Kohlfeld Family Named ‘Friend of University’


Photo of  Michael, Leo and Mark Kohlfeld

The Kohlfeld family, from left to right: Michael, Leo, and Mark.(View larger image of the Kohlfeld family.)


April 26, 2006 – The Kohlfeld family of Cape Girardeau, Mo., which owns Kohlfeld Distributing Inc. in Jackson, Mo., has been selected for the 2006 “Friend of the University” Award by the Southeast Missouri University Foundation.

Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University, will present the award April 29 at the annual President’s Council dinner at the Show Me Center.

The “Friend of the University” award, which recognizes those who support and who are closely associated with the mission, purposes, plans and programs of the University, is the highest honor bestowed by the Southeast Missouri University Foundation. When the Foundation Board established the award, it also established the criteria for the Friend of the University. The Friend of the University must have the respect of the community and the University, and must have acted to confirm their interest and involvement with the University.

This year’s award will be bestowed on the family of Leo Kohlfeld, who pioneered the Kohlfeld distributorship, and his sons, Mike Kohlfeld, president of Kohlfeld Distributing, and Mark Kohlfeld, vice president of sales for the company. Their wives, Blanche, Barbara and Bobbie, will also be recognized. For the first time, the Friend of the University Award is being bestowed on a family.

Kohlfeld distributes more than 100 beer, wine and non-alcoholic brands from 28 different suppliers to 20 counties in southeast Missouri. The most popular brands it distributes are Coors Light, Stag, Keystone Light, Corona, Heineken, Red Bull and the Diageo portfolio, including brands like Smirnoff Ice.

The Kohlfelds have long had an affinity for Southeast Missouri State University.

“The University has always been a major player in our community,” Mike said, “and my dad recognized that. He got involved with students, assisting them financially and with other kinds of support. He befriended many of them and became a valuable resource for them.”

Mike graduated from Southeast in 1973 with a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a marketing major. His wife, Dr. Barbara Kohlfeld, graduated from Southeast in 1975 with a master of arts degree in education. She is principal at Blanchard Elementary in Cape Girardeau. They have three children, Alexandra, Courtland and Parker. Mark is a 1985 graduate of Southeast with a bachelor of general studies degree. His wife, Bobbie Kohlfeld, is a 1994 graduate of Southeast with a bachelor of science degree in nursing. She is employed as a registered nurse by Saint Francis Medical Center. They have twin daughters, Julia and Taylor.

The Kohlfelds are major contributors to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation. They are members of the President’s Council and the Booster Club, which is the primary fund raising organization for the Department of Athletics at Southeast Missouri State University, and is part of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation.  Over the years, the Kohlfelds have been perennial supporters of Southeast Athletics. The Kohlfelds have sponsored the annual Booster Club Kick-Off Celebration that opens the new athletic seasons each fall, the Booster Club pre-game meal that launches each new intercollegiate basketball season and the annual Booster Club Golf Tournament held each spring. The Kohlfelds have sponsored the golf tournament for 22 years, and for a number of years, they sponsored the annual SEmotion Relays.

“We’re really big in sports,” Mike said, adding the Kohlfelds are regular sponsors of Southeast coaches’ shows on local radio and television stations.

The Kohlfelds’ donations have supported the Top 20 Club for basketball donors; the Redhawk Insiders, the top 20 club for football donors; the Rosengarten Athletic Complex; and the Randy Leiner Memorial Scholarship.

Mike serves on the Executive Committee of the Booster Club Board of Directors and on the Southeast Missouri University Foundation Board of Directors. He is past president of the Booster Club.

“This award is very unexpected,” Mike said. “I was very surprised, but it means a lot to us. When you give, you don’t expect to get anything back. If you attach strings to it, it becomes self-serving. This is simply our family’s attempt to do our part to insure our University’s strength.

“What’s good for the University is good for the region,” Mike added. “The southeast Missouri region is so greatly enhanced by this University. As volunteers, we are to further that mission. We’ve gotten back a lot more than we have given over the years. We’re just very honored and humbled to receive this award. It just floors me.”

