Society & Culture

A Complete Man: Remembering Terry Kohler

During the late 1950’s, Terry J. Kohler was a jet pilot with the U.S. Air Force, flying T-33 fighters and B-47 bombers with the Strategic Air Command.  Like most others of that tribe whom I have met, the experience gave him an almost startling directness of manner.  On meeting him, you quickly became aware of his plainspoken honesty.  He was incapable of bending the truth or hiding his opinions behind obfuscations—traits that surely did not help him when he ran for public office.

He passed away at age 82 on September 20.

Terry Kohler was the sort of businessman who gives capitalism a good name.  After gaining degrees in industrial management at M.I.T., he guided the Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based Vollrath Company, a manufacturer of stainless-steel kitchen equipment, from relative obscurity to a $300 million per year business.  He believed that corporate entities, especially family-held businesses of this sort, have special responsibilities to their employees and host communities.  For decades, he provided hundreds of well-paying, secure industrial jobs to the people of Sheboygan County and generous gifts to their hospitals and charities.

A lifelong sailor, he purchased in 1984 the North Sails Company, the world’s leading manufacturer of racing and cruising sails.  By the year 2000, almost every yacht competing for the America’s Cup and similar prizes used...

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