The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Barbara Cohen — 2016


The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum, along with Citadel Federal Credit Union, is pleased to present its tenth annual Rebecca Lukens Award to be presented to noted Renaissance Woman, Barbara Cohen of Valley Forge.

A native of Philadelphia, and class valedictorian of her class at Northeast High School in 1959, this great lady went on to truly change the face of a community. Not only has she been a dedicated township supervisor, but she has also been extremely active in civic organizations that literally transformed the face of Phoenixville. Ms. Cohen credits her parents for her community activism, “My parents were both committed participants and leaders in our synagogue and other non-profit, charitable organizations. I believe that this fostered in me the idea that giving back to the community is a positive and important aspect of life.”

She feels that Rebecca Lukens also exemplified this same dedication to community, family and history. “I am very honored and humbled to be the recipient of the Rebecca Lukens Award this year. She was an amazing woman, especially given the time frame in which she lived and worked. Her inspirational story gives me the courage and inner strength to continue my quest to make history come alive and be aesthetically appreciated by all!”

Barbara’s list of accomplishments and accolades is impressive. During the early years, whether it was teaching students piano lessons to pay for her clothes and books while attending Temple University, selling Girl Scout cookies, participating at her synagogue, or living with a family in Great Britain, Barbara was setting herself up for future success.

“My early training as a race car driver (yes, I have a racing license) came during my “super-mom” years when I chauffeured our children to their activities everywhere! After one of my husband’s medical colleagues gave me my first interior design job, I went to Drexel University where I earned a Master’s Degree in Interior Design in 1983. For several years I worked as a commercial designer in Philadelphia. Then, in 1990, I ran for the state legislature and almost defeated a 16-year incumbent. Although I lost the election, my platform and my ideas have become part of a regional agenda to bring a new spirit and economic revitalization to this area,” says Ms. Cohen.

The 1990’s were a busy time for Barbara. A mother of two and the wife of a radiologist, Barbara found herself time-pressed, but still able to make a huge difference in her community. She served on the Board of Directors of the Schuylkill River Greenway Association and in 1992 she became the Executive Director of the Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce. She was also the volunteer director and later, a Board member of the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation (PAEDCO). All this while helping to transform a vacant lot in Phoenixville and a neglected wall into a visual delight and Trompe L’Oeil with the creation of The Phoenixville Mural and Renaissance Park.

It is most likely her PAEDCO relationship that served as the vehicle for her crowning achievement with the resurgence of the Foundry Building in Phoenixville. “Members (of PAEDCO) created Phoenixville’s National Registered Historic District in 1989. “Since this important tool was already in place, I was able to help lead the effort to restore and adaptively reuse the historic Foundry Building,” cites Ms. Cohen. “It is a contributing structure to Phoenixville’s Historic District and in 1996 it was named as one of the Pennsylvania’s nine most endangered historic buildings. PAEDCO raised over five million dollars for this successful initiative.”

James D. Ziegler, the National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum’s executive director applauds this year’s choice for the tenth annual Rebecca Lukens Award. “We here in Coatesville are thrilled with the accomplishments Ms. Cohen has made in our neighboring town of Phoenixville. Her dedication to her community, her family and her township, mirrors the type of dedication that Rebecca exemplified. We could not be more elated over this year’s honoree.”