2022 Champions of Health Care: Herb Cohn, health care volunteer

Giving back to community improves sense of purpose, adds to quality of life for Erlanger volunteer

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Volunteer Herb Cohn at Erlanger hospital.

If it's a Thursday morning, there's at least one thing you can count on. Herb Cohn will be at Erlanger hospital.

For the past 25 years, he has shown up faithfully, says Emilia Jones, volunteer coordinator at Erlanger. Starting at 8 a.m. and leaving at 1 in the afternoon, Cohn assists visitors at the information desk -- validating parking tickets, looking up patient room numbers, helping them navigate the maze of hallways. As of this year, he has logged in more than 8,000 hours of volunteer service.

"He's truly an inspiration," says Jones. "Nobody wants to be at the hospital. We see people on hard days. And Herb is the first person they see.

"He's here with a smile on his face every single day. He truly loves Erlanger and this community."

It's true, says Cohn. He is passionate about both the hospital and this city. In October, he will be 91 years old. And minus four years of college and some time spent serving in the Navy, Cohn has lived in Chattanooga more than 81 years of his life.

His family business, Violet Camera Shops, was started by his grandfather, Herman Cohn, in 1915. Including his daughter, Amy Cohen, who ran the business for about eight years, there were four generations who operated the stores.

"For all those years, we made a good living," says Cohn. "And I really thought I owed the community a vote of thanks for supporting us all these years."

He has also served on Erlanger's auxiliary committee, where his businesses skills came in handy. The committee operates the hospital gift shop, as well as other vendor sales for uniforms, baby photos and books. Every dollar raised goes back to Erlanger in some fashion.

During his time as president of the committee, the group challenged themselves by pledging over $1 million to the children's Kennedy Outpatient Center. That's about 70 to 80 percent paid off now, he says. And they put more money toward it each year.

Looking back on the statistics -- 8,000 hours over 25 years -- Cohn isn't all that surprised.

"It's that much because I enjoy it so much," he says. "I think it helps with my quality of life and my longevity to have something to look forward to. So I've had to ask myself -- 'How am I going to make my life meaningful? I worked probably, in my business, about 50 hours a week. Why not, in retirement, do something that benefits the community?'"

But Erlanger isn't Cohn's only passion. He's also volunteered for years at other organizations including the Chattanooga Public Library, his local synagogue and a master gardener group. Nor is his day done when he leaves his volunteer post in the afternoon.

"After the desk, I usually go walking," he says. "Get some exercise in the mall."

Herb Cohn

* Role: Volunteer at Erlanger hospital.

* Career: Retired owner of Violet Camera Shops.

* Personal: Married to Suzanne Mandel (deceased 2014); father to two grown children; grandfather to six grandchildren.


* The 2022 Champions of Health Care

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Access Family Pharmacy, community outreach — organization

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Dr. Joe Cofer, lifetime achievement

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Jim Coppinger, innovation in health care — special recognition

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Galen Medical Group, innovation in health care

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Debra Moore, administrative excellence

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Morehouse School of Medicine and CHI Memorial Hospital, diversity and inclusion in medicine

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Dr. Mitchell Mutter, lifetime achievement

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Tom Ozburn, community outreach — individual

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Dr. Mukta Panda, physician — academic

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Dr. Colleen Schmitt, physician — community

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Paulo Hutson Solórzano, rising star

* 2022 Champions of Health Care: Dr. Robert Zylstra, non-physician practitioner