President Dobbins said the Kohlfelds have been tremendous friends of the University for many, many years.

“Leo, Mike, Mark and the entire family have repeatedly been supportive of this University,” Dobbins said. “Whether it has been sponsorship of Athletic and Booster events or cash donations to Greek organizations, or support for student-sponsored events, the Kohlfelds have always been a committed friend of this institution. They have shown an unrelenting dedication to all areas of the University. We deeply appreciate their continued dedication to Southeast.”

Don Kaverman, director of Southeast Athletics, said, “The Kohlfeld family has been outstanding Boosters for our program. We are just so grateful for what they have been able to provide us. They are always available for anything we might need. We wouldn’t be the same program without their support and their involvement. We look forward to working with them as we continue to improve our programs into the future.”

The Kohlfelds have generously supported Southeast thanks to the business foundation laid by Leo Kohlfeld. A native of Perry County in Missouri, Leo got his start in the business when he went to work for William B. Shott’s wholesale Stag distributorship in Cape Girardeau in 1948.  He became manager in 1953, and in 1968, he bought the distributorship from H.L. Paul.

When Mike turned 14, he went to work in the business with his father during summers, loading trucks, mowing grass, doing clerical jobs and cleaning. While he was attending Southeast Missouri State University, Mike became sales manager of the company at the age of 20, and the company began acquiring other distributorships. At that time, Kohlfeld also began shifting from its emphasis on selling beers to bars and taverns to selling it to off-premise locations such as grocery and convenience stores. In 1977, he became general manager, and in 1994, Mike became president of the company.

His brother, Mark, followed much the same path. He started out working in the family business as a teen and continued throughout his college years. In 1990, he became sales manager. He is now vice president of sales in charge of managing Kohlfeld’s growing portfolio of brands.

Mike says neo-prohibitionists are one of the challenges facing the business today.

“In part, that’s why we went to the non-alcoholic part of our business” with the introduction of private label waters, a line of fruit juices, the Red Bull energy drink, Fitz and Jones sodas, Arizona Iced Tea and Yohoo, he said. “It’s becoming a big, big part of our business.”

Sheer competition for the discretionary dollar also is a major challenge as consumers are faced with, among other things, rising gasoline and insurance costs.

“Everyone is fighting for that shrinking dollar,” Mike said. “There are fewer suppliers. Competition in our industry has led to new market dynamics and greater challenges.”

But the future of Kohlfeld Distributing is bright, he says.

“When dad bought the business in 1968, we were a one quarter million case wholesaler. Now, we’re a three quarter million case wholesaler with distribution centers in Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff, Mo.,” he said.

He says the business has been successful “because we’ve had a great example set from the top by my dad.”

Mike’s dad Leo was one of eight children raised on a 40-acre farm at Apple Creek, Mo. His mother, Blanche, was raised on a farm just a few fields over from there, Mike said. Together, the couple has four children, Mike, Mark, and two daughters, Gail and Jan, both of whom are also Southeast Missouri State graduates. Although Leo is now retired, Mike says he still has a keen interest in the business and oversaw the recent expansion of the Kohlfeld distribution center in Poplar Bluff, Mo. His mother, Blanche, worked in the office years ago and still takes great pride in overseeing the physical property at their Jackson distribution center.

Mike says another very important reason that Kohlfeld Distributing has been successful is because they have surrounded themselves with excellent co-workers.

“Nobody will outwork them or provide superior service,” he said.

He says the business has grown because it has been able to recognize changing tides in the market and been in a strong position to adapt to them.

“Probably most important of all, we are blessed with a retail and consumer base that recognizes who we are and what we strive to do for them,” Mike said. “Without our loyal consumers, we are nothing.”

In addition to their commitment to Southeast Missouri State University, the Kohlfeld family has been actively involved in numerous civic and community endeavors for a number of decades.