JM Cohen and Family: The Pioneering Spirit Lives On

The third child of Moses, Sr., and Adeline Cohen was Jacob M. Cohen, known as JM.  He was the one who had led many other members of the family at least temporarily to Sioux City, Iowa, where he was one of the leaders of the new and growing Jewish community and a pawnbroker and then became involved in the real estate business. He and his wife Belle Lehman Cohen had lost one child, Seba Maude, as a young child, and presumably a son Arthur, who just seemed to disappear, but I assume had died very young.

JM and Belle and their younger daughter Ruth had left Sioux City sometime before 1910 after their older daughter Fannie Sybil had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband Sigmund Stern.   Sybil, as she was known, had graduated from Wellesley College in 1901.  She and Sigmund had a daughter Judith born December 25, 1905 and a son Richard, born September 26, 1913.  Ruth, Sybil’s younger sister, had attended Smith College.  Ruth married Henry Stern, her brother-in-law Sigmund Stern’s younger brother, on January 30, 1911, when she was 27.

Ruth Cohen marriage license-page-001 Ruth Cohen marriage license-page-002

Sigmund Stern and his brothers Morris and Henry were very successful businessmen.  As described earlier, the three Stern brothers had originally settled in Sioux City after emigrating from Germany, and presumably that is where Sybil met Sigmund and Ruth met Henry.  The Stern brothers were smart investors, and in 1917 they founded an investment banking company that still exists today, now called Stern Brothers Valuation Advisers.  Here is what the company website has to say about the history of the firm and the Stern brothers who founded it:

“Our company traces its roots to the immigration of Morris, Henry and Sigmund Stern to the United States from Germany at the end of the 19th century.  The brothers had a vision for their lives that included the desire to succeed in business and create a better life for their families.  Morris and Sigmund settled in Sioux City, Iowa and went to work at a local department store.  They were ambitious and hoped to start their own business as soon as possible.  The brothers were able to raise enough money to buy inexpensive plots of land which they divided into small parcels and sold to farmers.  By 1917, they had accumulated approximately $300,000 from their land sales.  This became the seed money to found their investment banking firm – Stern Brothers & Co.”

Although on the 1910 census JM said he was retired, he listed his occupation as “investments” on the 1919 city directory for Kansas City.  On the 1920 census, his occupation was real estate agent.  Perhaps he was involved in his sons-in-law’s business.

JM’s wife Belle died on September 17, 1923, and JM died just six months later on March 28, 1924. The informant on JM’s death certificate was his son-in-law Sigmund Stern, who did not know either of JM’s parents’ names, but did know that his father had been born in England.

Belle Lehman Cohen death certificate

Belle Lehman Cohen death certificate

JM Cohen death certificate

JM Cohen death certificate

Both Belle and JM were buried back in Sioux City, Iowa, at Mt. Sinai cemetery, the cemetery they had worked to create only forty years earlier and where their daughter Seba Maude was also buried.

Belle Lehman Cohen headstone jacob M Cohen headstone

Unfortunately, the marriage between Ruth Cohen and Henry Stern was not successful, and by 1920 Henry listed his marital status as single on the census. He never remarried and was living with his brother Morris, who apparently never married, on the 1930 and 1940 census reports.  Although I could find Henry on these census reports, I could not find Ruth at all after the 1911 marriage record, whether I searched for her as Ruth Cohen or Ruth Stern.  I searched for all Ruths born in Iowa within a decade of her birth year and could not find a likely candidate on any census, nor could I find another marriage record or a death record or an obituary.  Like her brother Arthur, she just seemed to have disappeared.

Then by pure luck, while searching for information about one of Sybil’s descendants, I stumbled upon a news article about the will of Sigmund Stern in which his specific bequests to his family members were listed, including one to a Ruth Shaw of Hollywood, California, described as his sister-in-law.  I assumed that this was Ruth, Sybil’s sister, and started to search for her as Ruth Shaw in California.

At first I thought I had found her with her second husband, a man named Tracy N. Shaw who lived in Caspar, Wyoming, and then moved to California.  But after looking more closely at the records, it was clear that this was not my Ruth Shaw—wrong middle initial, wrong age, and wrong birth places for her parents.  I still have not found any records for the correct Ruth Shaw, except for two.  One was an entry in the California death index for Ruth J. Shaw, born June 8, 1883 (Ruth’s birthdate) in Iowa, died October 3, 1970, in Los Angeles.

