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Life on a Tidal River

Ebb and Flow of Bangor History

William S. Cohen, The Man and the School

William S. Cohen ca. 1944
William S. Cohen ca. 1944Item courtesy of the University of Maine Special Collections.
Garland Street Jr. High School, Bangor, ca. 1940
Garland Street Jr. High School, Bangor, ca. 1940Item Contributed by
Bangor Public Library

Text by The 7th Grade Maine Studies Students of the William S. Cohen School.
Images are from the University of Maine Fogler Library, Special Collections - The Cohen Papers and the 1955 Echoes of the Year, the Garland Street Junior High Yearbook.

William S. Cohen, back row, 4th from the left, as a member of the Athletic Council in 1955.
William S. Cohen, back row, 4th from the left, as a member of the Athletic Council in 1955.Taken from the 1955 Echoes of the Year, GSJH yearbook.

“Pride in Excellence”, the motto of the William S. Cohen School, reflects our academic strength and priorities. However, this school that we have grown to know and respect was not built in a heartbeat. In the very beginning, our school was called Garland Street Junior High (GSJH). The school was built with federal WPA (Works Projects Administration) funds (approx. $400,000). William S. Cohen was born on August 28, 1940, just a week before the opening of the new 7th-9th grade Garland Street Junior High. Later, in 1953, nobody at Garland Street would have guessed that Billy Cohen, now a seventh grader, would be the future Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton. He was just a normal kid, a lover of basketball, a boy who worked hard to get good grades. Where according to Secretary Cohen,"He was a pretty good student." Not only was he a good athlete, but he also officiated at intramural games and was in the class play. In the 9th grade class will, Bill Cohen left his athletic ability to Joe Taylor. It was not predicted where he would go in the 1955 class prophecy. However, no one could have guessed that he would rise up above the others to become one of the most important politicians in our country.

Bangor Rye Bread Bakery entrance, ca. 1976
Bangor Rye Bread Bakery entrance, ca. 1976Item Contributed by
Raymond H. Fogler Library
Hancock Street buildings, Bangor, ca. 1976
Hancock Street buildings, Bangor, ca. 1976Item Contributed by
Raymond H. Fogler Library

Secretary Cohen was born and raised on Hancock Street. He lived on the third floor tenement where he was surrounded by many different people of Chinese, Greek, Irish, and Italian descent. They were all immigrant families. People would describe where he lived as the shabby part of town. There were large families living in small apartments. (These buildings have now all been torn down as part of an urban renewal project in the 1960's.) However, education was very important to Bill Cohen's family. His parents were his first teachers. "Education is the key to everything in life," he said during his visit to the Cohen School. "Education is like lighting a flame in your mind."

Item courtesy of the University of Maine Special Collections.

Sports taught Bill discipline. He learned that to excel in sports he needed the discipline to prepare, plan, work hard, and follow the established rules. In his speech at the Cohen School on May 6, 2013 he said that this same discipline prepared him for the rigors of high school, college, graduate school and life as a public servant and even now as a private businessman.

William S. Cohen graduated from Bangor High in 1958 where he was named to an all-state high school basketball team and was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. In May of 2013 he was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. William graduated from Bowdoin College in 1962, and then went on to the Boston University of Law. After graduating cum laude from law school in 1965, he returned to Bangor to begin his career in law.

When he returned to Bangor, he became a partner in a law firm where he had worked for quite a while. He was also an assistant county attorney for Penobscot County in the years of 1968-1970. From 1968 to 1972, he taught at both the Husson College and the University of Maine. This is also when his political career began. He served on the Bangor School Committee, the Bangor City Council, and as mayor 1971 - 72. He was elected in 1972 and served through 1978 to the United States House of Representatives. He was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1978, 1984 and 1990.

While in the Congress, Cohen was forced to vote on two very controversial issues: Richard Nixon’s impeachment and the Iran-Contra scandal. His decisions on these two issues defined him as someone who would rather follow his conscience than the party line. Along this line, he was known as a moderate, like so many of the Maine Congressmen and Congresswomen before him.

