Saturday, December 3, 2016

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In Memoriam: Theodore Cohn

San Diego State University retired biology professor Theodore Cohn passed away at age 82 after a prolonged illness.
By Roger Carpenter and Boyd Collier

Ted and Jean Cohn
Ted and Jean Cohn

Biology professor Theodore “Ted” Cohn passed away last month at age 82 after a prolonged illness.

Cohn joined the SDSU Zoology Department in 1964 after completing his Ph.D. in entomology at the University of Michigan.

A devoted professor

Cohn taught a variety of courses, including introductory biology and developed an introductory course specifically focused on invertebrate zoology for the newly revised zoology major.

He engaged people with his ideas about the best way to teach, always with much thought and enthusiasm.

Cohn was extremely dedicated to all his students despite a heavy teaching load. He was always available, pulling up a chair and patting it to indicate that the student should sit down to talk about course material, whether during office hours or not. 

Cohn 's research focused on the systematics of orthoptera, e.g. katydids, crickets and grasshoppers. Even though his devotion to teaching didn't allow much time for research during the academic year, Cohn truly loved his work and spent many summers doing field work and at the University of Michigan Zoological Museum in Ann Arbor.

Continuing his research  

After retirement, Cohn continued with his research and built a lab in his backyard.  Every spring he and his wife Jean drove to Ann Arbor to work on the extensive collections of ortheoptera there, and then returned to La Mesa in time for the opera season.

In spite of greatly diminished eyesight, Cohn continued his grand project on the taxonomy of katydids and completed a major work based on his thorough examination of tallywackers in the Odonturini.

He was always speculating about and searching for new specimens in areas not yet sampled, or along boundaries where species distributions met.  If Cohn knew you were going to be doing field work, he would recruit you to set out oatmeal trails and pitfall traps to capture camel crickets for him.

About Cohn

All who knew him well would agree that Cohn was unique.  He was a living example of the all-or-none response:  If he disagreed with some idea or person he was unabashedly but courteously critical; if he liked something, he liked it enormously; and when someone played a prank on him, he would laugh louder than anyone.

Cohn was also very generous in his support of many projects and programs. Though most of his financial contributions were unannounced, and some are likely unknown.  In the arts, Cohn was an avid supporter of the San Diego Opera and funded a program that paid for young people to attend performances.  

He was a founder, with several SDSU grad students, of the annual spring lecture in Integrative Biology. At this event, the speaker and faculty were hosted at a catered dinner in the Cohns’ home, and following the lecture, everyone was invited to a lavish reception at the Faculty-Staff Club.
As Ted's and Jean Cohn’s health severely declined, they moved into a retirement community in Ann Arbor.  Ted continued to work at the University of Michigan Zoological Museum until very recently.  Jean died in December of 2011.  The Department of Biology and SDSU is saddened to hear of Ted’s death a year later.