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Brant Cohen grad­uated in 2018. Brant Cohen | Courtesy

After attending the Wash­ington-Hillsdale Internship Program, Brant Cohen ’18 came back to Hillsdale with an idea help pre­serve the city’s history.

As the city of Hillsdale works to restore its his­toric downtown dis­trict, Cohen is helping to turn the Keefer House, which was built in 1885 and closed in 1965, into a bou­tique hotel.

He first got the idea the summer before his senior year, when he was interning in his home state of Illinois, working alongside state sen­ators, and they asked him what he wanted to do after grad­u­ation.

“I told them, ‘Well, pol­itics seemed to be a pretty good route and it’s what I’m inter­ested in,” he said. “‘But during my four years I kept looking at the Keefer House, and it’s beau­tiful.’”

Cohen said one of the sen­ators told him, “I’ve got this very affluent couple in my dis­trict. They own a bunch of busi­nesses and right now they’re trying to rebuild old prop­erties across Illinois. Why don’t you reach out to them about the project?”

After pro­cras­ti­nating for a few weeks, Cohen finally reached out to them.

“I spent more time on that email than my papers,” he said.

That email must have been well-received. Cohen received an invi­tation to visit the office of C.L. Real Estate in Peru, Illinois, owned by husband and wife Inga Carus and Peter Lim­berger, who are also donors to the college.

Pretty soon he was on the road with his dad to meet the people who would become his future employers.

“We sat down and talked and I didn’t realize it was my job interview,” he said. “He just asked me a lot of ques­tions and at the end he just smiled and stopped talking to me. I kept waiting for the ‘but,’ but he said, ‘Okay, tell the city we want to move forward with the project.’”

By October, Cohen was offered a job to work for C.L. Real Estate as the Michigan devel­opment asso­ciate. He said his job is still being defined, as this is the company’s first time expanding into the state.

“It kind of is what I’ve always wanted to do and I didn’t even know it,” Cohen said.

Cohen said they’re cur­rently working on about ten projects in Illinois and looking at many more. They are now starting to expand into Michigan, beginning with the Keefer House.

During his time as a student, Cohen was the pres­ident of College Repub­licans, par­tic­i­pated in pep band as a sax­o­phone player, was a member of Phi Mu Alpha, was a part of Little Big Band and even played some intra­mural bas­ketball. On top of all of this, he worked two jobs, both of which he said influ­enced his love for the city and his eye for its potential. The work also played a role in allowing him to have his current job.

“I was a student ambas­sador, and I loved wel­coming people to the college,” he said. “It helped me learn about and love Hillsdale. I began to look around and think, ‘what does this com­munity have to offer?’”

He also worked in the main­te­nance department as an office assistant.

“The women there con­nected me with the com­munity because they grew up in the city,” he said. “They were over the moon excited because I’m restoring a key property in their com­munity. They remember going there as kids.”

The women in the main­te­nance office had nothing but good things to say about Cohen.

“It’s won­derful,” Jill Draper, staff assistant said. “We’re very proud of him and the Keefer will do great things for Hillsdale.”

Cohen said they would encourage him to see the best in the com­munity and look at dif­ferent prop­erties. This job helped shape his eye for archi­tecture and potential as he got to see the exciting new building plans and blue­prints.

Cohen’s boss, Leah Martin, aid to the facil­ities department, said they would always play pranks on him. She recalled one time recruiting Dean Petersen to tell him he was fired.

“He has a great sense of humor,” Martin said. “He took it in stride.”

A picture of Cohen still hangs in super­in­tendent of cus­todial ser­vices Kelly Blaker’s office. It depicts him holding the straw­berry rhubarb crisp he made using his grandma’s recipe.

Martin says they love food in their office, and one summer Cohen even came back to judge a pasta-making contest.

His busy schedule didn’t stop him from having fun on campus, however. One of his favorite mem­ories occurred during the fall of his junior year, when he gathered with fellow Chicago Cubs fans in the Kappa House to watch the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in nearly 100 years.

“After the game we ran up the hill from Kappa blasting ‘go Cubs, go!’ and stopping everyone we saw,” he recalled. “We paraded in a line, dancing and jumping around the union. Then everyone nat­u­rally started gath­ering at the Thomas Jef­ferson statue in front of Central Hall. All the Cubs fans from all over campus just hap­pened to come.”

Cohen’s time as a student allowed for the right oppor­tu­nities and con­nec­tions. He said it taught him to appre­ciate the power of the com­munity.

“I still love pol­itics, but I don’t want to do D.C. pol­itics,” he said. “You can somewhat influence policy, but you’re not really making that much dif­ference.”

Now Cohen said he gets to improve the city he has grown to love and really make a dif­ference.

“I hope to be in this line of work for a long time,” he said. “I have a lot to learn. It’s fun to see this project from start to finish. I get to get a vision for these old hotels and see that happen. This is going to create more jobs… and pos­i­tively impact more people quickly.”