Giving Back: Organization names Philanthropist of the Year
Ask Mary Davidson Cohen why she donates so much time and money to her community and she’ll tell you, “I love what I do, dear.”
Cohen, executive director of the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust at Midwest Trust Co., in Leawood, Kan., has been chosen by Nonprofit Connect as Philanthropist of the Year.
“I really do believe that when you have the means to do it, you have an obligation and a responsibility to fulfill payment for all the benefits received for living in this community,” she says. “And the payback is far greater than what I give.”
Compassion and gratitude were lessons learned young by Cohen. She was born in Kansas City, Mo., during the Great Depression to well-educated parents. “They didn’t have a lot of money to be involved in the community financially. They worked hard, but they didn’t have that kind of money.”
When she was 12 years old, her father died. “Of course, this had a great impact on my life,” she says. “We are products of our environment to a great degree. All the people we meet, we learn from them. I also learned a lot from not-so wonderful people. I’m a patchwork quilt.”
As a child, Cohen was fascinated with science. “I loved the outdoors, bugs and rocks,” she says, with a school-girl lilt in her voice. One of her favorite jobs was working as a camp counselor on the playground at age 17 for Kansas City Parks and Recreation.
Her passion for science and teaching culminated in a 50-year career in education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, and a doctor of education from the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kan. She taught elementary school in the Kansas City school district and science programming for KCPT; served as dean of the graduate school at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kan.; and was assistant director of the William T. Kemper Foundation and the assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Kansas Regents Center. From 2002 to 2009, she served as the U.S. Secretary of Education’s representative for Region 7 (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska).
With this background, it’s not surprising that Cohen is especially interested in funding projects that inspire children. “I think we should give (them) a chance to be everything they can be,” she says. “The younger you catch them, the better chance of giving them an opportunity to succeed.”
The trust, which honors her late father-in-law, Joseph Cohen, and her late husband, Barton, has funded projects that include Children’s Kansas, Johnson County Community College, Blue Valley Educational Foundation, Truman Library, and the National World War I Museum.
Cohen has proven invaluable to many organizations in Kansas City, says Patrick Sallee, board chair of Nonprofit Connect. “Not just from a financial contributing standpoint, but for the leadership role she plays in many organizations,” he says. “She’s willing to get her hands dirty; she’s willing to do the grunt work. We’re thrilled to honor her in this way.”
Nonprofit Connect names female Rising Stars of Philanthropy
Amy McAnarney is senior vice president for operations support and franchise development at H&R Block. She serves on the board of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and is a board member of Starlight Theatre and WIN for KC.
Katie Dunn Fitzgerald, senior wealth consultant for Mariner Wealth Advisors, is active with United Way of Greater Kansas City, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, the University of Kansas Hospital, Saint Luke’s Crittenton Children’s Center, Children’s Mercy Hospital, American Heart Association, and Ronald McDonald House.
Casey and Sloane Simmons are sisters and co-owners of STUFF in Brookside. Casey focuses her energies on the Susan Henke Miller Cancer Research Fund, Women’s Employment Network, and Planned Parenthood, and Sloane serves on the Kansas City Free Health Clinic board and the UMKC’s Women’s Center Advisory Board. The sisters also launched a program for nonprofits to host fundraising events at their store.
Ursula Terrasi, owner of Scandia Down Kansas City on the Country Club Plaza, has donated countless items from her store for auctions to raise funds for nonprofits, including United Cerebral Palsy, Lyric Opera Circle, Symphony League, and Medical Missions.
Teal Williams is owner of Teal Financial Services. She has served as the Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center Friends Association president, chaired the Groundhog Run, and currently chairs the managing board. She’s also active in the local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Nonprofit Connect hosts the 28th Annual Philanthropy Awards Luncheon – It’s in Your Hands, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 11 at the Sheraton Crown Center. Nonprofit Connect links the nonprofit community to education, resources and networking so organizations can more effectively achieve their missions. For information, visit npconnect.org.
Photography by Angela Bond