Former US senator and Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl dies at 88

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., at the Government Affair's Hearing, listen to witness Robert Mosbacher on the Kansas adjustment, on July 18, 1991. (Photo by Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Sen. Herb Kohl listens at a Government Affair’s Hearing on July 18, 1991.Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call/APCNN — 

Former US senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Herb Kohl has passed away after a brief illness, the Herb Kohl Foundation announced on Wednesday. He was 88.

Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat and co-founder of the Kohl’s department store chain, served in the US Senate for 24 years. A lifelong basketball fan, he notably bought his hometown team for $18 million in 1985, ensuring that the Bucks remained in Milwaukee. He also was a philanthropist, donating millions to students, teachers and schools in Wisconsin.

“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, said.

Kohl sold the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014 after nearly three decades and donated $100 million to help the team build a new arena. In a statement, National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver said Kohl set the standard for NBA team ownership.

“Senator Kohl was a dear friend and one of our very best public servants,” Silver said. “There was never any doubt about his extraordinary commitment to the franchise and city that he loved, and his vision and unparalleled financial contribution towards a new arena in Milwaukee will forever be remembered.”

In a statement, the Milwaukee Bucks noted that former senator was “a lifelong and proud Wisconsinite who cared deeply for his state and the city of Milwaukee.”

“Even after selling the team, Senator Kohl loved the Bucks and was always seen in his team cap around town,” the team said, adding that a memorial to honor him will be held in the coming weeks.

Born in Milwaukee in 1935 to immigrants, Kohl spent his childhood sweeping up in the family grocery store and playing stickball with friends, including Bud Selig, who would later become Major League Baseball commissioner.

“Sports has been something I’ve been very interested in all my life. Basketball is my favorite sport,” Kohl told CNN in 2002.

He worked with his brothers to grow his family’s supermarket into what would become a multimillion-dollar chain of department stores, according to his foundation. Kohl was the company’s president from 1970 to 1978.

The family sold their interest in the business in 1979. The sale helped Kohl invest not only in sports, but fund a successful campaign for the US Senate in 1988.

Kohl graduated from the University of Wisconsin and got an MBA from Harvard, according to his congressional biography. The former senator also served in the United States Army Reserves.

As a senator, Kohl chaired the Senate Aging Committee and served on the Judiciary and Appropriations committees. According to the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation, he pushed for increased federal investment in education, helped restore funding for dropout prevention and supported dual enrollment programs, among other things.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Ben Wikler recalled Kohl’s time in the Senate in a Wednesday statement, describing the late lawmaker as a man whose “life reflected the deep values of the state he served: hard work, humility and generosity.”

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