Generosity begets generosity

Horticultural science professor Jerry Cohen teaching in a lab.
February 25, 2021

If you ask Professor Jerry Cohen, PhD,—a distinguished professor in the Department of Horticultural Science and CFANS donor—why he gives, he'll simply tell you that he was hired into a tradition of generosity. In 2000, after 18 years at the USDA, Professor Cohen came to Minnesota to fill the Bailey Chair in Environmental Horticulture, a position made possible through a donation from the Gordon and Margaret Bailey family. Though he remains humble about it, Professor Cohen’s giving to CFANS speaks volumes.

He inherited his love of horticulture from his parents, but Professor Cohen did not grow up wealthy. He understands the financial difficulty students face. Like many students, he worked his way through college and graduate school. As he fondly says, “I started working in the lab as a freshman—and never left.” With these experiences at heart, Professor Cohen and his wife Sue sought opportunities to honor his parents by helping students—creating two funds that are as thoughtful about students as they are reflective of his parents.

Sue and Jerry Cohen.
Sue (left) and Jerry Cohen (right).

 The Cohens’ giving began with the Horticultural Science Evadna Fern Cohen Fund—known affectionately as, “The Cookie Fund,” which honors his mother’s love of food and flowers by providing refreshments for the department’s seminar series. While we all love a good cookie, to Professor Cohen, it’s more than that. It’s a way to encourage students to make time for seminars, “To feed themselves while feeding their minds.” He continues to grow the fund through regular payroll deductions and stresses that he did not make a large donation to start it. “Anyone can make a difference. Be a catalyst for the change you want to see,” he said.

His father Herman wished he could have gone to graduate school for horticulture, but it wasn't an option for him after World War II when restrictive admissions practices created significant barriers for Jewish students. Professor Cohen turned his dad’s disappointment into opportunities by using money from the estate to create The Herman Charles Cohen Dissertation Improvement Fund. This fund helps horticultural science graduate students afford what they need to ensure their dissertation is their best possible, such as specialized equipment or travel. Herman couldn’t achieve his dream, but now, through his son's generosity and thoughtfulness, he's helping others achieve theirs. 

Giving is an opportunity to bring about changes that matter to Professor Cohen and to make a difference. The Cohens also created one of the first designated lactation spaces in Saint Paul, recently supported a redesign of the lights in the Alderman Hall lobby study space, and donated to the Itasca Campus Center building. Their spirit of seeing a problem and doing something about it creates change that improves daily campus life for many. He encourages others to do the same, "You do not have to be wealthy to see a need and make a difference. Seek out what you value, then keep your eyes and ears open to opportunities to do something.”

Please visit Give to CFANS to learn more about how you can also make a difference by giving.