Profiles in Philanthropy: The Legacy of Benjamin Kohl


It doesn’t take an exceptional eye for the average Chestertownian to see the impact of the late Ben Kohl on Kent County. From the Kohl Gallery at Washington College, the Kohl Lobby at the Garfield Center for the Arts, financing the achieve collection at Miller Library or the contributing to the building of the Betterton Community Center, Ben and his wife, Judy, have played a critical philanthropic role in the life of the Mid-Shore since 2006.

But who was Benjamin Gibbs Kohl? A successful industrialist? A hedge fund manager from New York City? A scion of a family fortune? How about a devoted scholar of Renaissance history.

It turns out that Ben Kohl devoted most of his adult life to scholarship and teaching. With a thirty-five year tenure as a history professor at Vassar College, Kohl became one of the world’s leading experts on fourteenth-century Padua and Venice. In fact, his most significant work was Padua under the Carrera, 1318-1405, which stands today as an extraordinary example of relentless archival research.

While undoubtedly impressive, a career in the academy does not typically produce a philanthropist. And therefore it was moving to hear in a recent Spy interview with Judy Kohl, and Ben’s son, Ben Jr., that the Kohls took almost all the proceeds from the sale of the family farm in Middletown, Delaware, commonly known at Hedgelawn, to give back to his chosen field by funding the electronic achieving of a vast and rare collection of 14th and 15th century historical documents for future scholars, but gave half of the farm’s net return to invest in the arts and culture of Kent County.

Ben Kohl sadly passed away at the relatively young age of 71, but his legacy remains a remarkable testimony to the power of philanthropy that continues to this day with the remaining Kohl family members through the Hedgelawn Foundation.

The Spy spent some time with Judy and Ben Jr. at the family office in Lynch a few weeks ago to take about one of Kent County’s most generous benefactors and his extraordinary legacy in our community and the world’s appreciation of medieval and Renaissance history.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Hedgelawn Foundation please go here.



About Dave Wheelan


Letters to Editor

  1. Nina Houghton says

    What a beautiful way to remember Ben. He was a great influence on me as I served under him on the Academic Affairs committee. I feel blessed to have known him and now to call his wife a friend.

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