A lifetime of public service: Remembering former senator and philanthropist Herb Kohl


On Dec. 27, 2023, the community lost a pillar, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation lost a friend. Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a lifelong Milwaukeean and proud Wisconsinite, passed away at age 88, but his tremendous impact on the city and state endures. 

Kohl was well-known for his career in public service and for his dedication to his constituents and his community. Starting in 1975, Kohl served as the Democratic Party Chair before entering the senate race in 1988. His slogan and commitment to all of Wisconsin was “nobody’s Senator but yours.”  He would serve as a senator for 24 years, where he fought for education, Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, families and more. 

Kohl is also credited for keeping the Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee. The team was for sale and on the verge of being relocated when Kohl purchased the team in 1985. He made a promise to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee – a promise that he maintained. 

Community driven philanthropy

As well as being a public servant, Kohl was a well-known philanthropist. 

In 2014, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation was on the cusp of celebrating its 100th year of service when it received its largest charitable gift in its history. Kohl gifted the Foundation $100 million to go toward a new facility to help keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. 

This charitable gift led to the creation of the Fiserv Forum and the naming of the arena’s surrounding area as the Deer District complete with a Herb Kohl Way. 

In 2017, the Foundation honored Kohl with the Frank Kirkpatrick Award, which recognizes individuals who have brought about significant improvement to the community. Kohl’s legacy gift not only revitalized the downtown area, but ensured its impact will be felt by generations to come. 

Through his own philanthropic organization, Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Kohl supported Milwaukee Succeeds, a partner initiative of the Foundation, as a key funder. 

Milwaukee Succeeds’ commitment to equity in education and success for every child from cradle to career aligned with Kohl’s own beliefs. During his senatorial career and through Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Kohl prioritized improving education, economic opportunities and quality of life for Milwaukeeans and people across Wisconsin.   

While his presence will be missed, Kohl’s legacy and his love for Milwaukee will live on through his generous gifts. His commitment to community, education and regional vitality were an inspiration to all. 

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