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SPARTANBURG, South Carolina - Kohler Company's longtime Spartanburg plant manager is being remembered as someone who loved Spartanburg and spent time making it a better place to live.
John Michael "Mike" Kohler Jr., a community leader and great-grandson of Kohler Company's founder, died Saturday, June 25. He was 87.
"Mike was passionate about all things Spartanburg," said Allen Smith, president and CEO of OneSpartanburg, Inc. "Space won’t allow for me to share all the stories but suffice it to say, Spartanburg is better today because of Mike Kohler. "
Longtime Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt, chairman of the county's Economic Development Committee, said Kohler "loved Spartanburg and spent his life making it a better place to live.
"Mike Kohler exemplified a servant leader," Britt said. "He moved his world-known company here and paved the way for the economic success we enjoy today. His fingerprints will be on Spartanburg for years to come."
Ava Hughes, arts education director at Chapman Cultural Center, told the Herald-Journal that "Mike Kohler was a gentle man who gave generously of his time and talents to make Spartanburg a better place."
Hughes has been on the staff of The Spartanburg Arts Council (then Arts Partnership and now Chapman Cultural Center) since 1974.
"I feel privileged to have known him and witnessed his quiet generosity and service to the arts and civic organizations of Spartanburg," Hughes said. "We have lost a force for good in our community."
Kathryn O'Neill, chief economic development officer for OneSpartanburg, Inc., said Kohler was "an untiring supporter of Spartanburg’s business community and a treasured ally of our economic development efforts over the years.
"Through his leadership, Kohler was an exemplary corporate citizen to Spartanburg County," O'Neill said. "He will be missed beyond measure."
Colleen Perry Keith, president of Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware, said she knew Kohler when she was president at Spartanburg Methodist College from 2009 to 2015.
"He was very kind to me, took me on a tour of Kohler's facility, and served in Rotary with me," she said. "He was very kind and had wide-ranging interests that always made for a great conversation with him."
Kohler was appointed manager of the Spartanburg Kohler plant in 1974. Except for a two-year stint at corporate headquarters from 1981 to 1983, he was Spartanburg plant manager until his retirement in 1998.
Kohler was well-known for his involvement in Spartanburg community affairs, having served as president of the Spartanburg Art Museum; the Palmetto Council of Boy Scouts of America and the United Way of the Upstate.
He was twice named chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Spartanburg and served as president of the Rotary Club of Spartanburg.
Other boards that he served on included the Spartanburg Arts Council, the Music Foundation of Spartanburg, the Salvation Army, the Appalachian Health Council, the Spartanburg Regional Foundation, the Chapman Cultural Center, the Glendale Fire Commission, and the vestry of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church.
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Born Dec. 26, 1934, in a suburb of Chicago when his father managed Kohler Company's Chicago office, he grew up in Kohler, Wisconsin, after his father was transferred to Kohler's corporate headquarters.
A 1957 graduate of Yale University, John Michael Kohler Jr. served in the Naval Reserve and in 1960 joined Kohler Company as a salesman in St. Louis.
He also served as manager of the company's Kansas City and Boston offices and at corporate headquarters before being appointed manager of the Spartanburg plant in 1974.
He served on the Kohler Company's Board of Directors from 1968 to 2006.
His great-grandfather, John Michael Kohler, founded Kohler Company in 1873 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The company was initially named Kohler & Silberzahn and made plows and other farm implements.
Today, Kohler Company is one of America’s oldest and largest privately held companies composed of more than 40,000 employees with more than 50 manufacturing locations worldwide.
Kohler is a global leader in the design, innovation and manufacture of kitchen and bath products; luxury cabinetry, tile and lighting; engines, generators and clean energy solutions.
Kohler's first wife, Lucile Fessler, died in April 2010. He then married Dr. Lilly Lancaster, in 2012.
In addition to his second wife, he is survived by two sisters, four sons and several grandchildren.
The family will greet friends in the Parish and Community Life Center of The Episcopal Church of the Advent, 140 Advent St., Spartanburg, from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, July 11.
A memorial service will be held in the church sanctuary at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 12.
A burial service with family members attending will be subsequently held in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Floyd's North Street Chapel in Spartanburg is handling local arrangements.
Read the full obituary here.
Contact Bob Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: John Michael Kohler, great-grandson of Kohler Company founder, dies