BY NORMAN ROZEFF
Art Cohan played a very important role in the history of our region. For a number of years he was the key player in discovering and documenting long-lost and neglected ranch and private cemeteries in Cameron and Willacy counties. He did so on his own and at his own expense.
This included locating such cemeteries on a modern map and photographing existing grave monuments in such cemeteries. This information was passed on to the Tip O’ Texas and Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Genealogy Societies and became a valuable tool in tracing family roots.
As a member of the Cameron County Historical Commission for a number of years, Art offered valuable insights to the Cemetery Committee as well as the commission as a whole. Art staked out the whole of the Harlingen City Cemetery and then accurately mapped all known graves in the cemetery. This was a first and brought the internment list up to date. This information is recorded and available to the public. As a member of the Harlingen Historical Preservation Society Art worked to initiate the first ever Harlingen ceremonies for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November 2004 at the city cemetery. Since that time the annual celebration has only grown in scope and attendance. Art served as the HHPS secretary in its later years. Perhaps Art’s most visible achievement is the Veteran’s Memorial in Pendleton Park. He, along with Frank Hale, was one of the originators for a monument and worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition. It has proven to be a very special place for our community. Lastly, Art was always helpful to those pursing historic details on the many subjects In esoteric places, Art uncovered many facts that would not have been otherwise found.
This month is the third anniversary of a tragic event that has seen no proper closure as the situation was once too recent and traumatic to properly put into perspective. While the actions that occurred cannot be condoned, an examination of the extenuating circumstances is needed.
In the early hours of the morning of July 15, 2013, a blast and fire engulfed the home of Art and Debbie Cohan in the 1200 block of Rio Hondo Road. Both lives were lost though investigators believed that Art may have taken the life of, possibly terminally ill, Debbie before committing himself to eternity.
We, Art Cohan’s friends and associates, did not see it coming. There were ever-increasing hints that Art was distressed, but we missed them. When he started to settle outstanding projects, we believed that this was in anticipation of his planned move to Odessa. Art was deeply concerned that his wife Debbie would be left alone and unable to cope should anything happen to him. He wanted to move to Odessa where a daughter lived and would be able to care for Debbie should he die or become disabled. Art had previously had cancer and had recently seen a doctor for suspicious symptoms that he was incurring. He had observed that Debbie was slipping increasingly into voyages to a world that only she could visualize. Several weeks before he had given up his Valley Morning Star newspaper delivery route. Debbie would tag along with him in the early morning hours and seemingly enjoyed the ride, the fresh air and outings.
Art had already started retrenching on his many community activities. He did not accept renomination to the Cameron County Historical Commission in January 2013. His investigation and documentation of often obscure and forgotten LRGV cemeteries was an avocation that was time-consuming and one for which he himself picked up all the travel costs. One day however he came home from researching and sensed that Debbie was somewhat subdued and sad. When asked why she was withdrawn, she answered that she missed him too much. Then and there he resolved to spend more time at home and cut back on his outside activities. Art was a spirited, energetic individual. The popular current term is “Type A personality”. He was much more than that however. Art was a man of integrity and honor. No more is this more self evident than to note his deep commitment to Debbie.
While they were engaged to be married (Art’s second marriage), Debbie McClure was in a horrendous automobile accident that left her brain damaged, a condition that would stay with her for the remainder of her life. A lesser man might have abandoned his fiancée after such an event but not Art.
He took Debbie under his wing, married her, and, with deep love, more than fulfilled his marriage vows.
Art was a person who got things done. Whether he initiated them or simply volunteered to help others on projects, Art stuck with the undertakings until they were brought to fruition. He was a dogged researcher, one such example, was attested by the help he gave me, in tracking down the fate of a Harlingen Gunnery School graduate who had been shot down and hidden by French partisans until World War II ended. The Harlingen Veterans Memorial is a fitting and lasting monument to his dedication and inspiration. He was a Marine who believed in the charge “Leave no buddy behind.”
Art Cohan was honest to the core, sometimes to the point of distraction. He was a leader who we may say was hardworking, helpful, steady, cooperative, devoted, caring, independent, industrious, investigative, inquisitive, interesting, inventive, and any number of additional positive adjectives with which one could characterize him.
His last actions, as ill-reasoned as they may appear to those that did not know him, were rationalized in his own mind by a very deep and undying love and commitment to Debbie. In his last act he committed his very being to be with her for eternity.
We pray to the Lord of Mercy, the Lord of Forgiveness, the Lord of Love that Debbie and Art be taken into his arms and be given everlasting peace. Amen.