Herb Kohl dead at 88: Department store founder, Wisconsin senator and former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks passes away at home after brief illness

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Former US Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, Herb Kohl, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88 
  • The founder of Kohl supermarkets catapulted his retail success into influence in both politics and sports  

Former US Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Herb Kohl passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88, his company said. 

Kohl died following a ‘brief illness’, Herb Kohl Philanthropies director of giving JoAnne Anton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

‘Throughout his life, Herb Kohl always put people first — from his employees and their families to his customers and countless charitable organizations and efforts,’ Anton said.

Kohl was one of the best-known leaders in the state of Wisconsin for decades, after catapulting the success of Kohl supermarkets into influence in politics and sports. 

‘Herb Kohl Way isn’t just the name of a street in front of the Fiserv Forum,’ Anton continued. ‘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.’ 

Former US Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Herb Kohl (pictured) passed away on Wednesday at the age of 88

Kohl represented Wisconsin in the US Senate from 1988 to 2012, where he consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress

Kohl represented Wisconsin in the US Senate from 1988 to 2012, where he consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress 

Kohl was Milwaukee born-and-raised, and was the son of Russian and Polish immigrants that he once described as coming to America ‘with zero.’

‘None of us ever thought we could get by on anything less than a full effort in life,’ he added, according to the Journal Sentinel. 

His father founded Kohl’s Food Stores in 1946, and the franchise grew dramatically in the subsequent years until Herb became president in 1970. 

Kohl became a household name in Wisconsin as he went on to open department stores across the state, and he used his growing wealth to buy the Bucks in 1985 for $18 million – a move that many credit with saving the team. 

He went on to sell the team in 2014 for $550 million.  

The businessman’s move into politics came in 1988, when he successfully ran for the US senate aged 53 by financing his own campaign. 

The considerable funds he put forward led Kohl’s opponents to accuse him of trying to buy his way into power, which he leant into as he portrayed himself as an independent who couldn’t be bought. 

This sentiment led to his popular campaign slogan, ‘Nobody’s Senator but Yours’, and Kohl went on to be re-elected three more times in landslide victories.  

As he announced his retirement in 2012, Kohl said: ‘The office doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and there is something to be said for not staying in office too long.’ 

He was also consistently ranked among the wealthiest elected officials in America, and his 1999 net worth was reportedly listed around $300 million. 

Kohl pictured making a final appearance at the Wisconsin Democratic Convention in Appleton, Wisconsin on Saturday, June 9, 2012 - a year after announcing his retirement from the Senate

Kohl pictured making a final appearance at the Wisconsin Democratic Convention in Appleton, Wisconsin on Saturday, June 9, 2012 – a year after announcing his retirement from the Senate

Kohl pictured speaking during the confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas as Justice of the US Supreme Court on September 10, 1991

Kohl pictured speaking during the confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas as Justice of the US Supreme Court on September 10, 1991 

Kohl never lost a race in his entire electoral history, however he was just as known in the sporting realm as he was for his efforts in Washington. 

Kohl was part of a group that worked to bring the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team to his hometown in 1970. 

In 1985, the Bucks threatened to leave Milwaukee, leading Kohl to turn his considerable resources to keeping the team in Wisconsin. 

He was known as a quiet and reserved man who was not known to show off his wealth, and only did so when making moves such as buying the NBA team or financing his own runs for office. 

‘How rich he was was never very important to him,’ Kohl’s brother Sidney said during his 1988 Senate run, reports the Journal Sentinel. 

‘Making a profit was more like the score in the ball game,’ he continued, noting Herb’s reputation for competitiveness. ‘It was winning.’ 

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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