Robert E. Kohn, 86; longtime SIUE economics professor, author

Robert E. Kohn 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Robert E. Kohn, longtime professor of economics at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, retired business executive and author, died Sunday, April 5, at his home in Clayton, of which he was a longtime resident.  He was 86 and died of prostate cancer, according to family members.

Mr. Kohn was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis on Dec. 18, 1927, the son of the late Rudy and Dorothy Errant Kohn. He grew up in University City. His father and his other brothers owned and operated a series of Kohn Grocery Stores throughout the St. Louis area until they sold them to the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain.

Mr. Kohn graduated from University City High School, where he was an outstanding student. He attended Harvard University and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa society. He graduated magna cum laude in the class of 1949 with a major in economics.  He was then drafted into the Army and served out the years of the Korean War primarily at Camp Roberts in Paso Robles in southern California.  He was trained in artillery but spent his two years of service in an educational branch of the army.

After his Army service, Mr. Kohn went into a family-owned business, the Inland Shoe Co.  

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“Dad purposely started at the bottom, serving as a traveling salesman all over the U.S. and finishing as the vice president,” recalled his son Rabbi Daniel Kohn.

Mr. Kohn met Martha Bass, a Washington University student from Memphis, and they married in that city Dec. 25, 1954. They had three sons, Joel, Bruce and Daniel.  Martha Kohn died about 15 months before her husband, on Jan. 8, 2013.

Mr. Kohn left the shoe business in 1966 and returned to Washington University, where he earned a master’s of science degree in 1967 and a doctorate in economics in 1969, specializing in the theoretical microeconomics of air pollution control.  

Through the years, Mr. Kohn’s views on the economic impact of air pollution were sought out by fellow academics and the media.  In 1969, he joined the faculty of SIUE as an assistant and then full professor.

“We were grateful that Dad chose to stay in the greater St. Louis area, so we could all grow up here,” Rabbi Kohn said.

In addition to serving on the faculty at SIUE, Mr. Kohn was a distinguished visiting professor at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg and was a visiting professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the winter quarter in 1988,  among many other visiting professorships.  Mr. Kohn became professor emeritus of economics at SIUE in 1990.

In addition to earning wide respect as an economist and an expert on the costs and consequences of air pollution, Mr. Kohn pursued a wide range of recreational and intellectual pursuits.  

In addition to earning wide respect as an economist and an expert on the costs and consequences of air pollution, Mr. Kohn pursued a wide range of recreational and intellectual pursuits. He had a love of camping and outdoor experiences — he had been an Eagle Scout — and would take the family on canoeing trips on rivers throughout Missouri. He also served as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 21.

After his retirement, Mr. Kohn and his wife traveled extensively throughout the United States as well as in Latin America and Europe.

Mr. Kohn published many articles on literary and art criticism in prestigious, juried literary journals.  His late brother Bill Kohn was a highly regarded local artist, whose career also inspired Robert Kohn to delve more deeply into art as well as literary criticism. 

Graveside services for Mr. Kohn were held Tuesday, April 8, at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, 9125 Ladue Road, where his son Rabbi Kohn officiated.  

Survivors include Mr. Kohn’s sons, Rabbi Daniel Kohn (Deborah Stachel) of Mill Valley, Calif.;  Joel  Kohn (Michelle Little) of San Francisco; and Bruce Rudy Kohn (Larysa Gamble) of Tuscon, Ariz.; and six grandchildren.

Contributions in Mr. Kohn’s memory may be made to Prison Performing Arts ( or to the charity of the donor’s choice.