INVERNESS, FLA. — Rona Lee Kohler, loving wife, mother, grandmother and co-founder with her husband Jesse of JMK Shows, died on April 1 at Citrus Memorial Hospital. Her devoted husband was at her bedside. Rona was born on October 12, 1937, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the only daughter among four children of Pearl and Michael Gertz.
She attended Tilden High School, graduating in three years with honors. She attended CCNY as a business major, but left before graduating to accept a multifaceted job as a bookkeeper, radio announcer, disc jockey and good will ambassador at the Virgin Isle Hotel in the Bahamas. She interviewed dignitaries and celebrities visiting the islands, and was the first to record the island’s steel bands. After a while she returned home to Brooklyn to live with her parents and brothers.
She became a sought-after model for the famous Powers Modeling Agency in New York City. After that, she worked for a medical supply company where her incredible memory, vibrant personality and mathematical skills made her an invaluable asset to the firm. She was promoted to sales manager and traveled extensively throughout North and South America.
In 1960, Rona returned to the Baruch School of CCNY in the evenings. At the same time, a young artist named Jesse Kohler was studying at the School of Visual Arts nearby. They were destined to meet at a restaurant midway between the two schools, and to fall in love. They were married on January 22, 1961. By 1965, Rona had given birth to three children, had become a full-time mother and housewife, and had been instrumental in helping Jesse open an award-winning advertising agency.
In 1969, the Kohler family moved to Rockaway, N.J., where Rona’s radiant personality and social skills made the Kohler homestead a favorite destination for everyone — from the children’s friends to the neighbors to the local politicians. She was the perfect hostess, and she loved to entertain. She also loved to expand her horizons by listening and learning. She became an excellent cook, able to offer gourmet dishes in several different ethnic styles. She took bridge lessons, and was soon playing in tournaments winning Masters points. She discovered the world of antiques and became a major collector and expert in several different specialties, as well as being a producer of many popular, fine quality antiques shows from 1972 until 2004. She added doll and teddy bear shows to the mix in 1994 and continued to produce those shows up until the time of her death.
Rona helped make the JMK Antiques Shows into elegant social events by greeting everyone with her captivating smile, her sparkling eyes and her distinctive designer wardrobe. She made everyone feel as if they were special and she had gotten all dressed up just for them. She helped guide many new vendors and helped them to get established. They could always count on her support, knowledge and wisdom. She was active in the management of the shows until she turned the reins over to her youngest daughter, Allison.
In the mid-1970s Rona went back to college once again to earn a degree as a psychologist, specializing in marriage and family counseling. She took great pleasure in helping people solve their personal problems, as a member of a counseling practice in Dover, N.J., for a number of years.
By 2001, the children were all grown and living on their own. Rona and Jesse had moved to the Citrus Hills community in Hernando, Fla., where they participated in various social and civic activities. They became active members of the nearby Beverly Hills Jewish Center (Congregation Beth Sholom), where Rona’s expertise and leadership abilities helped produce a number of popular social events. Invitations to her legendary kosher Passover Seders were more in demand than a seat on the 50-yard line of the Super Bowl. She took pleasure in attending the weekly Sabbath prayer services and the social interaction that followed.
Rona was a voracious reader who would often read a novel a day. She took pleasure from listening to good music and romantic songs. “As Time Goes By” from the movie Casablanca was a particular favorite. She enjoyed Impressionist art and conversations with people from all walks of life. She loved traveling to foreign countries and entertaining people in her home. Rona liked to play mah jong, bridge, and canasta. When she got dressed, everything had to be an exact match. She had an adventurous spirit and inquisitive mind. Crossword puzzles were her nemesis.
Rona collected original oil and watercolor paintings, Royal Bonn porcelain, art glass, all kinds of jewelry, classic movies, cookbooks and more. But most of all, she collected people. She had an amazing aura about her that was irresistible. If you were lucky enough to know her and her lust for life, you ended up loving her. She will be greatly missed.
Rona was the devoted and loving wife of Jesse Kohler of Hernando, Fla. She was the beloved mother of Michele Kohler of New York City, Allison Kohler of Succasunna, N.J., and David Kohler and his wife Sharon of Malibu, Calif. She was also the loving stepmother of Julie Pollitz of New York City, and Stuart Kohler and his wife Kirsten of Montclair, Calif. She was also the proud and loving grandmother of Brandon, Ryan, Cameron and Rory Kohler of Malibu and Mathew Rumer of Lake Hopatcong, N.J. Rona’s extraordinary love and passion will live on as a legacy for all that she leaves behind.
Contributions may be made in her memory to Congregation Beth Sholom, PO Box 640024, Beverly Hills, FL 34464.