MATC Remembers Herb Kohl as Friend, Benefactor and Champion

Late Milwaukee native, successful businessman and former senator generously supported college’s programs and mission

Mark Feldmann,

January 12, 2024

Herb Kohl

Courtesy of Associated Press

Senator Kohl has left an indelible mark on MATC and the city of Milwaukee. Thanks to him, he made college a reality for so many students who never thought it was possible.

Chantel Byrd President, MATC Foundation Board of Directors

Herb Kohl loved seeing Milwaukee schools succeed and Milwaukee Area Technical College was no exception.

A Milwaukee native, a highly successful businessman, a sports team owner, a former U.S. senator and a respected philanthropist, Kohl donated more than $1.5 million to programs and initiatives connected with MATC, one of his cherished city educational institutions. His generous financial assistance impacted thousands of students, helping them to explore career options, further their education and transform their lives.

Kohl died on December 27, 2023, at the age of 88. A public memorial service will be held at noon, Friday, January 12, at Fiserv Forum — the home of his beloved Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and across the street from MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus.

“We are grateful for Sen. Kohl’s steadfast support over the years. He was a tireless champion of strengthening Milwaukee’s kindergarten through college pipeline,” said MATC President Vicki J. Martin, Ph.D. “He always recognized the critical role of two-year colleges in building a diverse and skilled workforce for our region.”

Through Herb Kohl Philanthropies, a private foundation that awards grants to nonprofit organizations striving to improve education, economic opportunity and quality of life for the people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, Kohl invested nearly $400,000 directly into the MATC Foundation , the college’s philanthropic partner in student success. 

He also gave more than $1.2 million to M³ (pronounced M-Cubed) program, a collaboration between MATC, Milwaukee Public Schools and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to strengthen connections between K-12 education, high school and college. 

“Sen. Kohl was a passionate advocate for education,” said Chantel Byrd, president of the MATC Foundation  Board of Directors. “Senator Kohl has left an indelible mark on MATC and the city of Milwaukee. Thanks to him, he made college a reality for so many students who never thought it was possible.”

Through the MATC Foundation , Kohl was an early supporter of the MATC Promise, the first program in the state to offer eligible high school students up to 75 credits of free tuition. Since 2016, more than 1,600 high school students — 78% of them students of color — have participated in the Promise program, according to Sara Cappaert, MATC’s manager of scholarship programs.

Kohl also supported:

  • MATC’s Student Emergency Assistance Grant program, which helps students experiencing emergencies that cause financial strain to stay in college;
  • MATC’s Gap Year program, which helps high school graduates unsure of their next steps explore career and educational  possibilities

“His generosity to MATC showed his commitment to helping students succeed at all levels,” Byrd added. “He also helped ensure a better future for the community where he himself grew up and became successful.” 

Kohl was born and raised in Milwaukee, attended Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated from Washington High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University.

Along with his brother and father, Kohl founded the Kohl's grocery store and department store chain. He eventually became president and chief executive officer of the business. He served 24 years as a U.S. senator from Wisconsin. He purchased the Milwaukee Bucks in 1985, keeping the NBA team in the city. He sold the team in 2014.

“Herb Kohl always supported individuals, ideas and initiatives that could make a difference in college readiness and access,” noted Laura Bray, MATC vice president for advancement and external communications and executive director of the MATC Foundation. “He always knew that education, in its many forms, could be the great equalizer in society. MATC will always remember him as a dear friend and dedicated advocate for our mission.”

ABOUT MATC FOUNDATION: The MATC Foundation is the philanthropic partner of Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1979, it has collaborated with civic leaders, employers, regional residents, the college community and alumni to create accessible paths to family-sustaining employment through large-scale, career focused scholarships and other student financial support programs like quick-turnaround emergency grants. The Foundation’s work ultimately promotes economic opportunity for MATC students, their families and the entire region. In addition, the Foundation supports vital college initiatives and is the trusted fiscal steward for Milwaukee PBS, a viewer service of MATC. For more information, visit,

ABOUT MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities.