Terry Jodok Kohler

May 14, 1934 - September 20, 2016

Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Terry Kohler was always thinking about ways to do things better. He was a champion sailor and served as a jet pilot in the United States Air Force. Kohler was a proud graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and used his engineering knowledge to revolutionize sailmaking for the sport of sailing. He was also a generous philanthropist for causes he believed in, especially in sailing. Kohler said, “My primary strength at MIT was my mechanical engineering degree and my Master’s Degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management. My expertise was information technology and computers and how they can be and should be applied in business.” Kohler acquired North Sails from Lowell North in 1983. The company became the largest sailmaker in the world. North Sails used advanced technology to create 3DL sails built on molds. Terry Kohler is being inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame for his lifetime of achievement in the sport of sailing.

Kohler owned the Vollrath Company based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin that makes food service products. Both his father and grandfather served as Governor of the State of Wisconsin. As a racing sailor, he skippered several offshore racers that won the Chicago to Mackinac Island Race and he competed in the Canada’s Cup defense trials. Kohler could see from first hand experience that handicap rating rules needed to be improved. He was instrumental in founding and supporting the Sailing Yacht Research Foundation. His background in sail research and design, and working on sailing performance advanced the knowledge base of naval architects and sailors working to create faster yachts.

The 2012 Olympic Games in Great Britain added a women’s match race discipline to the roster of events. Kohler was instrumental in activating the Women’s International Match Racing Association. He donated a fleet of boats, the Elliot 6 Meters (20.2 feet LOA), for training and racing at a sailing center (Sailing Education Association of Sheboygan or SEAS) adjacent to the Sheboygan Yacht Club on the west shore of Lake Michigan. In 2021 author Jon Helminiak wrote Kohler’s biography. The book is titled, “Inverted Climb.” It is a fascinating read about how Kohler used his experiences to spring board from one endeavor to another.

Terry Kohler provided a 74 foot power yacht multihull that served a dual role as an hospitality boat for North Sails customers and managers and a platform for the broadcast commentators for the 2000 and 2003 America’s Cups in Auckland, New Zealand. At the time I was a partner with the Sunfish-Laser Company. Terry’s company Windway was the majority shareholder. I noted at the time that I got to see his brilliance every time we spoke. He always had good ideas. He wasn’t a micro-manager; he let his people run with their ideas. Terry would check in and provide helpful updates. He was able to draw from his experience as a pilot, sailor, engineer and manager to make things better.

~Gary Jobson

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