Every day was Casual Friday for Harvey Cohen, rocking a Hawaiian shirt here.
By John Murphy
Twenty-four years ago I moved to San Bernardino and bought a house near 40th Avenue. A few blocks away, on Sierra Avenue, was a row of businesses that included a tamale shop, a tattoo parlor, a barbershop and Harvey Wallhanger’s Thrift Store.
That’s where I met Harvey Cohen, the owner of the thrift store and beloved Inland journalist who died April 24 at age 70 of kidney failure. Harvey was my bud. He called me “coach” because I used to wear those cheesy polyester coaching shorts that were popular for a time. Our personalities meshed and we spent hours in his store talking about sports, music and newspapers.
That was even 3-4 years before I arrived at the San Bernardino Sun. Harvey freelanced at The Sun, so we also became colleagues.
Friday nights during football season at the old Sun building downtown were wild. Sports editor Paul Oberjuerge, liter of Diet 7-Up in hand, presided as a rogues’ gallery of writers descended upon the old building. The cast included such unique characters as James Curran, Nick Johnson, Vinny Fazio, Danny Summers and, of course, Harvey.
Harvey didn’t have a key to the building, so he’d sometimes throw pebbles at the second-story window in front of my work station. Then he’d enter, often rocking a Hawaiian shirt and uttering a funny quip. Former Sun sports reporter Mirjam Swanson typically set Harvey up on the computer.
“He was the nicest, sweetest sportswriter I’ve ever come across, period,” Swanson said.
Nobody is arguing. Not Harvey’s siblings – Candi, Larry and Gary. Not girlfriend Jeannette Roostai, who Harvey met in 1994 and with whom he was living at the time of his death. Not the readers in Yucaipa where Harvey was a sports reporter for the Yucaipa-Calimesa News Mirror. And not the friends Harvey knew from childhood in North San Bernardino.
Harvey “grew up rough” in the 1960s, as his brother Larry put it, and wasn’t averse to settling disputes with his fists.
“In his high school years, he was tough,” Gary Cohen said. “He didn’t pick fights, but he didn’t walk away from any either.”
One day several members of a motorcycle club hassled Harvey. He responded by pummeling them all. Later, Harvey ran into the club’s leader who was known as “Sloopy.”
Recalled Harvey’s old friend Tom Wilson: “Sloopy said ‘Hi Harvey’ and Harvey said ‘Hi Sloopy.’ Then Sloopy asked Harvey what happened. Harvey said, ‘You know, I don’t think you want those guys under you – they can’t fight.”
In later years the 1967 San Bernardino High grad worked an array of jobs in far-flung locales. But eventually he returned to San Bernardino and opened his succession of thrift stores and began freelance writing. That and his move to Yucaipa to live with marathon runner Jeannette led to his final job.
In Yucaipa, Harvey was omnipresent, covering everything from Little League baseball, to martial arts, to high school sports.
“If you were an athlete in Yucaipa, you knew who Harvey Cohen was,” Yucaipa High football coach Justin Price said. “He came to practices and lower-level games and interviewed us after games. He even came by my house a few times. All the players were excited when they heard Harvey was coming to practice.”
A child of the 1960s, Harvey also had a social conscience. That and his penchant for speaking his mind and low tolerance for BS, sometimes made him the bane of City Hall and other agencies.
One of those groups was the Yucaipa Valley Water Board. Harvey had an issue with it, his brother Gary said, and argued so loud and long at a meeting that he was “escorted out.”
Deep down, though, Harvey was a kind soul. Certainly, he was to Jeannette, rising early in the morning to follow her on her long training runs. Jeannette ran an amazing 102 marathons, a feat Harvey wrote about in The Sun.
“We also loved to take walks,” said Jeannette, a native Costa Rican. “Long ones, and short ones lately. One week before he died, we went walking to the park, and he was telling me, ‘Please be patient, I am very slow now.’”
Considerate to the end, Harvey asked that his organs be donated to science.
“Harvey didn’t want anyone to worry,” Larry Cohen said. “He just wanted to be cremated. Maybe we’ll spread his ashes on a baseball field, but that’s in limbo now.”
Reach John Murphy at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @PrepCat