In Memoriam: Judith C. Kohl

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Judith C. Kohl, 79, died in Middletown, Delaware on December 4, 2018 from cardiac arrest following complications after knee replacement surgery. The only daughter of Willard and Grace Louise (Harnly) Cleek, Judy was born at Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia on September 12, 1939 and spent her childhood years in Lansdowne, PA. Following the early death of her father she attended The Ellis School in Newtown Square graduating valedictorian in 1957. She earned a BA from the University of Delaware and an MA from State University of New York at New Paltz. Her postgraduate study at City University of New York focused on Venice and water imagery in the poetry of Ezra Pound.

Judy was Professor Emeritus of English and Humanities at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she taught from 1966 until her retirement in 1995. Known for a classroom style that made American literature accessible to all students, she taught courses ranging from remedial English to autobiographies of marginalized Americans. A specialist in modern drama, she led numerous annual trips to London where students were exposed to contemporary theatre. She was Director of the Honors Program and founder of Exploring Transfer: a prototype program for community college students to matriculate to Vassar and other four-year institutions. She was an early advocate for community college education and repeatedly served as a faculty union negotiator. She was a reviewer for, and contributor to, numerous publications and anthologies.

While a student at University of Delaware Judy met and fell in love with a teaching assistant in one of her history classes. She married Benjamin Kohl, of Middletown, Delaware on January 2, 1961. After the birth of their first child, Benjamin Jr., the couple moved to Baltimore for Ben’s doctoral study at Johns Hopkins University. They lived in Padua, Italy in 1964 during Ben’s Fulbright year and returned to Baltimore where a daughter, Laura Ann, was born. That year abroad was the beginning of a life-long relationship with Italy and in particular Venice. After Ben’s passing in 2010 Judy continued to make annual trips, 42 in all, to the Veneto. Many friends benefitted from her role as generous host and expert tour guide.

As a working mother during the 1960s, Judy became a role model for many. She was a housefellow at Vassar; volunteer on national, state and local Democratic campaigns; protest organizer against the war in Vietnam and advocate for women’s rights. Throughout her life Judy maintained relationships with young women and men whom she mentored and inspired.

Judy’s lifelong commitment to service blossomed during her “retirement” to Kent County. She was a founding member of the Betterton Community Development Corporation, wrote the Talk of the Town Betterton column for the Kent County News, and persistently served as the town’s Chairman of the Board of Supervisor of Elections. Judy served as an advisor, director, or chairperson on numerous non-profit Boards in Kent County, and provided significant service to: The Garfield Center for the Arts, The Mainstay, Kent Youth, Inc., and The Chestertown Spy.

Washington College provided Judy with many satisfying experiences. She was a faculty member for WC-ALL, President and supporter of the Friends of Miller Library, and benefactor of Kohl Gallery.

While Judy herself was a generous supporter of many non-profit organizations, much of her patronage happened through The Hedgelawn Foundation. She and Ben created this small charitable trust in 2006 to promote the humanities, historical preservation and the visual preforming arts on Delmarva and in Venice, Italy. Their model of philanthropy, based on a requirement of matching funds, continues to enrich the artistic and cultural community of the Eastern Shore.

Judith C. Kohl is survived by a brother, John Willard Cleek and his wife, Constance, of Vero Beach, Florida; a son Benjamin G. Kohl Jr. and his wife Kimberley M. Kohl of Betterton, Maryland; a daughter Laura Ann Kohl and a granddaughter Haley Lee Carpenter Ball of Cortlandt Manor, NY; a niece, a nephew and numerous cousins. A private graveside service will be held at Old Saint Anne’s in Middletown, Delaware. A celebration of Judy’s life is being planned for winter 2019.

In lieu of flowers the family suggests making a contribution in Judy’s memory to St. Martin’s Ministries of Ridgley Maryland.

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Letters to Editor

  1. A Louise Earhart says

    I knew Judy Kohl through my brother Robert Hall and his wife Linda. Judy and Ben and Rob and Linda were great friends and traveled with them to Venice several times. It was as I saw it, a mutual admiration society. I am sure that Judy and Ben were members of many such societies. Judy spoke eloquently at Rob’s celebration and I was grateful to her. She attended/sponsored a piano recital I gave in Rob’s memory and I was grateful to her again. I stayed at her beautiful home and was a third time grateful. Judy was one who never stopped giving. We can all be grateful for her enourmous heart.

  2. Judy will be missed by so many in so many ways.

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