Former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, a highly respected figure in both Wisconsin politics and the world of professional basketball, has passed away at the age of 88. The Herb Kohl Foundation announced his death after a brief illness.
A lifelong Democrat hailing from Wisconsin, Herb Kohl was not only a dedicated public servant but also a prominent philanthropist and the co-founder of the Kohl’s department store chain. He served as a U.S. Senator for an impressive 24 years, leaving a lasting impact on the state he called home.
One of the standout facets of Herb Kohl’s life was his deep love for basketball. In 1985, he made a significant move by purchasing the Milwaukee Bucks, his hometown NBA team, for $18 million. This acquisition was not merely a business venture; it was a passionate commitment to ensure that the Bucks remained firmly rooted in Milwaukee. Throughout his ownership tenure, Kohl’s dedication to the team and the city was unwavering.
Beyond his achievements in politics and sports ownership, Herb Kohl was a dedicated philanthropist who gave generously to support the education of countless students, assist teachers in their mission, and bolster schools across Wisconsin through the Herb Kohl Foundation. His commitment to the betterment of his community and state was a testament to his character.
President Joe Biden, in honoring the late senator and businessman, praised Herb Kohl as “one of the finest people” he had ever served with. He highlighted Kohl’s humility as a source of immense strength and described him as a living embodiment of the idea that America is great because its people are good.
In 2014, Herb Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks, concluding nearly three decades of ownership. His legacy within the National Basketball Association (NBA) extended far beyond his ownership role. Kohl donated a remarkable $100 million to aid in the construction of a new arena for the team, setting a standard for NBA team ownership.
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, expressed deep appreciation for Senator Kohl, calling him a dear friend and one of the finest public servants. Kohl’s vision and substantial financial contribution toward the new arena in Milwaukee will be remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise and the city.
The Milwaukee Bucks, in their statement following Herb Kohl’s passing, recognized him as a lifelong and proud Wisconsinite who held a deep affection for his state and the city of Milwaukee. Even after he sold the team, Kohl’s love for the Bucks was evident as he continued to support them, often seen wearing his team cap around town. The team announced plans for a memorial to honor his memory in the coming weeks.
Born in Milwaukee in 1935 to immigrant parents, Herb Kohl’s childhood was marked by hard work and a passion for sports. He played stickball with friends, including Bud Selig, who would later become the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Kohl’s journey to success started with sweeping the floors of his family’s grocery store.
Together with his brothers, he transformed the family’s supermarket into a multimillion-dollar chain of department stores, with Kohl serving as the company’s president from 1970 to 1978. In 1979, the family sold their stake in the business, providing Herb Kohl with the financial resources to embark on a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1988.
Herb Kohl was not only a businessman and politician but also a scholar, graduating from the University of Wisconsin and earning an MBA from Harvard. His dedication to public service extended to the United States Army Reserves, where he proudly served his country.
During his time in the Senate, Kohl chaired the Senate Aging Committee and was a member of the Judiciary and Appropriations committees. He championed increased federal investment in education, advocated for dropout prevention initiatives, and supported programs like dual enrollment, all aimed at enhancing the educational opportunities for America’s youth.
In remembering Herb Kohl, Ben Wikler, the Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, aptly described him as a man whose life reflected the core values of his beloved state: hard work, humility, and generosity. Senator Kohl’s legacy will undoubtedly live on, leaving an indelible mark on the state of Wisconsin and the hearts of those who had the privilege of knowing him.
Herb Kohl’s passing marks the end of an era, but his enduring impact on Wisconsin and his contributions to the worlds of politics, sports, and philanthropy will continue to be celebrated and remembered for generations to come.