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Terry Kohler was born on May 14, 1934, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. His father was Walter J. Kohler, Jr. (1904–76), a sales executive at the Kohler Company, president of The Vollrath Company, and a three-term Governor of Wisconsin. His mother was Marie Celeste McVoy Kohler (1900-1974), a Chicago socialite who had been married and divorced and had one child. Terry's sister is Charlotte Nicolette Kohler (1936-2012). The Kohlers divorced in 1946 and Terry was raised by his father at Windway, his parents' estate not far from the Kohler factory in the village of Kohler.
In 1952, Kohler graduated from the Admiral Farragut Academy. 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.
Kohler married Diana Prange (1932-1991) of Sheboygan in 1956, and they had three daughters. The couple divorced in 1976. In 1981, Kohler married Mary Simpson, the mother of four sons.
An outdoor sports enthusiast, Kohler raced sports cars in the mid-1960s, and spent six years on the National Ski Patrol. He is a lifetime member of Ducks Unlimited and the National Rifle Association. Kohler has sailed and raced sailboats for more than six decades, winning numerous trophies. He is a past Commodore of the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation. He was also awarded the Nathanael Herreshoff Trophy by US Sailing in 2009.
Kohler's full-time association with the Vollrath Company began in 1963. In 1982, Kohler became chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
Under Kohler's leadership, the company expanded dramatically. In July 1984, Lowell North sold his famous sailmaking company to Kohler, and in January 1989, North Sails and the Vollrath Company became separate corporations under the Windway Capital Corporation, a holding company. Kohler is President and Chairman of the Board of Windway Capital Corporation, Chairman of North Technology Group, and is on the board at Vollrath.
Kohler was active in the Republican Party for many years before an unsuccessful attempt to win the party's nomination for the United States Senate in 1980. In 1982 Kohler secured the GOP nomination for Governor, but subsequently lost to Democrat Tony Earl.
Beyond elected office, both Kohler and his wife remain active inside the Republican Party. In May 2002, Kohler was elected to the GOP National Committee, serving until mid-February, 2007. In 2004, he was a member of the Bush-Cheney Campaign Steering Committee. Since 1984 the Kohlers have been supporters of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Philanthropy and conservation
Kohler and his wife have been leaders in the largely successful efforts to save Trumpeter Swans, Whooping Cranes, and Siberian Cranes from extinction. At one point the couple responded to an appeal by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson to fly swan eggs from Alaska to Wisconsin in a company plane, and continued to do so for the better part of a decade. On a number of occasions they have also flown Whooping Crane eggs from Ft. Smith in the Northwest Territories of Canada to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI. On another occasion, they brought eggs from Alaska to Michigan. The Kohlers also flew a company jet to the farthest reaches of Siberia and clear across Russia around the world to help Russians preserve the rapidly disappearing Siberian Crane. In recent years, they have been part of the ultra-light led Whooping Crane Recovery Project between Wisconsin and Florida. The couple wrote in 2007 that their experience in this field "has provided almost weekly excitement in our lives for nearly 20 years." 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 the Lindbergh's concept of balancing technology and nature."
- Thomas C. Reeves, Distinguished Service: The Life of Wisconsin Governor Walter J. Kohler, Jr. (Marquette University Press, 2006
- David Sakrison, Chasing the Ghost Birds: Saving Swans and Cranes From Extinction (International Crane Foundation), 2007), p. viii