John Michael “Mike” Kohler, Jr. was born in a suburb of Chicago when his father was Manager of Kohler Company’s Chicago office. He grew up in Kohler, Wisconsin after his father was transferred to Kohler’s corporate headquarters. His great-grandfather founded Kohler Company, and his grandfather and father both spent their careers there. His mother was a civic leader and an author.
Mike attended Kohler High School, and graduated from Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He went on to Yale University, graduating in 1957. Following active duty as an officer in the Naval Reserve, in 1960 he joined Kohler Company as a salesman assigned to the St. Louis office. After serving as Manager of the company’s Kansas City office, and subsequently the Boston office, he had a five-year tour at Kohler’s corporate headquarters before being appointed Manager of the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant in 1974. Except for an ensuing two-year stint at corporate headquarters from 1981-83, he was Spartanburg Plant Manager until his retirement in 1998. He began serving as a member of Kohler Company’s Board of Directors in 1968 and continued in that capacity for 38 years until being elected a Director Emeritus in 2007.
Mike was extensively involved in community affairs. In Spartanburg, he was at different times elected President of the Spartanburg Art Museum; the Palmetto Council, Boy Scouts of America; and the United Way of the Upstate. He served twice as Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Spartanburg, was President of The Rotary Club of Spartanburg in 2001-2002, and became a Paul Harris Fellow, a Rotary Foundation Benefactor, and a Rotary Major Donor. In 1991, he was presented with the Neville Holcombe Distinguished Citizenship Award by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Spartanburg. In 2010, he was selected to receive The Arts Partnership’s David Reid Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Other board assignments included the Spartanburg Arts Council, the Music Foundation of Spartanburg, the Salvation Army, the Appalachian Health Council, the Spartanburg Regional Foundation, the South Carolina Medical University Board of Visitors, the Chapman Cultural Center, the Glendale Fire Commission, and the vestry of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church. The family joined The Episcopal Church of the Advent in 2007, and Mike began serving as a Lector in 2011.
In 1958, he and the former Lucile Fessler were married in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008. She passed away in April of 2010.
Mike subsequently met Dr. Lilly Lancaster, a widow and Professor at USC-Upstate Johnson School of Business and Economics, where she taught for 26 years. They were married at The Episcopal Church of the Advent in February 2012 and embarked on a life which included travel and Lilly’s gardening.
In addition to his wife, Mike is survived by his four sons: 1) John M. (“Jeff”) Kohler V of Glenview, Illinois; Jeff’s wife, Ruth Mendel; their daughter Elaine and her husband, Christopher Ray of Columbus, Ohio, and their twin daughters Illyria and Fiona. 2) Dr. Matthew F. Kohler of Charleston, South Carolina; his wife, Julienne; stepsons Bryce and Logan; Matthew’s children Hannah, who resides in Washington, DC with her husband Robert McCabe, Seth of Tucson, Arizona, and Jacob who resides with their mother Jacqueline Verba Kohler in Essex Junction, Vermont. 3) Andrew F. Kohler of Morris Plains, New Jersey. 4) Stephen J. Kohler of Northbrook, Illinois; his wife, Michelle; and their sons Jonah and Lucas.
He is also survived by his two sisters, Julilly Waller Kohler and Marie House Kohler, both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, each of whom has a family; two brothers-in-law, Brian Mani of Milwaukee and Anthony Fessler of Sheboygan, Wisconsin; two sisters-in-law, Jacqueline Hollingsworth of La Cañada, California and Jane Lancaster Avinger of Woodruff, South Carolina.
The family will greet friends in the Parish and Community Life Center of The Episcopal Church of the Advent, 140 Advent Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302 from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM on Monday, July 11, 2022. A memorial service will be held in the church sanctuary at 10:30 AM on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. An interment service with family members attending will be subsequently held in Kohler, Wisconsin.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to The Episcopal Church of the Advent Foundation, 141 Advent Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302.
Floyd’s North Church Street Chapel