Peter Hassel Cohan, Oak Ridge

Peter Hassel Cohan, age 85, of Oak Ridge, was received into the arms of God, July 5, 2021. He was born in Herkimer, NY May 29, 1936. His family then moved to Gloversville where he grew up and was part of the Trinity Episcopal Church. Peter was active in Boy Scouts and earned the rank of Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow. As a teen, he was a cook and waterfront director at a Boy Scout Camp in upstate NY. Peter graduated from Gloversville High School with many honors and attended Springfield College in MA where he earned his BS in Physical Education while working to pay his own way. After a year of being Activities Director at the Johnstown, NY YMCA, he returned to continue his education at Springfield College and earned his first Masters in Pathophysiology, in June of 1960. Peter met Judy at Springfield College and they married three years later. The couple then moved to Champaign, IL for Peter to work on his PhD in Human Physiology.

After visiting Oak Ridge and encouraged by his older brother, “Smitty”, they moved there with their new baby in 1961. Peter started his career at Jefferson Jr. High as a biology teacher and basketball coach. He worked as a youth director through his church, United Church, Chapel on the Hill, and coached swimming with ACAC. He continued his life-long love of learning and shared this with his students and all who encountered him. Peter was named the Outstanding Young Educator for TN and traveled to Washington, DC to meet the President and used scholarship award to attend UT. He was able to secure grants for the Oak Ridge Schools and created the Regional Science Experience Center and developed a science education program that he shared with other states and provided, through the Science Center, an outreach science program that went all over East Tennessee to share programs in underserved areas. Peter soon became the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Oak Ridge, in charge of transportation, budget, maintenance, and food service. His wit was quick, and sense of humor was infectious, so connecting with students and teaching were always his love. Pete continued to teach and mentor kids all his life. He felt it was his most important and rewarding job and he kept in touch with many to the end as he was always ready to listen and support.

Music played a big part in Peter’s life. He was musically inclined through the influence of his mother, who was a concert pianist, orchestra and choral conductor and teacher. Peter had perfect pitch and could play any stringed instrument, playing so well by ear. His love of making music was reflected so much in his life through his participation in the Scotsman double quartet in college, singing radio advertisements, and in various choirs, and playing music through his entire life. He later began making dulcimers, winning competitions, and selling dulcimers to people all across the country. You can find one of his dulcimers displayed by the Tennessee Arts Council in the Rotunda at the Capital in Nashville.

Peter loved being in the woods and working with wood including whittling. This led to another interest of his which was collecting and displaying knives. He collected many and was well known nationally for his Barlow knife collection. He became an expert in cutlery and amassed a huge collection before recently selling to other collectors. His expertise and reputation grew and he later became president of the National Knife Collectors Association, then located in Chattanooga. He curated and established the National Knife Museum in Sevierville, TN. Peter’s opinion was sought after, and he researched and contributed many references on knife collecting and did evaluations across the nation. He always was available to those in need and had a particular affection for elders and youth if they needed a helping hand or a listening ear. He had an unconditional love for those that God placed in his path. His non-judgmental and discerning spirit was a gift to many. He could often be found on his deck as he truly loved to be in “the woods” which is where he felt closet to God. Until the last days of his life, Peter continued to expand his knowledge and faith. He always was reading and was happy to expound upon his knowledge and opinions. His sense of humor was always on point, as was his sarcasm and readiness with a joke.

Peter was preceded in death by parents, Harold Jerome Cohan and Ellen Hassel Cohan, and two older brothers, Drenning Smith of Oak Ridge and Harold Jerome Cohan Jr. of NY and FL. 

He will be sorely missed by many friends and extended family and especially by his wife of 61 years, Judy; daughter, Susan and husband Tommy Watson of Fayetteville, GA; daughter, Betsy and husband John Koval of Peachtree City, GA; son, Jeffrey and wife Lori Cohan of Acworth, GA; and, daughter, Kristen and husband Eddie Beck of Johnson City, TN; Cody Riggs, whom he loved like a son; grandchildren, Brandon and Kristin White (Susan), Courtney, Hannah and Jennifer Koval, Auburn, Julie and Christian Cohan, and Jamie, Sadie and Sydney Beck; and special friends Frank, Steve, and Arch.

Funeral services will be held 12 pm , Saturday, July 10, 2021 at United Church, Chapel On the Hill with Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer officiating. A reception for family and friends will follow immediately in the fellowship hall. Interment will be held 3 pm, Saturday at Oak Ridge Memorial Park. Weatherford Mortuary is in charge of arrangements. An online guestbook is available at weatherformortuary.com.

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