Community celebrates life of 22-year-old alumnus

Oak+Park+alumnus+Zachary+Cohen+died+Feb.+26+at+age+22+after+having+pneumonia+and+cancer.+Hundreds+gathered+at+North+Ranch+Country+Club+Sunday%2C+March+5+to+celebrate+his+life+%28reprinted+with+permission+from+the+Cohen+family%29.
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Community celebrates life of 22-year-old alumnus

Oak Park alumnus Zachary Cohen died Feb. 26 at age 22 after having pneumonia and cancer. Hundreds gathered at North Ranch Country Club Sunday, March 5 to celebrate his life (reprinted with permission from the Cohen family).

Oak Park alumnus Zachary Cohen died Feb. 26 at age 22 after having pneumonia and cancer. Hundreds gathered at North Ranch Country Club Sunday, March 5 to celebrate his life (reprinted with permission from the Cohen family).

Oak Park alumnus Zachary Cohen died Feb. 26 at age 22 after having pneumonia and cancer. Hundreds gathered at North Ranch Country Club Sunday, March 5 to celebrate his life (reprinted with permission from the Cohen family).

Oak Park alumnus Zachary Cohen died Feb. 26 at age 22 after having pneumonia and cancer. Hundreds gathered at North Ranch Country Club Sunday, March 5 to celebrate his life (reprinted with permission from the Cohen family).

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Fourteen boys journeyed from childhood to adulthood together. Thirteen gathered to celebrate the life of one.

Hundreds came together at North Ranch Country club Sunday, March 5, to celebrate the life of Oak Park alumnus Zachary Cohen, known to his friends and family as Zach.

Cohen was diagnosed with cancer last year, and responded well to treatment. However, he caught pneumonia in January and, after spending seven weeks in the hospital, died Sunday, Feb. 26 at 22 years old.

“That is what makes it all the more tragic,” Cohen’s father, Darian Cohen, wrote in an email. “It was only secondarily related to the cancer and treatment.”

Cohen grew up in Oak Park, attended Oak Hills Elementary School, Medea Creek Middle School and Oak Park High School, graduating in 2013. He attended Loyola Marymount University for a year. He later transferred to Moorpark College.

Junior Jake Iazetta’s brother, Matt Iazetta, was a close friend of Cohen’s; they had grown up through the Oak Park schools together.

“[The celebration of Zach’s life] was the largest amount of people I’ve been around in my life,” Jake Iazetta said. “I saw so many kids that were connected to his family that I never [thought] would know him. The whole thing was really, really powerful.”

It was a beautiful event because it was meaningful that his friends talked about his life. It was called a celebration of life; they made it that way.”

— Tony Knight

Superintendent Tony Knight met Cohen as a fourth grader at Oak Hills while leading a Shakespeare production. Knight said he was deeply moved by the memorial.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Knight said. “It was a beautiful event because it was meaningful that his friends talked about his life. It was called a celebration of life; they made it that way.”

Each of Cohen’s 13 close friends paid tribute to him by sharing a story at his memorial.

“Everyone [in Zach’s friend group] was brought back together by this. They’re all having a really hard time with it,” Jake Iazetta said.

Cohen’s family shared that, even from a young age, he had a very strong sense of family, both in blood and in brotherhood. He had one sister, Maddie.

“Especially in the last year, [Zach] grew very close with his sister,” Darian Cohen wrote. “Of course, that did not stop them from fighting.”

[Zach] could talk to [his relatives] about anything. [He was] way beyond his years in that way.”

— Darian Cohen

Darian Cohen noted that his son was close with his extended family as well.

“He always enjoyed the family gatherings and always engaged with all the relatives, especially those of the prior generation. He could talk to them about anything. [He was] way beyond his years in that way,” Darian Cohen wrote. “My mother lives in the valley and they would go have sushi together once a week or so. Without question, his favorite food was sushi.”

History teacher Todd Creason said that Zach’s immediate group of friends 14 members strong had a strong presence in high school, and impacted many of the people around them, students and teachers alike.

“The part that is really memorable is that they just had such a tight group of guys,” Creason said. “That whole group was a neat thing to be a part of and to teach and to see their relationships.” 

While Cohen was heavily involved socially in high school, he was also committed to his education.

He was always very inquisitive,” Darian Cohen wrote. “His grades were good, but he always resented that school seemed more about grades than actual learning.”

Despite his son growing up in Oak Park, Darian Cohen said that he was well aware of his privilege and felt great compassion for those not as fortunate.

“[Zach] had a real soft spot for the ‘underdog,’” Darian Cohen wrote. “He felt strongly about social injustice and fully understood that he grew up in a ‘bubble.’”

He really said what he wanted to say and did not care what was the more favorable opinion, did not care what his friends thought of his opinion. He made sure he was heard.”

— Jake Iazetta

Zach Cohen’s friends and family expressed that he was always loyal to the special bond that he shared with his best friends.

[Zach and his friends] stuck together over the years through thick and thin,” Darian Cohen wrote. “People change, but they always found their common ground.”

Zack Cohen played soccer all four years of high school, with three years on the varsity team. Zach also was an avid follower of many different sports, especially football.

“A lot of the people [at the celebration] were dressed in Rams paraphernalia because he was a big Rams fan,” Creason said.

Jake Iazetta said his friend had a strong sense of self — that he knew who he was, he knew what he believed and he was never afraid to share it.

“My dad and [Zach’s] dad coached my brother on a soccer team with Zach when they were seven,” Jake Iazetta said.  “Zach … did not listen to anything at all, ever — no instructions.”

Jake Iazetta said that Cohen had a determined spirit.

“[Zach’s personality] turned into him being really opinionated and really strong-willed … in a good way,” Jake Iazetta said. “He really said what he wanted to say and did not care what was the more favorable opinion, did not care what his friends thought of his opinion. He made sure he was heard.”

He was the best son anyone could ask for. We miss him a lot.”

— Darian Cohen

Creason expressed that in class, Zach Cohen’s direct and honest persona translated into a personality people gravitated toward.

“Who he was and what he represented and how he carried himself [made him unique], and he was just honest. You knew where you stood with this individual. He’s not gonna put on any pretenses and try to be someone else that he’s not,” Creason said. “Zach was who he was.”

Community members, friends, and family grieved the loss of a beloved son, brother and friend.

“He was the best son anyone could ask for,” Darian Cohen wrote. “We miss him a lot.”

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