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left), President Bill Clinton (center left), Col. Greg Gardner (center right), U.S. Army, accompany Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (right), U.S. Army.
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left), President Bill Clinton (center left), Col. Greg Gardner (center right), U.S. Army, accompany Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (right), U.S. Army.Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Cohen was sworn in as the twentieth Secretary of Defense on January 24, 1997. During his time in office, he met with dignitaries from over 60 countries. At home, he was given the enormous task of reducing the Defense budget by tens of millions of dollars. According to Secretary Cohen, his greatest responsibility as Secretary of Defense was protecting our country.

Bangor was proud of one of its former students. It was during Cohen’s tenure as Secretary Defense, that the name of Garland Street Middle School was changed to the William S. Cohen School. “We have the opportunity in Bangor to pay homage to someone who grew up in Bangor and today is one of the most influential people in the world,” said the Bangor superintendent, James Doughty. The school committee gave unanimous approval on Wednesday, December 9, 1997, to the renaming of the Garland Street Middle School to the William S. Cohen School. U.S. Representative John Baldacci and Mayor Timothy Woodcock both praised Cohen’s intelligence, and spoke of how “his achievements would help the future students in the Bangor School system.” Their words rang true over fifteen years later, as we are still inspired by Cohen’s accomplishments. Woodcock said after studying and contact with Cohen, “People can come from all walks of background and, though education, application and aspirations, accomplish great things.” For example, the “former student of our Garland Street School is now the fourth-ranking official in the country. Cohen attended the renaming ceremony on December 20th, 1997. "I am deeply touched by the decision of the Bangor School Committee to rename Garland Street Middle School in my honor," Cohen said. "Bangor will always be home to me, and it means a lot to have such an enduring tribute from my hometown."

William Cohen gave 31 years of his life to public service. He is a man of many talents. During this time he wrote several books, including books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Modern William S. Cohen School
Modern William S. Cohen School
William S. Cohen's visit to the William S. Cohen School on May 6, 2013.
William S. Cohen's visit to the William S. Cohen School on May 6, 2013.

Today, William Cohen is chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group. The Cohen Group is a business in Washington, D. C. that helps American businesses in foreign markets. He conducts international business in China and all around the world. He said, "education prepared him for his job." He serves on the board of CBS and a few other international advisory boards. He is also a senior counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Resources

Cohen, William S. Unveiling of the "William S. Cohen, the Man and the School" online exhibit on the Maine Memory Network. William S. Cohen School, Bangor, Maine. 06 May 2013. Address.

Garland St. Junior High. Echoes of the Year (yearbook). Bangor, Me., 1955. Print.

Kanes, Candace. William S. Cohen: In The Spotlight. Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society. n.d., Web. 24 April 2013

Preventing Genocide - William S. Cohen - Biography. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.

Saucier, Roxanne Moore. "Panel OKs naming school after Cohen Bangor School Committee's vote unanimous; transition team to deal with details." Bangor Daily News. 11 Dec 1997. Maine Newstand. Web. April 24, 2013.

William S. Cohen. Center for Strategic & International Studies. 2013. Web. April 10, 2013.

William S. Cohen. Cohen Group. 2006. Web. April 10, 2013.

William S. Cohen. Institute of Government & Public Affairs, University of Illinois. 2009-2013. Web. April 12, 2013.

William S. Cohen Papers. Raymond H. Fogler Library. University of Maine, 20/12/2011. Web. 11 Apr 2013.

Young, Susan. "Hailing a native son Bangor to rename middle school after Cohen."
Bangor Daily News. 9 Dec 1997. Web. April 24, 2013.
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Maine Studies students with Secretary Cohen.
Maine Studies students with Secretary Cohen.
Mrs. Soucie, school librarian and Mr. Bilancia, Maine Studies teacher with Secretary Cohen on May 6, 2013.
Mrs. Soucie, school librarian and Mr. Bilancia, Maine Studies teacher with Secretary Cohen on May 6, 2013.
Maine Studies student working on Cohen Exhibit
Maine Studies student working on Cohen Exhibit