County administrative building named for J. Newton Cohen Sr.
By Jessie Burchette
The white marble building that once housed a federal court and U.S. Post Office is now the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Rowan County Administration Building.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a motion by Commissioner Jim Sides to name the building at 130 W. Innes St. for Cohen, who served as a commissioner for 16 years.
Commissioners previously named the meeting room for him in 2000 when he left the board.
On Monday, commissioners heaped praise on Cohen, who was accompanied by his wife Marilyn and surrounded by children, grandchildren and friends.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Cohen, who was assisted to the microphone by his son, Jim.
“In the 16 years I was a commissioner, the best thing the commission achieved was refurbishing this building,” Cohen said.
He recalled walking through the building when he was first elected. “The windows were out, the pigeons were roosting all over and vagrants were staying here.”
He admitted that he is proud of the building, particularly because he is a descendant of U.S. Sen. Lee Overman of Salisbury, who got approval for the federal building.
Cohen felt compelled to contrast the administration building project with what he called the worst thing that happened while he was a commissioner ó construction of Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium in Kannapolis. “It’s a burden to this day,” he said.
Chairman Arnold Chamberlain called Cohen the “most consistent, nicest gentleman I’ve ever known,” adding that he never lost his cool while serving on the board.
Chamberlain said Cohen has been like a brother and a father to him. Sides cited Cohen’s leadership in saving and renovating the building. He admitted that when he was on the Board of Commissioners in the early 1980s, he thought the county should have sold it to the city of Salisbury. “What a mistake that would have been,” said Sides.
He briefly recapped the history of the building, which ceased to be a Post Office in 1975. Hall Steele, a former chairman of the Board of Commissioners, made a trip to Washington and struck a deal for the county to get the building.
But without Cohen’s efforts, Sides said, “this building would have been torn down.”
Jim Cohen, who served on the board with Sides in the 1980s, spoke for the family, thanking the commissioners and talking about his father.
He said his father has never been a bystander but a doer, citing childhood memories of Jaycee paper drives, camping and Scouting.
He recalled that on one Sunday evening while driving back from a long and frustrating weekend, he asked his father why he spent so much time working for so many causes. Jim Cohen recalled his father’s answer: “Son, you always put more back in life than you take out.”
Commissioners agreed that a bronze plaque will be installed on the front of the building displaying the new name.