Kohler Foundation, Inc., located in Kohler, Wisconsin and established in 1940, has long supported the arts and education. The work of Kohler Foundation encompasses five major areas of concentration: art preservation, grants, scholarships, a performing arts series (the Distinguished Guest Series), and the management of the Waelderhaus, an historic home.
Kohler Foundation was established in 1940 by Evangeline Kohler, Marie C. Kohler, Lillie B. Kohler, Herbert V. Kohler, Sr. and O.A. Kroos. Among Kohler Foundation’s first projects were care of the Waelderhaus for use by the community, particularly the Kohler Girl Scouts and Kohler Women’s Club, and participating in the construction of a theatre building in the Village of Kohler. As Kohler Foundation has expanded and grown, so has their support for the arts and education.
As early as the 1950s, Kohler Foundation was involved in preservation efforts. Led by Ruth DeYoung Kohler, Old Wade House, a stagecoach inn in Greenbush, Wisconsin was restored and brought back to life. In June of 1953, the site was gifted to the people of Wisconsin through the Wisconsin Historical Society and is now operated as the Wade House Historic Site. The Wade House remains a popular attraction and has recently added a new visitor center; the Wesley Jung Carriage museum opened in June 2013.
Since the 1970’s, the preservation of art environments, folk architecture, and collections by self-taught artists has been a major focus of Kohler Foundation. Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, (former executive director, and current director of strategic initiatives at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and past president of Kohler Foundation), was instrumental in providing the leadership and vision that has brought Kohler Foundation to a preeminent position in this field. Early preservation projects included Wisconsin Concrete Park and Painted Forest under the direction of Linda Karger Kohler, executive director from 1972 -1982. Kohler Foundation is now active outside of Wisconsin with preserved art environments in Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, Maine, and Georgia. Over the past several years, gifts of art have been made to nearly 100 institutions ranging from prestigious museums to colleges and universities and other non-profits both small and large. This ensures the art will be cared for in perpetuity and made accessible to the public. Collections have included art created by self-taught and relatively unknown artists as well as prominent artists who are recognized regionally and/or nationally.
The Performing Arts have long been important to the Kohler family and to Kohler Foundation. At a time when television was nearly non-existent and professional performing artists were a rarity in small town Wisconsin, the Kohler Women’s Club began to offer guest lectures and musical attractions at their afternoon meetings. Under the direction of Ruth DeYoung Kohler, the Kohler Women’s Club brought guests like Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Pearl S. Buck, Princess Ileana of Romania, the Boston Opera Choir, and many others to Kohler. In 1944, this program became the Kohler Foundation's Distinguished Guest Series and continues to be one of the longest-running performing arts programs in Wisconsin. Recent performances included Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Audra McDonald, and Gladys Knight. With three to four events per season, the Distinguished Guest Series offers world-class performances at accessible prices. The Kohler Foundation is a proud member of the Sheboygan Performing Arts association.
Kohler Foundation also makes charitable grants to local non-profits for arts and education programs. Most grants are awarded in Sheboygan County and occasionally in other small towns in Wisconsin. Grants are generally $5,000 or less and are awarded twice each year.
Scholarships are another important part of Kohler Foundation’s mission. Each year, scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors at Sheboygan County, Wisconsin’s twelve area high schools. These highly competitive scholarships include the Herbert V. Kohler Scholarship for leadership and the Ruth DeYoung Kohler Scholarship for Artistic Merit. Each of these scholarships offer up to $80,000 (over four years) to students attending private colleges or universities, $40,000 if they attend a public institution.
The Waelderhaus, owned and managed by Kohler Foundation, was designed by noted architect Kaspar Albrecht. Marie Christine Kohler brought the Bregenzerwald-born and very talented architect and sculptor to Kohler to design and build the Waelderhaus in honor of her father, John Michael Kohler. Completed in 1931, the home stands as a tribute to the tradition of Bergenzerwald Province in Vorarlberg, Austria. Today, the Waelderhaus is open for tours and serves as home to the Kohler Girl Scouts and hosts Kohler School functions including the annual Junior Prom and Baccalaureate. The Waelderhaus periodically welcomes visitors for musical performances, and each December hosts the annual Gingerbread Festival.
Kohler Foundation welcomes you to explore our website and learn more about our work. We invite you to contact us about projects and welcome your comments.