Terri and Jerry Kohl

Sustaining the Good Vibrations of Giving

In the world of guitars, “sustain” is one of the instrument’s key traits: it refers to how long a note audibly resonates after initially being struck—the longer the better.

For Brighton Collectibles cofounder and music fanatic Jerry Kohl, philanthropy operates on a similar concept, and he and his wife Terri’s generosity has been ringing out across City of Hope's groundbreaking cancer research for nearly 40 years, to the tune of $1.6 million in cumulative giving. It's important for me to give money to causes that are important to my family and my friends," said Jerry, who lost his brother, Ira, to liver cancer, "I can't think of many causes better than curing this horrible disease."

As sweethearts growing up in Monterey Park, Terri and Jerry opened a shop selling handmade clothing and accessories to their friends before they had even graduated from high school. Their self-taught entrepreneurship was so successful that in 1991 they founded Brighton, which now boasts 180 stores around the country and products sold in more than 4,000 specialty boutiques.

 
"Everybody needs to do something. And Terri and I feel that this is our part."
 

The Kohls discovered City of Hope in 1983 when good friend Rick Powell, a longtime volunteer fundraiser through the International Home Furnishings Industry group, invited them on a tour of the campus. Curious and enthusiastic about the researchers they met, Terri and Jerry began a multilayered relationship with City of Hope that eventually included hosting luncheons at Brighton stores for researchers to come and educate staff and customers about women's cancers. "We have millions of ladies who are customers, and it's a topic that's important to them," said Jerry, who this year made a $250,000 gift to sponsor the 25th-anniversary Walk for Hope that Powell is co-chairing in November. "We thought it was a good place to give money to help in this awful disease."

As business owners, the Kohls have learned the value of resilience, which became even more essential when the pandemic hit. Just as City of Hope has worked hard to make sure that vulnerable patients feel safe and supported, Terri and Jerry have prioritized the well-being of their associates and customers, adapting policies to accommodate a variety of health concerns. "Do you use GPS?" Jerry said. "It constantly recalculates its direction. As a business leader or as an individual, you've gotta continue to recalibrate your plans. We'd sit down last March [2020] and make a plan, and by the next day we'd realize that's a bad decision. So my advice is, in life or in COVID, you've gotta be flexible."

Beyond his business, his family, and his philanthropy, Jerry retains a passion for his lifelong obsession: music. An enthusiastic guitar player as a kid, he joined a band that played dances and weddings throughout high school. During vacations at Balboa Beach in the 1960s, he would go to the legendary Rendezvous Ballroom, where surf rock legends The Chantays, The Surfaris, and Dick Dale regularly performed. These days, he and Terri still regularly attend rock shows and the Grammy Awards, and his prodigious collection of musical instruments includes guitars signed by Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, and a Stradivarius violin made in 1716.

As for the sustaining music of philanthropy, Jerry hopes that he and Terri's giving will resonate with others in the community and inspire them to find ways to be a force for positivity and hope in the world.

"I've been lucky," said Jerry, who has two grown children and a three-year-old granddaughter living nearby in Pasadena. "People should feel good about doing good things while they're alive rather than think about what they're going to do when they're not here. I don't care if you support child diabetes, the Jewish temple, the local hospital, the food bank, or you're collecting shoes for people. We collect hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes every year for people who don't have shoes everybody can do their part. Everybody needs to do something. And Terri and I feel that this is our part."

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