Dorothy Cohen lights up 101
Photo: Courtesy Cohen family
Dorothy Cohen turned 101 on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

By Deb Silverthorn

Saturday, May 21, was a happy birthday for Dorothy Cohen: The sun rose; family honored her; and she spent the day grateful for her life. For Cohen, 101, it was another day to celebrate all that is beautiful around her.

“It’s very special — not many people reach 101.” said Dorothy, a resident at The Conservatory in Plano, who wondered why anyone would want to write about her. “I don’t have any secrets to getting here but I am grateful to have my family. They have always been the most important thing in my life.”

Dorothy was born in 1921 in Denver, Colorado, the daughter of Isadore and Nellie Waxman and the sister of Walter, Bobby and Gladys, all of blessed memory. The family was observant of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and Dorothy recalls spending the night at her grandparents’ home and walking to synagogue with them.

A graduate of George Washington High School, Dorothy says she and her friends spent many of their Saturday nights at Elitch Gardens, an amusement park where they’d go for fun, music and dancing – it was there or at the local soda shop that the “kids” would hang out.

During the summers, she and her sister would take tap dance lessons at City Park. Dorothy’s face lights up as she shares the memory of how the two would then go home and practice the routines over and over.

When she was 18, Dorothy married her first husband and the couple had two children, Barry Stein and Barbara (Robert) Martin. She was president of the Sisterhood at Beth Joseph Congregation and always volunteered at her children’s schools.

The couple divorced, and in 1960 she met Harry Cohen, of blessed memory, the love of her life. While dating, he was diagnosed with, then treated for, kidney cancer. She sent a get-well card, and he was smitten. The two married and completed their family with daughter Varna.

“My mother is fortunate to have a long and healthy life and she is loved by many people,” said her daughter Barbara. “In recent years she’s blessed to have added great-grandchildren living nearby who bring her much joy.”

Dorothy’s family now extends through Barry’s children Todd (Kate) and Julie Stein; Amy Miller and her children Aaron and Paige Miller and Varna (Craig) Bernstein, and their daughters Laurin Bernstein and Pamela (Aaron) Pinkus and granddaughters Tara and Chandler Pinkus.

“My mom was always up at 5 a.m. She volunteered, she worked at my aunt and uncle’s Starlight Dance Hall, she worked at her father’s pawn shop and cared for the house — she couldn’t sit still — still can’t so much,” said Varna. “Dad went to work early and was home at 5 with dinner ready and waiting. Mom loved gardening and knitting and was still doing that until not long ago.”

Dorothy traveled the world enjoying cruises, walking along China’s Great Wall and flying on the Concorde. She and Harry took almost monthly trips to Las Vegas to which they’d bring meat (he ran a large slaughterhouse) which they would exchange with casino bosses for tickets to see Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jerry Lewis and others.

“We always had 40 people for Passover and I did all the cooking,” said Dorothy. “I loved cooking apple kugel and matzo ball soup. For Thanksgiving, which was always beautiful, I loved making the turkey and stuffing, chocolate cake … the holidays were always special.”

The Cohens moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Harry partnered with his brother in the Federal Packing Co., a slaughterhouse. There, the family belonged to Temple Shalom.

“My parents were ‘living the life,’ and I got to be along,” said Varna. “We lived in a high-rise along Galt Ocean Mile and my mom lunched with the ladies, enjoyed the beach — it was a special time.”

In 1978, Harry passed away and Dorothy and Varna moved to Dallas a year later to join Barbara, who had moved to earn a doctorate in library science at the University of North Texas, and Barry, who opened Barry’s Camera and Video.

“Harry gave me the money, which was really nice, and Dallas had only a couple of camera shops. It was the right place at the right time. Mom helped me out a lot and even had a business card that said ‘Barry’s Mom,’” said Barry. “Later, I had an ad agency and she worked there too. I appreciate all she did and wish her all the best.”

Dorothy, affiliated through the years with Congregation Shearith Israel and Temple Emanu-El, lived near Meadow and Central and would go to the JCC to work out each morning at 6 before work. Dorothy only stopped working when her granddaughter Pamela was born and Varna was teaching. She gave up driving at the age of 95, and she still has the strength to make her way to exercise and dinner on her own two feet. 

Stepping in as caretaker, her favorite role, she was hands-on again — even more when granddaughter Laurin joined the family and then on a new level with Pamela’s little ones. The kids’ most honored cheerleader, Grandma Dorothy has been a staple at every generation’s sporting events — still a favorite pastime of hers.

“Grandma was every part of my daily life growing up and I’m so grateful my girls know and love her,” said granddaughter Pamela Pinkus. “My Mom is a teacher; she had to be at school before I did. Grandma would come over and it was time to jump up and get ready. For years she volunteered in the offices and libraries of my schools just to be close.

“She’s strong and tough, but also the sweetest, most giving person,” said Pinkus, whose daughter Chandler shares the Hebrew name Devora with Dorothy. “I can’t remember any of my life that she hasn’t been there for.”

While great-grandchildren Aaron and Paige Miller grew up in Colorado, visiting Cohen was special. For Paige, since moving to Dallas in 2019, she’s made the most of their time together. “I’m so happy about our time together, especially celebrating her very special birthdays. Not many people share 99, 100 or 101 with someone they love,” she said.

“Some of the best times,” said Miller, “are with G-Ma and my little cousins playing with Play-Doh, reading books together and playing hide and seek with G-Ma hiding in the closet.”

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