie from an Akita, and Ron injured his back helping a neighbor with a fallen branch. Prior to that, the athletic duo enjoyed 25 years as doubles partners at Boone Park tennis courts. “It was a fun thing to do together,” Ron remarked. “We even played tennis against Diane’s son and his girlfriend and beat them!”

Landon High School graduation 1964

Landon High School graduation 1964

These two share many interests and enjoy cheering each other on. Their house is decorated with ribbons, trophies, and awards from their competitive dog show endeavors, including Westminster. They have won awards in numerous national competitions in obstacle and obedience courses. “We’ve done that together for 30 years and have no plans to give it up,” Diane said.

“Diane never stops – she doesn’t go to bed at night, she just collapses,” said Ron, adding that his wife is also a champion bridge player and has won a Regional Championship award from Toastmasters for a humorous speech. She also makes beautiful quilts, and is an accomplished photographer.

Recently, Diane received an honor from Wolfson Children’s Hospital for her volunteer work with their therapy poodle, Puff, also a show dog. 

Ron, who has received service awards from Wolfson as well, volunteers in the admitting office at the hospital, and said he thinks Puff loves volunteering so much he would give up a competition to sit in a stranger’s lap. “We took him to see Alzheimer’s patients at Taylor Manor and now to Wolfson,” said Ron. “He has obedience titles and still competes, but he is the best therapy dog.”

Wedding Day, December 23, 1984

Wedding Day, December 23, 1984

“He eases the stress of the families,” Diane explained. “When he goes to the cancer unit faces light up. The children and their families can direct their attention to something else for a while.” Ron added, “It lights up the day for the doctors and the nurses, too.” 

Last year Diane had a bout with breast cancer and was helped by Pastor Gee Alexander of San Jose Episcopal Church, where she is a member.

“He would go with me to chemotherapy,” she said. “I was so upset, and he was just wonderful.” 

“We give back to Jewish Family and Services and Community Hospice,” said Ron, and Diane added, “You meet such wonderful people in the hospital auxiliary, and I stay in touch with my friends at Bosom Buddies. Our faith has played a larger part in our lives in recent years.”

Ron’s unfortunate back injury in 2012, which curtailed his tennis playing, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It led him to have an MRI which revealed that he had renal cell carcinoma. Without that injury, he might not have discovered the cancer until it was too late.

Now recovering from these setbacks and on the road to health, the energetic Cohens have slowed down a bit but are active in the Jacksonville Camera Club, while still training and showing Puff and Isaac, a Pomeranian. They also continue to volunteer and take Puff to cheer up everyone at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

It is obvious that Puff extends his comforting therapeutic presence at home as well. “Our hospital volunteering is kind of a payback,” Ron joked. “I get peer pressure from the dog. He is a better man than I am.”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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