Before They Were Educators: Dr. Robert J. Lahm, Jr.

(Editor’s Note: The following is the eighth part of a series of articles looking at the lives of WCU faculty and staff before they were educators.)

Which one of Western’s professor graduated from a high school in 1974 which developed to cater to the needs of the “gifted” because he demonstrated outstanding abilities in lyrical-poetic works and art and photography. And who also has an incredible adrenaline addiction, and a tendency to get in trouble with his wife, often? None other than Dr. Robert J. Lahm, Jr, Western Carolina University’s Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

Lahm attended Shades Valley High School, Resource Learning Center (RLC) in Birmingham, Alabama. The RLC was designed as a “gifted program” for students excelling in areas such as mathematics, science, literature, social studies and the arts. According to Lahm, “the program included students with all kinds of other abilities and other students exhibited many talents that were definitely not my specialty.”

Lahm was never particularly interested in “formally organized team sports.” Instead, he spent his childhood outdoors with activities that were often physically challenging.

“I had a canoe as a teenager, still have one, and I enjoyed activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and long distance bike rides,” he said.

Lahm also has a fascination for all things fast.

“I love to go fast”, Lahm said. “Cars, airplanes, amusement park rides, skateboards, motorcycles.”

Lahm credits his love for fast things to his father, who was a fighter pilot, Lahm joked, “I suppose the apple did not fall too far from the tree.” According to Lahm, his obsession for thrill seeking activities is so extreme, that if it hadn’t been for marriage and for “extensive training” throughout his life, his adrenaline addiction would have landed him in an accident that would have him in a thousand pieces by now.

Growing up in the 70s and during an innovative period for music, it is understandable that Lahm has a long list of “favorites” when it comes to bands. Once again being influenced by his father, Lahm said, “My dad had a nice collection of vinyl, we all had vinyl, but his went back and included albums that played at different speeds.”

Some of Lahm’s favorites from his father’s collection included the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Santana’s Moonflower; Dance Sister Dance, the Allman brothers at Fillmore East, Whipping Post, and the Who’s Quadrophenua; Love Reign O’er me.

Lahm joked, “I could name dozens more, but I’ll stop with the Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Derek and the Dominos’ Layla—the original!”

Lahm admitted that “it did take a while for me to grow up” which is why he has so many favorite bands and well as films. His adrenaline addiction was also apparent in his choices of favorite TV shows. He liked action packed shows like “Maverick”, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, the “Man from Uncle” and of course the classic, “Mission Impossible”. Like many Americans today, Lahm enjoyed watching “Saturday Night Live”, which first aired in 1975, the year after he graduated high school. Lahm joked about his age and said, “Just as I was alive to see the original convertible Mustang, I can recall the original Star Trek TV series, and humankind landing on the moon.”

Lahm considers his favorite movies to be ones that show a moment of truth for the bad guy or the villain. He claims to have not yet evolved and fallen victim to the increasingly popular genre of romantic comedies, except to earn “points.” Lahm laughed, “like students, I am on a point system too.” He claims to watch romantic comedies only if it to help him whenever he finds himself in trouble with his wife, which is says happens on a daily basis.

The closet Lahm would get to admitting any celebrity crushes is mentioning that he really loved the cover of the “Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass” album—he seemed to dodge the question and joked, “I am not allowed to have crushes in my present-day life.” Lahm is also thankful that social networking sites such as Facebook, were not around when he was growing up; he said that because of the lack of that technology any evidence of his “craziness” has never been posted.

With his comedic spirit and love of a rush, it’s obvious that Lahm has found himself in a little trouble once or twice in his life. As Lahm mentioned, he is being “extensively trained” and admits that even after almost 24 years of marriage, is considered to be a slow learner by his wife. One situation in particular that often lands Lahm having to watch romantic comedies to “earn points” is something almost all couples can relate to.

Lahm explained, “there remains a significant debate as to when the fuel tank in a vehicle is really empty. “Some passengers believe that it’s when the gas gauge gets down to one-quarter of a tank,” asserted Lahm, “I happen to know that it’s 43.5 miles after the yellow light comes on (assuming flat terrain and no headwind; it’s slightly farther with a tailwind) relative to the vehicle that I drive; and, I sometimes get in trouble because of my familiarity with that fact.”

Before he was having little arguments with his wife, Lahm caused trouble on the road; his first car, which of course didn’t last too long, was a 1967 Ford Galaxie. His next toy, was a red MGB Roadster, which had to undergo significant restoration after “somehow” the left front wire wheel fell off while Lahm was going 70 mph in rush-hour traffic, that car was then followed by a MGB-GT. Lahm had a hard time keeping tires, brakes, and cars in their entirety during his first few years of driving (and I am sure it had “nothing” to do with his addiction to speed).

According to Lahm, “In a professional context, teaching entrepreneurship and innovation usually suggests challenging the status quo and otherwise invokes the potential for ‘rocking the boat.’ I could probably petition to have my middle name legally changed to “Trouble.””

One form of adrenaline Lahm has adamantly worked to avoid is the rush of getting a tattoo or piercing; he doesn’t like needles. If he ever gets poison ivy, his wife calls and makes an appointment for him to be treated, which usually involves getting a shot, a way Lahm is certain she punishes him when he is in trouble.

“When I arrive, the nurses and the entire front office staff typically exclaims something like, ‘Oh, you’re the professor whose wife called; she said you have poison ivy [and in trouble, again] and you should have the BIGGEST shot we can give you’; then, the whole office laughs.”

On a serious note, Lahm hasn’t gotten a tattoo because he doesn’t want to deface his body.

“As an artist myself, I am nobody’s canvas,” said Lahm, “If I have a message to convey, symbolically or otherwise, I’ll find my own way to communicate. Anyone else’s body is their own, and they may do with it as they please as far as I am concerned; but I march to my own drummer.”

Before becoming a professor, Lahm dreamt of becoming an astronaut. When he was a kid, he would build and launch model rockets and create things like simulated flight control panel resembling Apollo Lunar Module and only caused a few minor explosions, scaring people and small animals. Unfortunately, Lahm had to get glasses, ruining any chance of flying jets for NASA. Lahm’s entrepreneur abilities were evident when he founded an advertising agency.

Lahm’s college experience took him all over the country; he began his undergraduate studies pointing towards psychiatry, but changed his mind and left for Half Moon Bay, California to attend film school. Finally, he returned to study in earnest and graduated at the age of twenty-eight, finishing his undergraduate at Kean University in Union, New Jersey and then finished his graduate studies at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

While in his third year at Western, Lahm has a weekly commute 300 miles each way to his home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (he stays in a hotel while in N.C.). Although he and his wife have been trying to sell their house, they have had no luck. According to Lahm, “It’s futile and hopeless, trying to sell (I say that based on numbers and market conditions, not as a result of a “throw in the towel and give up attitude”; maybe in two or three more years things will improve). Because of his current battle with the real estate, his most recent hobby has become packing and unpacking and driving. On the positive, he has taken up listening to audio books, which has become a pleasure in his life. When he has time, he still has a love for all things outdoor and enjoys the scenery western North Carolina has to offer. Lahm also spends a lot of time on the internet, owning around 185 domain names, and building numerous other websites over the years.

Already proving to be more than just a boring college professor, when asked if he had any interesting stories to tell, Lahm joked while referencing another one of his favorite songs, “Not in print, I don’t! Whatever I say might be too babababaaaaaaaaad (George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “Bad to the Bone”),” Lahm said. “Interested parties will have to either enroll in or visit one of my classes, instead.”