Lawrence University is mourning the death of Herbert Kohler Jr., one of Wisconsin’s most iconic business leaders and innovators and a trustee emeritus on Lawrence’s Board of Trustees.
Kohler, who served on Lawrence’s board from 1974 to 2002 before being elected to emeritus status, died Sept. 3. He was 83.
Kohler’s innovative spirit was felt worldwide for many decades, from his leadership of Kohler Co., to fulfilling a dream of turning Sheboygan County into a global golf destination, to his advocacy for land preservation, the arts, and education.
The Kohler affiliation with Lawrence has spanned multiple generations. Kohler’s mother, Ruth DeYoung Kohler, served as a trustee from 1945 to 1953 and is the namesake of Kohler Hall, a residence hall built in 1967; and his daughter, Laura Kohler, served as a Lawrence trustee from 2013 to 2019.
“Mr. Kohler and the entire Kohler family have been amazingly supportive of Lawrence for generations,” said Calvin Husmann, senior vice president for alumni and development. “Lawrence joins with others around the world in expressing our condolences and honoring a great leader.”
Kohler spent his professional career working with the company his grandfather founded. He became chairman of the board and CEO of Kohler Co. in 1972 and president in 1974. He would lead it to even greater heights over the next 50 years, transforming a plumbing products firm into a stylish, groundbreaking company that would be known and respected around the world.
Meanwhile, his vision and persistence led to the opening of the American Club resort along the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1970s, and eventually to the development of two world-class golf courses—Blackwolf Run in 1988 and Whistling Straits in 1998. The courses have since hosted six major golf championships and the 2021 Ryder Cup, putting Sheboygan County on the map as one of the premier golf destinations in the world.
“His zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us,” Kohler’s family said in a released statement. “We traveled together, celebrated together, and worked together. He was all in, all the time, leaving an indelible mark on how we live our lives today and carry on his legacy.”