HOMEWOOD, IL — Genny Cohen lived a childhood unlike many of her peers.
One filled with live music, movie showings and late nights (often followed by sleepy school days). White Castle hamburgers (“sliders”), hot dogs at 1 a.m. after a night chasing adventure with her dad, Sanford Cohen.
“That’s how he did life,” Genny told Patch, of her dad. “It was always very, very entertaining. It was a life that no other kid lived. And I think when I look back on it—people thought my dad was crazy … Well, he was, but he always gives people an experience they’ll never have with anybody else.”
Sanford Cohen died Jan. 7 at 78 years old. The slice of life Genny shared is a glimpse at the man more widely known in Homewood for his stewardship of the Homewood Theater, a 600-seat movie theater that had reportedly been converted from an auto repair shop. Cohen owned the theater for less than a decade— 1977 until 1984—but left a lasting impression on those who came through the doors at 18110 S. Dixie Highway.
His days owning the theater—where he would treat movie-goers to “complimentary punch and coffee cake as if they were family”—were his happiest, family wrote in his obituary.
“My dad really found his love for entertainment because he loved attention,” Genny Cohen said. “It put him in the spotlight.”
Before the Homewood Theater, Cohen owned one in Chenoa, Illinois. He bought the Ritz-Cinema in 1976, at a price tag of $5,800, columnist Dave Hoekstra wrote in a tribute to him. After graduating from Columbia College with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 1968, Cohen worked as a general-education development trainer at the Cook County Jail, Hoekstra wrote. Genny Cohen recalls learning that even as he kept that job, he made the four-hour roundtrip drive to run the Chenoa theater on weekends.
His love for movies ran deep, Genny Cohen said, and he aspired always to be a bit of a showman.
“I truly believe his love for the theater and the arts truly put him in the spotlight,” Genny Cohen said.
The Homewood theater played classics like “Harold and Maude” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”— for the latter, Genny never missed an opportunity to dress in costume and watch.
In his tribute column to Cohen, Hoekstra gave a nod to his dedication and deep desire to make people happy. Cohen manned the theater from noon until midnight on weekends, also working as a substitute teacher in the south suburbs.
“He would introduce area celebrities such as the local State Farm insurance man and ask customers in the lobby if they wanted to bum a cigarette,” Hoekstra wrote, adding that Cohen once told him ‘I’ll do anything to keep a customer happy.’
Cohen’s chatty nature played well into his commanding an audience at the Homewood theater, Genny said.
“The man that talked to everybody and anybody,” Genny said, laughing. “He really did talk to everybody. … I apparently have that ability, too, but not quite like he did. When people say I love to talk, and that I talk too much, I’d tell them, ‘meet my father, he’ll make me look like a mute.'”
And it went beyond casual chatter for Cohen. The Danville, Illinois native wove an expansive web of Facebook friends, topping off at 5,000 and rendering him unable to add more, Genny said. The connections ran deeper than scrolling his feed, Genny said.
“He would add everybody and their mother, and then stay in touch with them,” she said, laughing. “He would meet one of my friends once and then stay in touch with them forever.
“Once he met you, he was friends with you for life.”
After selling the theater, Cohen pursued work in bill collection—a shift in schedule and availability for him. It freed up his nights and weekends, Genny said.
“My father was the dad that showed up,” she said. “When I was growing up, he took me to daddy/daughter dances, every one of my softball games unless he had to work—even though he loved owning the movie theater and that was his pride and joy.
“… I had the dad that showed up.”
Beyond movies, his interests touched on all forms of entertainment, including live music, theater, and sports with friends and family nearly every day. He once sold sports merchandise outside stadiums, and Genny recalled him swapping with scalpers—tickets for T-shirts and hats—so she and he could be in the stands.
“I was blessed to have him as a dad—most kids don’t go to a ton of concerts, movies, plays, and sporting games,” she said.
He later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he frequented live shows at the Pabst Theater. From 2021 through 2024, Cohen attended 52 shows at the venue.
“He always sat in the front row,” Genny said. “He never cared that he was the oldest person in the room.”
The venue also shared a tribute to Cohen.
“When you host 800 shows a year, you’d think that one person of those 500,000+ people wouldn’t stand out,” wrote Gary Witt, CEO of Pabst Theater Group.
“Sanford stood out.
“His passion for live music brought him to our venues dozens of times every year. He was a regular at ALL of our venues and ALL of the venues around town and outside of town. He came. He asked lots of questions. He always had suggestions. But he always came… experimenting way beyond the expectation of anyone in their 70’s. Metal, classic rock, guitar hero’s, country. Name it and he was there. He never stopped listening to and discovering music. And he never stopped enjoying it with friends old … and new (that he made that night). We will miss Sanford.”
His obituary reads that he “lived in many places and did all sorts of interesting work, ultimately returning to the world of movies, most recently as a greeter at the Marcus North Shore Cinema in Mequon, Wisconsin.”
Beyond his love for entertainment, Cohen was an avid sports fan. His biggest loyalties were to The Fighting Illini, Northwestern University, Chicago Bears, and the Chicago Cubs.
So much of who her dad was, Genny carries on. She, too, can chat up a stranger, and she loves attending live shows. If you ask her what her first concert was, she’ll say Mötley Crüe in first grade.
“If you want to get technical, my first concert was Queen,” she said. “My dad took my mom to see Queen when she was pregnant with me.”
In sharing news of her dad’s death in Homewood social media groups, Genny was touched as many shared memories of him and the theater.
“He was such a nice man, and watched his theater with an eagle’s eye,” one person commented. “He gave so much happiness to Homewood.”
Another shared that the theater was special to the tight-knit town.
“The Homewood Theater was a treasure, particularly for such a small town as Homewood,” that person wrote. “Your father made it happen.”
As proud as he was of his work at the theater, his pride in being a grandfather surpassed that, Genny said. Genny is one of two daughters born to Sanford and Genny’s mother. Genny’s sister Cindy died in 2021 at 52 years old. Their mother died in 2011 at 64 years old, Genny said.
Sanford was a grandfather to Justin, Ashley and Jack.
“His biggest accomplishments in life were me and my sister, but really it was the three grandchildren,” Genny said. “He was most proud of them.”
Sanford’s commitment to supporting her childhood endeavors echoed in the same to his grandchildren.
“He was going to whatever the kids had going on,” she said. “He did have that larger than life personality, but he loved his grandchildren.”
In the days since his death, she’s reflected on the dynamics of their relationship, hobbies, and shared passions.
Click Here: Germany National Team soccer tracksuit
“If he went to a concert, he wanted to talk to you about what the show was going to be, and afterwards,” she said. “He always wanted to talk about everything.”
He’d question her choice in movies, often relying heavily on the opinions of critics when in conversation.
“He was something else,” Genny Cohen said.
“He drove everybody crazy, but now we miss that he drove us crazy.”
He had a habit of calling her at 1 a.m., and Genny wouldn’t answer.
“… now my phone is quiet, and I hate it. What drove you crazy, is now what you miss.”
A memorial service is planned for Sunday, Jan. 21 at 3 p.m., Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid (CBINT), 6880 N. Green Bay Avenue, Glendale, WI. All are welcome. The memorial service will also be streamed. Shiva will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages contributions in Sanford’s memory to Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, Cohen Hillel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or a charity of your choice.
Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.