OLLA News & Events

Meet the Kohn Heads!

An Interview with Karen and Steve Kohn

By Renee Salick, Ed.D. and Ivan Huber, Ph.D.

Tell us how you met and give a brief overview of your careers and family.
We met at a fraternity party at Queens College in New York from which we both graduated. Love at first sight, or second; Karen’s main criterion was that her boyfriend be a great dancer, and I passed the test. We married upon Karen’s graduation.

We have two married sons. David and his wife have two daughters and live in California. Gary and his family live in Illinois. Being grandparents is fantastic, and we are so proud of our grandchildren.

Steve had a career as Chief Financial Officer for a magazine publishing group and later changed careers to become a marketing executive for a sports marketing company. Karen has been a school teacher, science specialist for Las Virgenes School District, and was further promoted to Department Chair. She also had a second job as consultant and founder of a business in SAT prep, study skills and tutoring in math and science.

How much of an advantage is your love of opera to your relationship? What else are you passionate about?
It is either a coincidence of circumstance or profound respect for each other that have made things work out so well. Music, dance, family and travel are priorities, and we are also interested in trying new things. While each of us worked intently on our careers, having time of our own to plan is wonderful. Retirement is an opportunity to work hard at our passions, and we spend many hours a day not relaxing but indulging fervently in things we love. Our work and play ethic is vital. Supporting each other’s passions is likewise important. Enjoying our mutual interests is sublime. We have no plans to slow down. Karen’s current passions are photography, dance and exercise. Seriously, who can ask for anything more?!

When you contemplate opera, you observe, interpret and analyze many nuances and overarching themes. You can discuss information providing interesting similarities and cogent facts among hundreds of operas. Is this something you bring from your past careers or studies?
Steve: Karen and I can be strategists and tacticians. We are very well matched in our desire to keep our minds sharp. Since our approach to our careers was comprehensive, we apply the same approach to other passions. But we pull from every experience in our past to do good work in the present.

Karen: I agree with Steve. We are constantly active and plan our free time as we did our work schedules. We are busy and keep life challenging. I love to listen to Steve’s presentations before he finalizes them. We both cherish this collaboration. I know enough to make comments that make Steve think. I believe Steve is a star presenter.

Steve, when Renee first heard you deliver an opera talk as part of the Opera League's Community Educators program, she called you a sage with vast operatic erudition and impeccable delivery. What compels you to absorb opera so comprehensively?
I have a specific approach to learning an opera. I listen to an opera twice with an open mind for what compels and engages me. I automatically contrast, compare and then research many related topics.

How do you prepare your talks?
I make an outline with themes or anything that comes to mind. My result is like a formal paper. I am very proud of the library we have designed in our house that contains hundreds of DVDs, CDs and books about opera. I have about 150 good-to-go presentations. It takes about 40-80 hours to prepare for each talk. I’m lucky to have a great memory, but I deliver my message from the heart.

You both have been worker bees and strategic thinkers while involved with the League. Steve, you were on the board of directors, and you both work as volunteers in many capacities. You seem to do it all. What are your future goals for involvement?
As a board member, Karen helped me tremendously, just by listening to me discussing my ideas. She is great at coming up with suggestions I might not think of. We work together at Shop at the Opera and exchange roles as managers and sellers. We have had great fun at cast dinners, and Karen’s couscous is a serious crowd favorite. She is my most devoted fan related to my presentations.

We are both happy with the activities we have taken on. Both of us want to continue to contribute and have no plans to slow down with the Opera League. We have impressed on everyone that we are available for any needs the League may require. We try to do activities we can take on together as we like to share the travel time from our home in Woodland Hills to downtown. Now we find ourselves focusing on spreading the message that opera is relevant… because so much old is new again.

You seem to have brought in many new members to the League, including many who volunteer. You must be very proud of your influence on the betterment of the League as an organization.
Our enduring message for the Opera League is to encourage new energy, active volunteering and new ideas. The League is a wonderful organization and has a history of positive growth. We are proud of our involvement and have made many lifelong friendships. The Opera League is a genuine joy for us and is a priority among things we are involved with. We are extremely pleased with all the members we’ve brought to the League and hear back that they are grateful as well.

How many years have you been involved in the League? Can you describe a memory that is exceptional for you both?
We have volunteered for the Opera League for 17 exceptional years!

Steve: Karen’s favorite memory was the time she made a very large portion of her favored couscous for the cast dinner. Upon parking and unable to find the food, we realized we left it at home. Steve went in to help with set-up while Karen swiftly traveled home and back to deliver the luscious dinner.

Karen: This represents what is so special about how we work together and an example of how two can work in perfect unison and not skip a beat. We love working together.

Steve: I remember with nostalgia, pre-Opera League, a season that included the Hungarian composer and holocaust survivor Emmerich Kálmán and his operetta Gräfin Mariza. The notable achievement of this man’s life is moving to me, and the music was beautiful. I get very sentimental when I think about this.

Author: Thomas Lady
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