A Tribute to Terry J. Kohler
Editor’s Note: Terry Kohler has been a long-time supporter of conservative causes, and a generous donor to the St. Croix Review, for many years.
Terry J. Kohler, 82, of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, passed away Tuesday afternoon, September 20, 2016, at his residence.
Born May 14, 1934, in Sheboygan, Terry Kohler was the only son of the late former Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. and Marie Celeste McVoy Kohler. In 1952, Terry graduated high school from the Admiral Farragut Academy. He served his country in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1959 where he earned his pilot’s wings and flew T-33 fighter jets and also B-47 bombers with the Strategic Air Command, including missions over Russia. Kohler achieved the rank of Captain.
In 1962, he received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in industrial management. A year later, he earned an MBA in the same field from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
On January 2, 1981, Kohler was united in marriage to Mary Stewart Simpson at St. Boniface Church in Mequon, Wisconsin. Together, they were active members of Grace Episcopal Church in Sheboygan.
Kohler started working in the family business, The Vollrath Company, in 1963. In 1976, he became the seventh President of the company. He became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer in 1982, and under his leadership the company expanded dramatically. In July 1984, Kohler purchased North Sails, a leading global manufacturer of racing and cruising sails, from its founder, Lowell North. In January 1989, North Sails and The Vollrath Company became separate corporations under Windway Capital Corp., a holding company. Kohler was President and Chairman of the Board of Windway Capital Corp., Chairman of The Vollrath Company, and past Chairman of North Technology Group.
Kohler loved the outdoors and was a sports enthusiast, racing sports cars in the mid 1960s, and spending six years on the National Ski Patrol. Kohler was a life member and supporter of Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the National Rifle Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, and the International Crane Foundation. Kohler and his wife Mary were instrumental in the ultra-light led Whooping Crane Recovery Project between Wisconsin and Florida. In 2009, they were awarded the Charles Lindbergh Award, which is given annually to individuals whose work over many years has made significant contributions toward Lindbergh's concept of balancing technology and nature.
Following his service in the U.S. Air Force, Kohler continued his love of flying by owning and piloting many types of aircraft, including helicopters. He was also a founding member of the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin. Kohler and his wife Mary have been advocates for strong families and started several organizations including Great Marriages for Sheboygan County.
Kohler was passionate about conservative politics, and was Wisconsin’s GOP candidate for Governor in 1982, and a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1980. He and Mary helped craft the “Contract with America” with Newt Gingrich and other Congressional Republicans.
Kohler was a man known to many — sailors, aviators, entrepreneurs, leaders of industry, politics and economics. Traveling in these circles of influence he was able to recognize and follow God’s plan for him. “My purpose is to share my wealth by taking an economic role in helping others less fortunate or in need,” Kohler once said.
Kohler is survived by his wife of 35 years, Mary Stewart Kohler; his children, Leslie Kohler, Michelle Kohler, Danielle (Bob Buckley) Kohler, Charlie (Anne) Ferrell, Doug (Mindy) Ferrell, Chris (Isolde) Ferrell and Joseph (Kari) Simpson; 13 grandchildren, Hilary (Nathan Imfeld) Hawley, Winter Kohler, Torri (Charlie Bowe) Hawley, Kashon Kohler, Lilly Kohler, David Kohler, Laura (Grant) Riedesel, Cack (Doug) Wilhelm, Jack Ferrell, Peter Ferrell, Alan Ferrell, Mary Ferrell, and Grace Ferrell; four great grandchildren, Walter Jacob Kohler Imfeld, Freddy Riedesel, William Riedesel and Tobias Ferrell; cousins, other relatives, and many friends around the world. Besides his parents, he was preceded in death by his sister, Charlotte Nicolette “Niki” Kohler.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 27, 2016, at Grace Episcopal Church, 7th & Ontario Avenue. The Rev. Fr. Karl C. Schaffenburg, Rector, officiated.
A memorial fund has been established in his name for the Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan SEAS and Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
“I try to live my life faithfully, quietly doing the job the Lord assigned me. I am not worried or afraid of dying because I am just an instrument. I will be here until my work for HIM is finished.” — Terry J. Kohler
I am standing by the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spans as when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to their place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone!” there are other eyes that are watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes!” — and that is dying. *