Screenshot (11)


I asked for help on the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group about how to obtain a copy of the death certificate, and one very generous member volunteered to go to the local county clerk’s office in Norwalk, California, to look at the certificate.  She reported back to me the following information:

“Ruth Josephine Shaw born Jun 8, 1883, Iowa died Oct 3, 1970 8:30am usual residence & place of death: 3846 Aloha, LA Yrs. in CA & LA co: 25 yrs. housewife, 50 yrs., own home widow – no spouse name given father: J.M. Cohen, born Washington DC mother: Arabelle Lehman, Iowa name & address of informant: Richard Jay Stern 3600 Bellview Kansas City MO cremated: 10-7-1970 Chapel of Pines Funeral director: Pierce Bros., Hollywood cause of death: cerebral vascular accident – 10 days general athereosclerosis – 15 yrs.”

This is obviously the correct Ruth Shaw, but unfortunately Richard Stern, Ruth’s nephew, did not know Ruth’s second husband’s name.

I also found an entry in the 1940 census for a Ruth Shaw, born in Iowa, 57 years old (so the right age), divorced, living in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, without an occupation and with income from “another source.”  I have to believe that this is the right Ruth Shaw also.  The census indicated that she was living in New York City in 1935.  I’ve searched for a Ruth Shaw who fits these criteria in New York City, but have not found any records or references.

Ruth Shaw 1940 census

Ruth Shaw 1940 census

I have since also been fortunate to be in touch with a descendant of JM and Belle Cohen,  and she told me that Ruth had once written for Cosmopolitan Magazine before moving out to California.  She thought that Ruth’s second husband was named Brian Shaw, so I will continue looking for more information to fill in these gaps.

As for Ruth’s older sister Sybil, she and Sigmund were much easier to track.  They had a long marriage and seemed to have a very successful life.  They sent their children to elite private colleges, Judith to Wellesley College and Richard to Yale, where he was Phi Beta Kappa.  Both of their children returned to Kansas City after college.  Judith married Jules Coulter Rosenberger, Jr., on May 11, 1928, shortly after graduating from Wellesley, and they traveled to Europe in June for what I assume was a honeymoon trip.  Jules, like his brother-in-law Richard, was a graduate of Yale, class of 1926.  He then went on to Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1929.

Jules was the son and only child of an important leader in the Kansas City legal and business community, Jules C. Rosenberger, Sr.  According to one source, his father was one of the “men who made Kansas City.”  Another source had this to say about Judith Stern’s father-in-law: “Jules C. Rosenberger is one of the leading and most successful members of the Kansas City bar.”  Carrie Westlake Whitney, Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People 1808-1908, Volume 2 (Chicago; The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1908), pp. 603-604.

Despite the fact that Judith was the daughter of a very wealthy banker and Jules the son of a very successful lawyer, for a long time I could not find one newspaper article, one record, one reference anywhere that revealed what happened to them after their marriage.  As a last act of desperation, I decided to enter “Jules Rosenberger Judith Wellesley Yale” into Google to see what came up, expecting nothing relevant.  But I lucked out—the first search result was for a Yale alumni publication reporting on the deaths of university graduates in the years 1943-1944.  Sadly, Jules was one of those alumni; he died on March 6, 1944, of a heart attack.

From the Yale Bulletin Obituary Record 1943-1944

From the Yale Bulletin Obituary Record 1943-1944

He was listed as Jules Coulter Randal, however, not as Jules Rosenberger.  The only reason Google picked this document up at all in its search was the fact that the obituary provided his parents’ names, and thus Rosenberger was included in the text.  So now I knew why I had not been able to find Judith and Jules—they had changed their surname to Randal.  Using the facts in the obituary and the name Randal instead of Rosenberger, I was then able to learn a lot more about Jules, Judith and their family.

After Jules graduated from Harvard Law, Jules and Judith moved to Buffalo, where Jules worked with a law firm then known as Donovan, Raichle, and Randal.  I found it interesting that Jules chose Buffalo as a place to live and practice law.  Both he and Judith were from Kansas City and from very successful families.  Maybe they did not want to live in the shadow of their families but instead wanted to strike out on their own.

By 1942, however, Jules and Judith and their two children had left Buffalo and moved to New York City, where Jules joined the Wall Street law firm, Guggenheimer and Untermeyer.  Within two years after moving from Buffalo, he died of a heart attack.  He was only forty years old and left behind two young children and his 38-year old widow Judith.  He was buried back in Kansas City.

