Kevin Lahn, '83

Originally published in October 2006

Meet Kevin Lahn!

Had Carolina wide receiver Sidney Rice come down with the football in the final ticks of the September football game against Auburn, tying the game and then leading the Gamecocks on to victory over the second-ranked team in the nation at the time, there’s no saying what Kevin Lahn, ‘83 business, would’ve done.

Garnet and Black Fervor

An avid supporter of the Gamecocks in both the sports world and in the classroom, Kevin is prone to take such things seriously. Or, as he puts it, “I take every loss personally.”

Kevin, former manager of the year for the Gamecocks basketball team, has been witness to several of Carolina’s shining moments on the gridiron and hardwood, including both Outback bowls, the first NIT championship win, some choice football victories of late and, of course, the Carquest Bowl, Carolina’s first bowl victory.

Though Kevin’s love for Carolina isn’t exclusive to athletics, following Carolina sports is a major priority, a passion, a lifestyle. It’s something that, one might argue, defines him. For instance, Kevin says winning on the gridiron in Knoxville last year, with one parent standing on either side of him, was “about one of the best days of my life.”

The million-dollar question: When he was in high school, how did a 17-year-old from Long Island, NY, come to love the Gamecocks so much?

“Funny enough, it all started because I hate cold weather, and I wanted to attend school somewhere warm,” Kevin recalls. “My dad set up visits to Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama, and for different reasons, I didn’t like any of them.”

His father recommended checking out Carolina en route to the other schools at those Southeastern Conference universities, and upon his arrival, it was immediately apparent that the warm weather was secondary to the warm people that he met. On the way back from visiting the other schools, Kevin filled out paperwork at Carolina, and the rest is history.

You Get What You Give

Kevin’s contributions to the university have been plentiful since the day he stepped foot on campus in 1979. An active student, Kevin was involved in Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, in which he was voted Best Pledge his freshman year.

He also served as president of Rho Epsilon, a real-estate business fraternity, and organized the first golf outing for real-estate students and real-estate professionals from the Columbia community. During his senior year, Kevin was in charge of the Bowl-a-Thon for Easter Seals, the community service project of his fraternity.

“My experiences at Carolina taught me organizational skills and how to think and act under pressure,” Kevin explains. “When I ran the Bowl-a-Thon, it was my responsibility to manage people and deadlines, skills that I now use in my career. I can’t imagine where I’d be without what the University of South Carolina afforded me, which is probably why it’s so important to me that I stay involved in the affairs of the university.”

Schoolwork and extracurriculars aside, Kevin carved out a substantial amount of time in his schedule for time on the basketball court as a manager, an opportunity that led to one of his traditions: establishing scholarships.

“One of the managers, Shad G. Hamilton, passed away due to a bad heart when I was in school,” Kevin recalls. “We were friends, and it was devastating to lose him. Soon thereafter, I worked to establish a scholarship in his name, and it’s great that his name still lives on, as he truly lived his life to the fullest.”

The scholarship exists today, and Kevin has proceeded to create new scholarships at the University of South Carolina for students who fit specific criteria. For instance, one of his scholarships targets students from the Northeastern United States with an emphasis on teaching.

“My mom and dad were elementary school teachers, so that’s one of the ways I pay tribute to them while also giving back to the university,” Kevin says.

“Plus, I figure the Education department would appreciate the contribution! Few people seem to know that out-of-state students who come to Carolina and receive $500 or more in scholarship money are eligible for reduced tuition, which is slightly more than in-state tuition. Rather than give money for one big scholarship, I prefer to set up several smaller ones so more students can benefit and there is more ‘bang for the buck,’ as they say.”

So, why does Kevin give back through scholarship, Alumni Association membership and various other means, such as involvement with student recruitment?

“I grew up socially and academically at Carolina. I got a job through my association with the university, and therefore, I’m very loyal,” Kevin explains. “I think it’s important to give back in money and time. You should feel obligated and shouldn’t have to be asked. Plus, it’s fun!”

The Next Generation of Gamecocks

The Carolina Alumni Association has recently teamed up with the Office of Admissions to work with alumni on recruiting highly sought-after students in areas all across the country through its Alumni Recruitment Network, encouraging them to attend the University of South Carolina.

Kevin Lahn, through his connection with the Alumni Association, has been serving as host to more and more incoming students and their parents for years, even before the program had a name.

“This year was the best yet of the freshman send-off parties – we had more than 100 people there to get geared up for Carolina, and they each got a taste of the South because we had Maurice’s barbecue flown in from South Carolina and Bojangle’s chicken brought in from the only place in Pennsylvania that sells it!”

It’s this kind of enthusiastic mentality and deep devotion to Carolina that have served Kevin so well in life and has kept the Gamecock families coming to his house for freshman send-offs and football game-viewing parties.

