Memorial for a Memorable Lady

  • A Memorial Garden for a Memorable Lady


    Celebrating the amazing life and legacy of Betsy Cohen, a sizeable crowd of devoted students, friends, colleagues, relatives, and family gathered to honor this extraordinary woman at the dedication ceremony of Cohen’s Corner Memorial Garden.


    As a music teacher in Sayville School District for 17 years, Betsy Cohen deeply touched the lives of generations with her passion for music, her level of dedication, her love for her students, her talent that nurtured their musical souls, her enthusiasm that went well beyond classroom learning, and especially her grace and goodness that sustained all those around her. Her sudden passing from pancreatic cancer was an unbelievable loss that only time—and perhaps it will take a long time—might heal.


    That healing process began with the concept of the Memorial Garden and Piano-shaped Patio proposed as a tribute by Music Department Chairman Neil Bernstein. His plans immediately won the support of the Sayville school and music communities and united those bereaved by unspeakable sorrow to take action and do something that would indelibly preserve Betsy’s memory for future generations. Astoundingly, assorted volunteers worked diligently and completed the task within three months!


    The Memorial Garden project, a patio of dark stones, curved like an elegant “baby grand piano,” comprised of memorial bricks inscribed with messages of love and longing, and flanked by newly installed flower beds, was just finished in time for the June 2nd ceremony.


    During the afternoon dedication, while clouds roiled white and gray in an uncertain sky, a corresponding churning of relief and grief imbued each introduction or speech.

    • Mr. Neil Bernstein recounted his many discussions with Mrs. Cohen as a colleague and confidante regarding improvements in the music program that would benefit every Sayville student. He hoped her memorial garden would serve as a special spot that would keep the dialogue with Betsy open for all who visit. He also read a moving letter from former student Marie Moskwa, now a music teacher in Pennsylvania, who portrayed Mrs. Cohen as a magical and impeccable role model of joy, beauty, kindness, and generosity.
    • Student Valerie Murray recited a special message that quoted Mrs. Cohen’s oft used expression: “Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no bird sang, except the best.”
    • Sayville Superintendent Dr. Rosemary Jones recalled Mrs. Cohen’s remarkable first impression in the District with the Middle School musical, The Wiz. A quintessential teacher, Mrs. Cohen continued to dazzle with her boundless energy. “We have to be grateful that we knew her, laughed with her and was touched by her.” Dr. Jones reminded everyone that if Betsy were here today, she would be saying “it’s really time to ease on down the road… Use this beautiful memorial patio for happy memories.”
    • Current and former members of the Sayvillettes—the award-winning barbershop chorus launched by Betsy—tearfully joined voices to sing the Beatles’ In My Life for “Mama” Cohen. As she taught them, “music speaks when words fail.” 
    • Husband Norm Cohen, emotionally moved by such continuous support, expressed his overwhelming gratitude for the beautiful memorial and the outpouring of love, and son Jeremy also acknowledged that his mother was an everlasting source of strength, courage, and guidance for both her family and students. Listing her diverse nicknames, Jeremy stated that “Mama will always be with us in our hearts and minds because she gave us the will to live and the ability to love.”
    • Daughter Brianne fought back the tears as she related the depth of her bond and her wonderful relationship with her mother. Then in true Cohen fashion, she mustered her courage and impersonated her mother in voice, expressions, and attitude. “Feeling perfectly comfortable to speak on her behalf,” she praised everyone for their impressive organization and tasteful accomplishments achieved in her honor. “I am honored, proud, and overjoyed…thank you for believing in me, loving me, and honoring me.  I’ll be around encouraging you to be your very best you and to keep your music alive!”
    • Colleague Jeff Hoffman, whose energy for all things music found a perfect match in Betsy Cohen, praised her for her impeccable taste and vast accomplishments, including her recent acclaim as a Guest Conductor in Nassau County’s All-County Chorus. He sadly recalled their traditional parting words when they closed the Middle School musical Once Upon This Island. “Well, we have plenty of time to discuss next year’s show…” Despite the physical loss of his codirector, Mr. Hoffman shared his belief that Betsy’s spirit will continue to guide him.


    No eye remained dry and many soft sobs could be heard during the speeches, but the gathering proved cathartic for all and may have accomplished the intended first step toward healing. Although the ceremony ended, under threatening skies, with an official ribbon cutting by Betsy Cohen’s family, Norm, Jeremy, Brianne, and Louis, the real testament to her enduring presence was in how the crowd lingered afterward, sharing feelings, exchanging stories, and basking in the special place that bears her name. 


    Should you visit the memorial garden wondering, “So, Mama Cohen, can you really hear me?” Don’t be surprised if you feel the answer, “Yes, Luv, now let me hear you sing!”