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Hagerstown Community College's director for institutional advancement to retire

Lieba Cohen said decision to retire comes with mixed emotions, but she's ready to 'take a breather'

May 03, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • After almost 24 years as director for institutional advancement at Hagerstown Community College, Lieba Cohen will retire Friday.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

After almost 24 years as director for institutional advancement at Hagerstown Community College, Lieba Cohen will retire Friday.

She didn’t set out to land a job in the field. She majored in Spanish, had a minor in Russian and said her “grandiose scheme” was to become a United Nations interpreter.

“You never know where life is going to lead you,” said Cohen, 64.

In 1970, the University of Albany graduate married Gerald Cohen, with whom she had grown up in Rochester, N.Y. He was in theU.S. Air Forceand they lived in several places before moving to Hagerstown in 1976 for Gerald’s job with Fairchild Industries.

“I thought this would be a brief little stay, and on we would go,” she said.

The couple have a grown son and daughter and two grandchildren.

Lieba had been working several part-time jobs, including as executive director of the Washington County Arts Council, so she could be home when her children got home from school.

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Then she saw the ad for a new position at what was then Hagerstown Junior College. Since it was a full-time job, a family discussion was necessary to make sure everyone was on board with how life at home would change if she got the job.

With her family’s blessing, she applied.

“Lo and behold, I got the job,” Cohen said.

She said the job initially was funded by grant money, then the college took responsibility for it.

Cohen said it was an honor to know all three HCC presidents — Atlee Kepler, Norman Shea and Guy Altieri — although she only worked with the last two. She said it was Shea who had the vision for her position.

While her main function has been fundraising for the HCC Foundation, Cohen helped revitalize the alumni association early on. She said it was the “forward thinking” of those before her that led to the establishment of a foundation in 1968.

The HCC Foundation had $300,000 in its endowment fund when Cohen started in October 1988 and now has $10 million in assets.

“I’m proud of that. We’ve been able to build a strong foundation and stature in the community,” said Cohen, who credits alumni and community support, along with that of the college, volunteers and staff.

Cohen organizes two major fundraising events for the foundation each year — the annual tribute and a Ben Jones art show.

Although the foundation’s focus is on scholarships, private funds have been used for furnishings and equipment for buildings.

A capital campaign is under way to furnish the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, building and Kepler Center, as well as to update the classroom building and convert the old science building into a learning center.

Cohen said about three-fourths of HCC’s students receive some type of financial aid, with the foundation providing private scholarship assistance. Its endowment scholarships have grown from a handful to 135.

“What I do makes a difference. That’s gratifying. I think we all have to give back,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the decision to retire comes with mixed emotions, but she’s ready to “take a breather.”

She’ll have no trouble filling her days with involvement in the Sunrise Rotary Club and American Association of University Women — Hagerstown Branch.

Cohen is also a board member of Leadership Washington County and the Association of Fundraising Professionals — Western Maryland Chapter, and soon will take over as president of Congregation B’nai Abraham.

“It was not an easy decision, because as you can see, I love the college. It’s like a second family,” she said.

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