Herb Kohl, former Milwaukee Bucks owner and co-founder of Kohl’s department store, dies at 88

Herb Kohl, the longtime Wisconsin senator and co-founder of the Kohl’s department store chain, has died at the age of 88.

As a proud Wisconsinite and successful business magnate, Kohl spent millions to keep his beloved Bucks basketball team in Milwaukee before serving in Congress as a Democrat for 24 years.

On Wednesday his charitable foundation announced that he had passed away after a brief illness.

“Throughout his life, Herb Kohl always put people first – from his employees and their families to his customers and countless charitable organizations and efforts,” said Joanne Anton, the foundation’s director of giving.

“Herb Kohl Way isn’t just the name of a street… [it] perfectly sums up a legacy of humility, commitment, compromise, and kindness to countless people he worked with, served and helped along the way.”

President Joe Biden, former president Bill Clinton, and senators Tammy Baldwin and Chuck Schumer joined numerous others from the worlds of politics, commerce, and sport in paying tribute to the well-known tycoon.

“Herb Kohl was one of the finest people I’ve served with – a kind and principled man of integrity and character, one of Wisconsin’s greatest-ever advocates, and a dear friend,” said Mr Biden.

Herbert H Kohl was born in Milwaukee in February 1935, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who had opened a food market beneath their apartment eight years earlier.

Along with his three siblings, he helped his parents expand their business into what is now one of the biggest department store chains in the country, boasting more than 1,100 stores across 49 states.


After selling the business to British American Tobacco in 1978, Kohl turned to new ventures. In 1985 he bought the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team in order to keep them from moving for another city.

They remain there today, although they struggled to compete for the entirety of his tenure, and would not win the NBA championship again until 2021. When Kohl finally sold the team in 2014, he helped fund a new stadium in Milwaukee and gave out $10 million in bonuses to its employees and stadium workers, telling a local newspaper: “It doesn’t change my life, but it changes theirs.”

In 1988 he ploughed his own money into a run for the US Senate, telling voters that his riches let him be independent from special interests. “The important thing is that when the campaign is over, I will owe nothing to anybody but the people of Wisconsin,” he said.

After his first campaign he stopped taking money from interest groups entirely, putting a sign on his Senate desk that read: “The Bucks Stop Here.”

On Capitol Hill, he was a prominent fiscal conservative and social liberal, supporting abortion rights and discrimination protections while attempting to trim government spending, including military spending.

He helped pass the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1990, although it was later struck down by the Supreme Court, and later supported Barack Obama’s flagship Affordable Care Act in 2009.

Despite an estimated net worth of between $630 million and $1.5 billion, his foundation said that he kept frugal habits throughout his life, sitting with the crowd at Bucks games, driving himself around in an old Buick, and living in the same Milwaukee condo for many decades.

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Kohl never married, reportedly saying that being single allowed him to juggle the demands of politics and sports ownership, and did not have children. He is survived by his siblings.