“I am always curious to know why kids want to come to USC. It’s exciting to see that they share the same passion for the school as I do,” Kevin explains. “When they come to my home for a recruitment party, a freshman send-off or to watch the Gamecocks play, they truly are treated to the full Carolina experience.”

Bringing Carolina Home

By “full Carolina experience,” Kevin means that his basement, appropriately dubbed the "Gamecock Room," serves as the closest thing to Williams-Brice Stadium or the Colonial Center north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“I received permission from Athletics Department to order the official University of South Carolina carpeting for my Gamecock room, which is the same carpeting found in the players' locker rooms at the Colonial Center,” he assures us. “When I needed Carolina shades, I found some university-licensed shower curtains online and had someone turn them into automatic shades for me.”

What’s more, the room comes stocked with three full-size lockers, one for each of the major sports, each of which has a signed jersey by a Gamecock player and the sport-specific accoutrements, such as an autographed football helmet from the first Outback Bowl team and a signed bat from the College World Series runner-up team a few years back.

The scoreboard carries the score and team names of the previous week’s game and comes equipped with a flat-screen television in the center, which features highlights of Gamecock football for the students and their parents to watch. Bojangle’s and Maurice’s Barbecue signage dresses up the board.

The piece de resistance, however, is what happens after the players on the screen’s highlights run out of the tunnel. A hint: It’s the same thing that happens at the games.

“In order to reproduce the smoke that you see on the screen when the players run out onto the field for ‘2001,’ my electrician hooked up my television to a fog machine with two pipes that force ‘smoke’ into the room while ‘2001’ plays through the speakers in the room,” Kevin explains.

“Of course, I had to install an extra-heavy duty exhaust system to contain the fog and prevent the fire department from coming back after the first test-run when smoke filled the house,” Kevin says. “In order to get the timing down, my electrician found some software that the Disney Company uses in its amusement parks”.

Clearly, Kevin knows people in high places. Or maybe it’s his ability to relate to so many people, to make friends.

“It’s true that I have the original nameplate from George Rogers’ Heisman Trophy,” Kevin confirms, doing his best not to gloat. “I just happened to know that he was putting it up for auction, and I talked with a few people I knew and figured out a way to match his asking price.”

Now, the nameplate is highlighted in his Gamecock Room, signed and surrounded by pictures of Kevin with the trophy and the Heisman Trophy winner himself.

The Gamecock haven might be seen as a kind of Mecca for true Carolina lovers. For incoming students and parents of the University of South Carolina, it’s a taste of Southern flavor, an indication of all the fun to be had at Carolina and, of course, something to which to aspire.

After all, what Gamecock wouldn’t want what Kevin has?

Making a Living and Living the Good Life

Kevin’s success story starts out with the hard work, involvement and commitment he displayed at Carolina, which was helped along with a little bit of serendipity. He uses his story as an example to new Carolina students and graduates.

Having just graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1983, his real estate school advisor recommended Kevin for an internship with the Leo Eisenberg Company, a national real estate company, with offices in Columbia.

At the time, Eisenberg was the largest developer of shopping centers in the country, and the Columbia office was developing shopping centers for supermarket chains such as Bi-Lo and Giant Food. Kevin was sent up North for weeks at a time to locate new supermarket sites, and eventually was asked to become a full-time employee and move to the Philadelphia area.

Kevin had been in the process of earning a master of science in business administration and was one course and a thesis shy of graduating by the time he got called up to Philly. Bad timing, some might think. But Kevin sees things differently.

“In this business, experience is sometimes more important than education, and I felt more than equipped to handle the job, especially given my extra years of advanced schoolwork,” Kevin explains. “I saw it as an opportunity I could not pass up.”

Kevin’s boss eventually purchased the Northeast office from the Eisenberg Company in 1992 and renamed it R.J. Waters and Associates. Shortly thereafter, Kevin was named vice president and made a partner in the firm. Kevin continues to work for the same company today and is proud of his degree from Carolina, which provided him with his break and has fostered his success.

“I like to show the kids going off to Carolina that it’s possible for them to achieve great things, whatever they want in life,” Kevin says. “Sometimes some of the parents get after me for ‘spoiling’ their kids with steak and lobster dinners when I come to Columbia to visit, but I just explain to them that it’s my way of leading them to aspire high.”

In addition to taking current students out to eat while he’s in town, Kevin – to now be joined by his fiancée, Tiffany, no doubt – helps out new graduates with “getting acclimated to the real world,” such as how to buy a house, get a job and deal with common problems that face 20-somethings.

“I’ve seen kids hit roadblocks and then overcome them,” Kevin smiles, “and then they mature and go on to do great things. That is rewarding. That is what it is all about.”