Kern Family Foundation



Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2015):

Revenue: $27,675,464
Expenses: $43,471,407
Assets: $518,743,388




Private foundation


James C. Rahn

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Robert D. Kern, founder of Generac Power Systems, created the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Family Foundation. It primarily supports education policy and school choice efforts, including supporting programs at Christian colleges and seminaries and programs in secondary schools, with an emphasis on increasing engineering education programs.

The Kern Family Foundation has provided support to public policy organizations, including the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, Acton Institute, and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the left-leaning teacher training program Teach for America. 1


Robert D. Kern created Generac Power Systems in 1959. The endowment for the Kern Family Foundation comes from the partial sale of Generac to Briggs and Stratton in 1999 and its takeover by a private equity firm in 2006. 2

The Kern Family Foundation is one of the two largest private foundations in Wisconsin, along with the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Urban Milwaukee columnist Michael Horne noted in 2014 that the Bradley and Kern Foundations “share interests in conservative policies, with the Bradley being more political and secular, while the Kern tends toward the social and religious.” 3

In 2008, the Bradley and Kern Foundations, collaborating with the Walton Family Foundation, supported a campaign that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sais was “aimed at increasing positive opinions” of school choice in Milwaukee. 4


Public Policy

Center-right organizations receiving Kern Family Foundation grants in 2018 include the Acton Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. 5

Kern Family Grants

Some of Robert Kern’s grants are personal.  Kern grew up in Osage, Iowa and left in 1943 at age 18.  In 2007 Kern donated $1 million as part of a campaign to fund an arts center in his hometown.  Kern wrote the check himself.  “You don’t get a lot of $1 million checks that are handwritten,” fundraiser Terry Hinrichs told the Des Moines Register. 6

Another early grant of $1 million went to the American Baptist Assembly, a conference center in Green Lake, Wisconsin that both Robert and Patricia Kern attended in the 1940s. 7  The Kern Family Foundation regularly supports Christian colleges and seminaries.

Medical Research

The Kern Family Foundation made its largest grant of $67 million to the Mayo Clinic. In 1930, Mayo Clinic treated five-year-old Robert Kern as a charity case because his father was a pastor. The grant was used to create the Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery at the clinic. 8

The foundation also supports the Medical College of Wisconsin.  A 2009 grant of $10 million was the largest in the college’s history9 but was topped in 2017 by a $37.9 million jointly given by the Kern Family Foundation and the Kern family personally to support reforms in medical education. 10

Engineering Education

Another focus of the Kern Family Foundation is to reform engineering education to increase America’s supply of engineers. In a 2007 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kern, who has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Illinois, said “there’s a gross shortage of engineering talent in this country” and added that when running Generac he had to hire engineers from China, Japan, and Great Britain because he could not find enough talented engineers in the United States. 11

Among the organizations the Kern Family Foundation supports in its engineer-training effort is Project Lead The Way, which supports engineering education in elementary and secondary schools and says that the foundation’s grants support “the value of work, developing the formation of good character” and “instilling an entrepreneurial mindset.” 12 Project Lead The Way received a $4 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation in 2018. 13Kern Family Foundation, 2018 Form 990.


  1. Kern Family Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2018, Part XV Line 3
  2. Thomas Content, “N.Y. Company to Buy Generac Power Systems,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 15, 2006.
  3. Michael Horne, “The Rise of The Kern Foundation,” Urban Milwaukee, October 27, 2014,  (accessed November 11, 2020)
  4. Alan J. Borsuk, “Promoting Voucher Schools,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 29, 2008.
  5. Kern Family Foundation, Return of a Private Foundation (Form 990-PF), 2018, Part XV Line 3
  6. Larry Ballard, “Man Gives Osage 1 Million Reasons To Be Thankful,” Des Moines Register, March 30, 2007.
  7. Scott Williams, “Couple’s Gifts Move Dreams to Reality,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 5, 2001.
  8. Jackie Crosby, “Onetime Charity Patient, Wife Give Mayo Clinic $67 Million,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 24, 2013.
  9. Kathleen Gallagher and Erica Perez, “Medical College Gets $10 Million,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26, 2009.
  10. “The Power of Philanthropy:  Medical College of Wisconsin Receives $38 Million Gift, Will Lead National Institute to Transform Medical Education,” press release from the Medical College of Wisconsin, June 8, 2017.
  11. John Schmid, “Innovator Fears U.S. Losing Edge,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 8. 2017.
  12. “The Kern Family Foundation and PLTW:  Supporting Transformative Learning Experiences,” Project Lead The Way website (accessed November 12, 2020)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: February 1, 1999

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2015 Dec Form PF $27,675,464 $43,471,407 $518,743,388 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2014 Dec Form PF $38,138,737 $45,478,526 $534,539,331 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2013 Dec Form PF $28,976,482 $36,843,756 $541,879,120 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2012 Dec Form PF $17,367,499 $32,154,774 $549,746,394 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2011 Dec Form PF $23,072,080 $29,901,733 $564,533,669 $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Kern Family Foundation

    W305S4239 BROOKHILL RD
    WAUKESHA, WI 53189-9126