Judith and the children continued, however, to live in New York City.  In 1949 she married Nicolai Berezowsky, the renowned Russian born composer and violinust.  Together they wrote an opera for children based on the character and story of Babar the Elephant.


Unfortunately, Nicolai died four years after they married in 1953 when he was only 53 years old.  In an article in the Kansas City Star on February 5, 1959, p. 16, Judith talked about her marriage to Berezowsky on the occasion of a performance of his Fourth Symphony in her hometown.  She said that they had met through a mutual friend in 1947 and married two years later.  She said, “The four years that followed, before his death, were extremely interesting years for me.  I wasn’t a musician at all, but I soon learned about composers and their music.”  The Babar opera was Berezowsky’s last musical work.

Twice Judith had lost a husband to a too-early death.  Somehow she soldiered on and  became very involved in society and charitable activities.  I was able to find several articles naming her as the organizer of charitable events, including these two from the New York Times.

Judith Stern Randal New York Times, April 8, 1962

Judith Stern Randal
New York Times, April 8, 1962

Judith Stern Randal New York Times March 21, 1970

Judith Stern Randal New York Times March 21, 1970

In 1986, she established the Judith S. Randal Foundation to provide funding to educational, arts, and environmental activities.  The Foundation continues to exist and to provide funding to various organizations today.

Judith lived a good long life after her two husbands died.  She died in New York City on May 27, 2001, when she was 95 years old.  She was survived by her two children.

Judith’s brother, Richard, was even easier to track. After graduating from Yale, he received an M.B.A from Harvard and then returned to Kansas City.  In 1940 when he was 27, he was living with his parents, Sybil and Sigmund, and like his father, he was working as an investment broker at the family business, Stern Brothers.

Sigmund Stern died December 31, 1955, from a heart attack; he was 77 years old.  His wife, Sybil Cohen Stern, died five years later on November 7, 1961, her 82nd birthday.  She died of kidney disease.  Richard was the informant on both his father’s and his mother’s death certificates.

Sigmund Stern death certificate 1955-page-001 Sybil Cohen death certificate-page-001

After his father died in 1955, Richard became president of the Stern Brothers investment banking firm.  He served as President and CEO from 1956 until 1986.   According to the company website:

“Richard J. Stern, son of Sigmund, was instrumental in building a company that became the eighth largest regional investment bank in the United States with total capital exceeding $60,000,000.  Stern Brothers has provided financing and financial services to institutions that gave Kansas City its identity.  Individual security offerings the firm helped launch reads like a who’s who of Kansas City business history: Russell Stover Candies; Frank Paxton Lumber; the Employers Reinsurance Corporation; Rival Manufacturing; Cook Paint & Varnish Co.; and Gas Service Co.  As time passed Richard transitioned the firm ultimately to its employees, which led to the creation of Stern Brothers Valuation Advisors.”

Richard J. Stern died like his father did on New Year’s Eve.  He died December 31, 2001, just six months after his sister Judith.  As far as I can tell, he never married or had children.   According to the company website, “Richard was very supportive of the Kansas City Art Institute, the Kansas City Symphony and the Lyric Opera.  So upon his death on December 31, 2001, a significant portion of his net worth was placed in the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts.  The Foundation has total assets exceeding $40,000,000, which are used to support the Arts.”  If you Google Richard J. Stern and Kansas City, you will find a long list of arts institutions that are receiving funds from this foundation.

The story of JM Cohen and Belle is quite an extraordinary one.  As a young couple, they struck out on their own, moving to Iowa. They lost one and probably two young children.  JM and Belle then relocated to Kansas City, where both their daughters married Stern brothers, who were successful investment bankers. Their two grandchildren, Judith and Richard Stern, also lived long and productive lives.  Although Judith was widowed twice by the premature deaths of both her first and second husband, she not only survived—she seems to have led a good and active life and to have raised two children on her own in New York City. Richard took over his father and uncles’ business and ran it successfully for many years.  Both Judith and Richard created foundations to support the arts and other causes.  Obviously their grandparents’ independent spirit and community-mindedness was passed on to them both.

This was a family of people who were challenging to research because of the name changes and multiple marriages, but it made all the discoveries that much more exciting and surprising.  No wonder I am never bored when doing genealogy research.






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