Sidney Lawrence Kahn III was sitting on the beach in Sarasota with his father during one of the family’s annual vacations when his dad pointed out some construction projects and said, “They’re putting up a hotel over there, and they’re putting up another building over there.”
Right then, the teenaged Kahn became intrigued by who “they” could be. When he grew up, he became one of them.
Kahn, who died Wednesday at age 72 following a long bout with lymphoma, founded the Miami-based Lowell Homes development firm in 1986. In the ensuing decades, the company has built thousands of single-family homes, condos and townhouses around South Florida — from affordable to luxury — in neighborhoods such as Homestead, South Miami, Pembroke Pines and Coconut Creek.
Known as Larry, Kahn had dealt with health issues since 2011, brought on by complications following two stem cell transplants. But his daughter, Lani Kahn Drody, who oversees the company’s Lowell International Realty division, said her father kept coming into the firm’s Coral Gables office every day until the end.
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“The two words he used over and over again to describe his approach to home-building were ‘value’ and ‘elegance,’ ” she said. “Your home is the most important purchase anyone makes in their lifetime, and he took great pride in building communities for people.”
An adventurous life
Born Aug. 13, 1946, in Memphis, Tennessee, Kahn was the oldest of three brothers. He received his B.A. at Amherst College in Massachusetts, then joined the U.S. Navy and completed Officer Candidate School.
He also married his longtime sweetheart, Susan Merklas, on Dec. 22, 1968. The pair had met as high-schoolers in Sarasota, where their respective families vacationed, and remained in constant touch even though she lived in Fort Myers.
After marrying, the newlyweds drove cross-country from Boca Raton to San Diego, where Kahn was scheduled for six weeks of cryptography training.
“It was a great adventure to us,” Susan said about the road trip. “We felt like the whole world was in front of us. We were driving across Texas and New Mexico and we talked all day and night.”
After his military training was completed, the couple moved to Sasebo, Japan, where Kahn served as a lieutenant JG on a ship that made several trips to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. When he was discharged in 1970, he attended Harvard Business School and earned an M.B.A. with an emphasis on real estate development. In 1974, a home-building job brought him to Miami, where he remained and started his own company.
An avid outdoorsman and devoted father, Kahn was also active in various civic and community groups, including the Miami-Dade Affordable Housing Foundation Trust, the Florida International University Foundation and the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless.
His most passionate philanthropic interest was healthcare. After having to endure long back-and-forth trips to Houston for his own stem cell transplants, he became a founding chairman of the Miami Cancer Institute, a medical facility operated by Baptist Health South Florida and Memorial Sloan Kettering that is dedicated to the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.
Earlier this year, he and his wife established the $1 million Larry and Susan Kahn Immunotherapy Treatment and Research Fund to develop a new transplant approach for lymphoma patients at the Institute.
“He was a lovely man,” said Dr. Guenther Koehne, MD., PHD., who treated Kahn at the Miami Cancer Institute.
“A short time after I met him, I thought of him as more than a patient. He became a friend. Anyone who met him once or twice immediately felt like they had a new friend.”
Kahn is survived by his wife, Susan; daughters Lani and Lauren; son Lowell; grandchildren Will, Sam, Chloe, Ella, and Kelsey; and brothers Bill and Bruce.
A memorial service will be held at Temple Beth Am at 5950 SW 88th St., Pinecrest, at 11 a.m. Tuesday. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Larry and Susan Kahn Immunotherapy Treatment and Research Fund at Miami Cancer Institute (Baptist Health South Florida Foundation, 1575 San Ignacio Ave., Suite 406, Coral Gables, 33146).