Helen Degen Cohen – Beloved Poet, RHINO Founder and Editor


helen degen cohen photo by valerie wallace

Helen “Halinka” Degen Cohen

November 19, 1934 – November 24, 2015
Memorial Service on Friday, November 27, 2pm
First Congregational Church of Evanston, 1445 Hinman Ave.
Reception to follow at the home of Ralph Hamilton
630 Clinton Place, Evanston, 3:30pm


unnamedHelen Degen Cohen was born Halina “Halinka” Degenfisz on November 19, 1934 in the town of Grojec, located near Warsaw, Poland. A Holocaust survivor, Helen was kept in hiding during World War II by Maria Szumska. Helen and her parents Joseph Degen and Bluma “Bella” (Dreyer) Degen later settled in Chicago. Helen graduated from Roosevelt High School, and later from Trinity University and University of Illinois Circle Campus. She married Arnold Lewis Cohen, with whom she had three children – Richard Scott, Daniel, and Laura. She later married Donald Neil Memmer, who preceded her in death.

Helen had a long career as a writer and educator. She was a co-founder and continuing editor of the RHINO Poetry Journal, which next year celebrates its 40th anniversary. She was an elementary school teacher, taught college classes, and toured the State of Illinois as an Illinois Artist-in-Residence. An acclaimed writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, Helen received many prizes and awards, including the Paladin Award for extraordinary long-term contribution to poetry in Illinois. She leaves behind a vast body of literature, some of which will be published in the coming years. 

When Helen passed, she remained engaged in her lifelong passions. Her life-ending brain aneurysm occurred while participating in a RHINO Poetry Workshop. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were making plans for one of her favorite family get-togethers – the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Helen leaves behind three children – Richard Scott Cohen (Gitte Hansen-Cohen), Dan Cohen (Micki Sand-Cohen), and Laura Cohen; four grandchildren – Tara Cohen Kisner (Ryan Kisner), Josh Cohen, Claudia Cohen, and Eric Cohen; and three great-grandchildren – Samantha Frost, Ella Kisner, and Kailynn Kisner. She also leaves behind a multitude of friends and colleagues, many of whom have expressed sincere appreciation for the influence Helen had on their lives.

Those wishing to do so may send a donation in Helen’s memory to:
Rhino Poetry
PO Box 591
Evanston, IL 60204

or online through the secure JustGive portal.


Videos of Helen reading from her work are now available here.



8 Responses to “Helen Degen Cohen – Beloved Poet, RHINO Founder and Editor”

  1. Sheila A. Donovan says:

    I am saddened by Helen’s passing. She has shared her knowledge and love of poetry with so many.

  2. So sorry to hear of Helen’s death! I will be on the road to Texas Friday, but I will carry her poetry with me and remember her wonderful contributions to poetry in Chicago and beyond. We will all miss her.

  3. Judith MK Tepfer says:

    Hers was a strong voice in poetry and a forceful presence in our lives. May her memory be for a blessing.

  4. Arlyn Miller says:

    I’m so sorry to read this news. Somehow she seemed immortal to me. What a full and vibrant life she led and what a gift to the poetry community she’s been.

  5. Donna Vorreyer says:

    Helen was a talented and generous-hearted woman. Reading her work taught me so much, and spending the little time I spent with her taught me even more. Her words and memories of her kind heart will remain.

  6. Kathryn Halpern says:

    Helen was so wonderful and made my time as a RHINO intern so special. Thinking of you all and am so saddened to hear this news.

  7. Julie Parson Nesbitt says:

    Helen’s poetry was deep and moving. She was a skilled writer with so much empathy and clarity. I tremendously admire her generosity and dedication with other poets and her in her work with Rhino. I will miss her presence in our community. May her memory be for a blessing.

  8. Oh, dear. I’m so sorry for Helen’s family but so glad everyone was preparing to gather together with her, now for this different and sadder reason. What a shock. How strangely beautiful that her death would arrive as she was doing what she so loved to do! My love to you all.

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