Katherine "Kax" Herberger, a civic leader and philanthropic legend in the Valley, died at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital Saturday, one week after suffering a stroke. She was 91.
Herberger and her husband, Robert, moved to Phoenix from Minnesota in 1949. They owned the Herberger department stores in the Midwest and West, which are now part of Saks Inc. Robert Herberger died in 1999 at the age of 94.
"She was one of a kind. She was a mentor and a role model to me and many other women," said Susan Goldwater |Levine. "She will be long and often thought of and loved forever."
Grand patrons of the arts, the Herbergers helped support or create many Valley institutions, including the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, the Kax Herberger Center for Children at Arizona State University, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the Salvation Army Herberger Center in Phoenix and the Herberger Center for Design Excellence at ASU.
"She was a wonderful person and a wonderful mother," said her son, Gary Herberger. "She was caring and generous to a lot of people and organizations. We've lived a good life here and (my parents) felt it was worthwhile to make a better community."
In April 2000, Katherine Herberger bequeathed $12 million to ASU's College of Fine Arts, which is known as the Herberger College of Fine Arts.
Bob Wills, dean of the college of fine arts, said the Herbergers began making donations to the college 40 years ago.
"Between 1962 and when she gave us her investment of $12 million, they had given us more than 100 gifts," Wills said. "She truly believed that young people are our future."
More important than the additional funding, Wills said, was the Herberger name.
"That was the greatest gift of all because she was known throughout the country and the world," Wills said. "Her name was synonymous with the arts and philanthropy."
Gwen Hillis, former chairwoman of Ballet Arizona, said Katherine Herberger saved the ballet not once, but twice a few years ago.
"She was one of the angels of Ballet Arizona and many other art organizations in the Valley," Hillis said. "It's too bad there aren't more Kax Herberger's in the world."
Not only was she a "grand and gracious philanthropist," she was a "spunky, cute mischievous lady" who was a lot of fun to be around, Hillis said.
Levine said she will always remember the "dignity and commitment" with which Katherine Herberger carried out her philanthropic activities and her ability to be an "elegant" wife and mother at the same time.
"She really had it all," Levine said. "She was ahead of her time."
Katherine Herberger lived a "spectacular life," Wills said. "We should all be applauding and the angels should be glad."
In addition to her son, Katherine Herberger is survived by another son, Judd, four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. A private burial service will be held.