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Former U.S. Senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl dead at 88

Herb Kohl, who grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, leaves behind a legacy as a former U.S. senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner, and founder of the Kohl's department stores chain.
Herb Kohl
Posted at 5:29 PM, Dec 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-27 18:56:04-05

MILWAUKEE — Former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl died at the age of 88 on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023, after a brief illness, the Herb Kohl Foundation announced.

Kohl, who grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, leaves behind a legacy filled with milestones as a former U.S. senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner, and founder of the Kohl's department stores chain.

According to the Herb Kohl Foundation, Kohl graduated from the University of Wisconsin, earned an MBA from Harvard, and joined the Army Reserve. Alongside his brothers, he built a chain of over 50 Kohl's grocery stores across the Midwest. His family opened the first Kohl's department store in 1962. By 1970, he became president of the Kohl's Corporation. The foundation says Kohl would often say: “Our employees were extensions of our family.”

Herb Kohl
Milwaukee Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl speaks at a news conference Wednesday, March 19, 2008, in Milwaukee. Kohl announced that Larry Harris will not be offered a new contract as general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks and has left the team. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The foundation shared that when the Milwaukee Bucks were up for sale and were possibly going to be bought and moved to a different city, Kohl bought the team in 1985 and promised fans they would never leave. The foundation said, "When the time came to sell the team, he fulfilled that promise and donated $100 million to help in building a new arena for the community."

Kohl was known to take a personal interest in the lives of the Bucks players. The foundation stated, "When, for example, the Bucks drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo and his family remained in Greece unable to join their son and brother in the United States, Herb worked tirelessly and successfully to reunite them in America. The Antetokounmpos were his family."

Bucks Parade Basketball
Former Senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl takes part in a parade for the NBA Champion basketball team Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

In 1988, he ran for the United States Senate with the commitment statement, "Nobody's Senator but yours." He served 24 years in the Senate. Following his retirement, he continued philanthropic work through the Herb Kohl Foundation, which he started in 1990. The foundation has provided more than $34 million in grants and scholarships to Wisconsin students, teachers, and schools.

“Throughout his life, Herb Kohl always put people first... from his employees and their families to his customers and countless charitable organizations and efforts.” Joanne Anton, Director of Giving for Herb Kohl Philanthropies recalled. “Herb Kohl Way isn’t just the name of a street in front of the Fiserv Forum. The Herb Kohl Way perfectly sums up a legacy of humility, commitment, compromise, and kindness to countless people he worked with, served, and helped along the way. Those values will live on through his Foundation.”

Herb Kohl
Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl watches the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Bucks and the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Growing up in Milwaukee, Kohl met many friends he shared a lifetime with, including Bud Selig, Steve Marcus, and Frank Gimbel.

The foundation shared in its statement, "More than anything, Herb loved Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and that is where he chose to live out his days. He touched an incalculable number of lives, and those who love him would remark that he is among the most decent people to ever walk the earth. Herb’s loss will be felt acutely, and he can best be honored by doing good works."

Reactions have been pouring in from all over:

Milwaukee Bucks:

"Senator Kohl was a lifelong and proud Wisconsinite who cared deeply for his state and the city of Milwaukee. As the Bucks owner, he was steadfast in making sure the team remained in the city and his generosity led to the building of Fiserv Forum, which is on Herb Kohl Way. Even after selling the team, Senator Kohl loved the Bucks and was always seen in his team cap around town.

The Senator leaves behind an unmatched legacy in philanthropy, often anonymously, and through his incredible Herb Kohl Foundation. His impact in sports, public service, and business will also always be remembered in our state. The Bucks express our deepest condolences to the Senator's family and friends.

A memorial to honor him will be held in the coming weeks."

Gov. Tony Evers:
"MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers today released a statement regarding the passing of former Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.“A Milwaukeean and Wisconsinite through and through, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl dedicated his life to serving our kids, our communities, our state, and our country.“Sen. Kohl was, without a doubt, nobody’s senator but ours. Kathy and I are devastated by the news of his passing.“Sen. Kohl was deeply committed to community, kindness, and service to others. Wisconsin’s seniors, students, teachers, and schools, and farmers and rural areas, among so many others, are better off because of his life and legacy, the impacts of which will last for generations.“Kathy and I join the people of Wisconsin, friends and colleagues of Sen. Kohl, and the many people whose lives he impacted—both near and far—in offering our sincerest condolences to the Kohl family and the Herb Kohl Foundation in mourning the loss of this Wisconsin giant.”

Former Gov. Scott Walker:

Senator Tammy Baldwin:

"WISCONSIN – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin released the following statement on the passing of former Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl.“Herb was my role model. Herb was a true public servant, leading with compassion and humility, and uncompromising in putting Wisconsin first. It didn’t matter how powerful the opposing forces were or how long the fight was, Herb was willing to take on any challenge if it meant a brighter future for Wisconsin. Herb was as generous as they come – with his resources, his knowledge, his time, and his heart. Wisconsin is lucky to have had Herb Kohl in our corner and we are undoubtedly a better, more just place because of his service. He truly was nobody’s senator but ours. My heart goes out to his family, loved ones, and the entire Badger State as we mourn the loss of a Wisconsin giant.”

Herb Kohl
Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl speaks at a news conference after reaching a deal to sell the NBA basketball franchise to New York investment firm executives Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Milwaukee. The deal is subject to approval by the NBA and its Board of Governors. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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