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Our Town by William Kelly: Entrepreneur and philanthropist enhance roster of Civic Association directors

The Palm Beach Civic Association is welcoming two new directors – business entrepreneur Bob Nowak and philanthropist Susan Cohon.

Cohon and Nowak were approved as directors by the Civic Association’s Executive Committee at its April 17 meeting.

Cohon and Nowak bring the number of Civic Association directors to 137. They join seven other new directors for 2024-25, whose approval by a proxy vote of the organization’s membership was announced at its April 8 Annual Meeting.

Nowak is president of Rhode Island Novelty, a retail company he founded in 1986. Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, Rhode Island Novelty is the nation’s leading designer, importer, and wholesale distributor of amusement toys, novelties and merchandise.

He and his wife Rita have been town residents since 2016 and Civic Association members since 2018.

Cohon is a philanthropist who has served as a director for numerous charitable organizations, including the United Way, the University of Toronto Foundation, and the Ontario College of Art and Design (now OCAD University).

She is a longtime town resident and has been a Civic Association member for at least 15 years.

Mary Robosson, the Civic Association’s president and chief operating officer, said each director brings a unique proficiency to the organization’s roster of talented and experienced community leaders.

“The Civic Association continues to add great bandwidth with our two recently appointed directors, Susan Cohon and Bob Nowak,” Robosson said. “We welcome our 2024-2025 slate of directors and the expertise they will bring to our continued success.”  

The other seven directors on the 2024-25 slate are Christopher Cowie, Oliver Grace, Michael Edwin Kafrissen, Audrey McNiff, Bob Merrill, Richard Rothschild, and Susan Van Pelt. They were profiled in the May 3 Our Town article, “Palm Beach Civic Association welcomes ‘outstanding’ slate of new directors.” READ HERE.  

Susan Cohon

Susan Cohon

Susan Cohon’s late husband, George Cohon, was a Civic Association director since 2009 and an Executive Committee member from 2010 until his death on November 24, 2023, at age 86. Mr. Cohon was a business executive and philanthropist who introduced McDonald’s restaurants to Canada and Russia.

“George was very active in the Civic Association and a respected leader in the organization who cared very much about our mission,” said Michael Pucillo, the Civic Association’s chairman and chief executive officer. “I know Susan shares George’s commitment to the mission of the Civic Association and will carry on the tradition George started. We’re very pleased to have her as a member of our Board of Directors.”

After graduating in 1960 with a liberal arts degree from Northwestern University, Susan Cohon married George Cohon and the couple started a family in Chicago. The family moved to Toronto and the Cohons became Canadian citizens involved in Canada’s political, cultural, charitable and social life.

The Cohons visited senior facilities, hospitals and schools with their golden retrievers, many of whom were trained as service or therapy dogs.

George Cohon founded Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada, a non-profit organization that provides accommodation for families with seriously ill children who must travel to access necessary medical care.

Susan Cohon said she and George enjoyed bringing their golden retrievers and spending time each year with the many families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Toronto.

A devoted dog lover, Susan Cohon is involved in COPE [Canine Opportunity People Empowerment], an organization that promotes the training of service dogs to help transform the lives of people with disabilities.

She was also the first woman chairperson of Variety Village, a world-class sports and fitness center for able-bodied and disabled children.  

Susan Cohon said she and George both loved Palm Beach, and that being involved with the Civic Association is a great way to protect the town.

“My husband and I have lived in this community for over 25 years,” she said. “Through the eyes of my husband, I realized that we have to be concerned about our beautiful town and maintaining the standards that we all appreciate. I hope to carry on some of this important work and help to build a stronger community.”

Bob Nowak

Bob Nowak

Nowak graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. But there were very few job opportunities in that field at the time, so he ended up launching his own business.

Today, Rhode Island Novelty employs 240 people and operates a state-of-the-art operation in a massive warehouse that exceeds 500,000 square feet.

Nowak is also president and founder of Alternate Power and Energy, a firm that has developed and installed more than 90,000 solar panels. The company produces more than 26 million kilowatt-hours of energy annually throughout Massachusetts.

He is a longtime director of Brookline Bancorp, where he holds the titles of Compensation Chair and Nominating and Governance Chair.

He is a former board member of the United Way of Rhode Island.

David Duffy, a member of the Civic Association’s Executive Committee and a native of Rhode Island, has known Nowak for years.

Duffy expressed admiration for Nowak’s enterprising nature, saying he started his business by selling balloons and other novelties and built that into a world-class retail operation. Nowak’s interest in starting an alternative power company was sparked by his own experience with installing solar panels on the roof of his company’s building. 

“He’s an ‘everyman’ entrepreneur – from novelty company founder, to engineer, to bank director, to flying his own jet,” Duffy said. “He’s also just a really nice, charming fellow.”

Nowak said he and his wife have enjoyed the Civic Association’s educational programming, including this year’s Annual Award Breakfast and Signature Speaker series program featuring Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who Nowak said is a friend.

“We just want to be a part of the community,” Nowak said. “We think the Civic Association does a lot of good work, and we’d like to be a part of that.”

Our Town sponsored by:

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