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Meet the PMML Staff - Leah Cohen

Have you ever wondered who's behind the scenes making the PMML run smoothly? It’s our pleasure to pull back the curtain and introduce you to the staff you see during your visits and those that work behind the scenes. This week, we are introducing you to Leah Cohen, the Oral History and Reference Manager. Leah began working at the PMML in January of 2018 and works tirelessly behind the scenes to help conserve the unique Stories of Service from Citizen Soldiers.

PMML: Hi Leah! Thanks for sitting down with us today. As the Oral History and Reference Manager, what collection item, book, event, oral history, etc from the PMML made a deep impression on you and why?

Leah: The event that made the strongest impression on me was Tour and Tea for World War II veterans, which took place on September 10, 2019. I’d like to take credit for this idea but this it was, in fact, my husband’s suggestion. When I commented to him how sad it is that each World War II veteran whom I interviewed reported being the last one alive in his unit or his veterans club, he recommended that I bring all the World War II veterans who had shared their story of service together at the Museum & Library. Initially, I imagined cookies and tea in the boardroom, but Director, Teri Embrey and the rest of the library team came on board, and we developed a finer program. Veterans were encouraged to invite family members and friends. As part of the program, Curator James Brundage gave a talk and tour of the D-Day exhibit and I presented briefly about the service and contribution of each veteran present. 

It was wonderful to see the immediate rapport between veterans and watch their families go through the exhibit with family and friends. In the case of John Storcel, the visit was a major undertaking organized by his daughter, Susan, who not only transported her father but his two caregivers, as well. At right, is a photo of me speaking with Marvin Sussman, one of the interviewees from the event. 

PMML: That sounds like such a wonderful event! It must have been great seeing all the interaction amongst veterans and their families. Having held your role for a number of years now, what is your favorite or most inspiring part of your job and why?

Leah: As an Oral History Manager, as well as being an employee of PMML, I love that I’m constantly learning and being surprised by historical facts or concepts that shake up my assumptions. I appreciate my colleagues and our resources, namely books and exhibits, who have helped facilitate my understanding of military history. Additionally, I have been fortunate to have always had bosses and colleagues with a high degree of creativity who open the door for me to think in new directions. This is a learning, too.

PMML: Yes, we certainly are lucky to work with such a robust, friendly, and creative staff! Can you think back to the funniest or best thing that happened to you while at work?

Leah: The funniest thing was receiving a phone call on June 5, 2018, from a PMML member who insisted that the PMML film two D-Day veterans, Dominic Errichiello and Donald Rung, who at the time were both living at his mother-in-law’s assisted living community. As a fearful driver and a newcomer both to the city and to my profession, it was daunting for me to drive to this remote suburb not to mention speedily do background reading in preparation of these interviews. Yet I miraculously arrived there, without mishap, with the list of questions in hand. The indefatigable champion met me, and we raced from one veteran’s home to the other with the digital recorder and paperwork in tow. Dominic Errichiello recounted his story, including his landing at Omaha Beach.

PMML: That’s awesome, thank you for capturing their oral histories! If you weren’t working at the PMML, what would you be doing? 

Leah: If I was not working at PMML, I’d like to think that I’d still be employed either as an oral historian or as a librarian of rare Judaica in the Greater Chicago area.

PMML: You certainly fit and preform the role very well, thankfully we have you on our team! What is your favorite summer activity?

Leah: Hmmm my favorite summer activity… it’s a toss-up between swimming and bicycle riding. I feel very fortunate that the building complex where I live has an outdoor pool and I try to make the most of it - in addition to swimming at a fitness center’s indoor pool. I am equally thrilled that there is a great system of bicycle paths here such as the one along Lake Michigan and I am trying to bike there more frequently.


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