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Diana B. Cohen, age 95, of Micanopy FL passed away on January 24th, 2023 at her home in Micanopy. She was born on September 13th, 1927 in Montreal, Canada to Stephen and Evelyn Macdonnell Williams. Her father passed away when Diana was two years old, and her mother died when Diana was three. She was raised by her aunt and uncle, Helen and Gerald Ormsby.
Diana met her future husband Ronald Cohen in Toronto when they were both teenagers. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in 1951 and then attended the National Froebel Foundation Teacher’s College in London in 1952. Upon returning to Toronto friendship grew into courtship, and she and Ron married on June 21, 1955.
The Cohens moved to Evanston IL in 1963 when Ron took a position as an Anthropology professor at Northwestern. Diana worked in the library there. She participated in the Chicago open housing movement and was a precinct captain. She volunteered as a Librarian at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria 1972-74 and received her Master’s degree in Library Science from Rosary College (now Dominican University) in 1976. She went on to work for the Library of International Relations and the National College of Education (now National Louis University) in Chicago.
In 1981 the Cohen family moved to Micanopy when Ron became a professor in Anthropology in African Studies at the University of Florida. They bought the historic Simonton House that year and lived in it until 2000. Diana had always been involved in genealogy and now her love of historic preservation set her on the path to saving historic houses and local history, and becoming the most vocal defender of Micanopy’s charm and heritage.
She helped create the Micanopy Historical Society in 1983 and began developing their Archives, which was originally stored in her home. She was the Director of the Micanopy Historical Society Museum for many years. Diana was one of the leads in placing the Micanopy Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The next year she was appointed to the Alachua County Historical Commission.
In 1986 she began advocating for a new road to be built outside of town to prevent semi-trucks from driving down Cholokka Blvd., Micanopy’s main street. The trucks and traffic were vibrating the historic buildings, causing them to crack, and made it dangerous for people to walk on the streets and sidewalks. Eventually the County agreed to build the new road, and construction began and was completed in 1992.
Diana’s other activities that began in the 1980s included joining the Micanopy Friends of the Library and the Micanopy Extension Homemakers Club, where she held officer positions.
In 1988 she created the Friends of Micanopy to fight a 24 hour truck plaza from locating at the I-75 interstate exchange. She also successfully prevented a proposed new toll road from coming through Micanopy by organizing a committee and a petition drive
When the Thrasher Warehouse was donated to the Town to be used by the Micanopy Historical Society, she helped create an eight-week course for volunteers from across the state to learn how to operate small museums.
While the Micanopy Historical Society provided lectures and a museum for members and visitors to learn about history, Diana felt there was still a need to help owners preserve and promote Micanopy’s
historic buildings. In 1994 she created the Micanopy Historic Preservation Trust, which is still operating.
She was also appointed to the Historic Preservation Board and Tree Committee in 1994.
In 1997 Diana’s next major project began when she purchased the c.1870 Winecoff House on Seminary Street which had been built for use as a hotel. She found an old photo and did a meticulous renovation for three years in order to get it as close to the original appearance as possible before the Cohens moved into their new home.
When Smith Street was scheduled to be widened and paved in 1999, she raised money and coordinated the preservation the 1895 Montgomery Brick Wall, which was moved back four feet and rebuilt by dozens of volunteers.
Due to her work in creating, directing and funding a new free-standing Archives building she received an Award from the Florida Historical Society in 2002. She raised over $70,000 to build the new Archives building, which was named for her.
The Archives proved useful in connecting people to their past. Diana answered an inquiry from a man in South Carolina about his mother who was born in Micanopy. He made sizable donations as a result, and this money was used in 2010 to create the Burness Knox Endowment Inc. specifically to fund the Archives. In 2012 a Resolution was passed by the Town of Micanopy thanking Diana for establishing the Archives.
She is survived by her sons, Paul Y. Cohen of Micanopy, and Stephen B. Cohen of Ocala. She was preceded in death by her son, Phillip, and her husband, Dr. Ronald Cohen.
A memorial service will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Mediator, 501 NE Cholokka Blvd., in Micanopy on February 11, 2023 at 2:00 PM.
Donations may be made to the Micanopy Historical Society Archives, the Micanopy Historic Preservation Trust, or Friends of Paynes Prairie in Diana’s honor. People who would like to honor Ron Cohen’s heritage may bring warm clothes to the service to help Ukrainians get through the winter.