Easy come, easy go
Kevin Olmstead, post-Millionaire
by Jan Schlain
Seven years ago, Ann Arbor environmental engineer Kevin Olmstead won $2.18 million on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. During the three weeks between the time the show was taped and the time it aired, Olmstead prepared, like an engineer, for the storm: by the time ABC called him back to New York to talk to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America and receive the check on the air on Regis and Kathie Lee, he had already delisted his phone number and opened a VIP account at National City Bank.
What he didn't anticipate was sharing Regis and Kathie Lee's green room with a fellow Ann Arborite-Jean Jennings of Automobile magazine. Jennings grabbed the chance, and when they got back to Ann Arbor, she took the new millionaire shopping for a minivan. "We looked at the Odyssey at Howard Cooper Honda and the Town & Country at Naylor," Olmstead remembers-though "she of course was hoping I'd buy a Porsche." Instead, he "put aside enough to pay taxes" and "bought a Town & Country minivan for thirty-three thousand dollars and a luxury condo in northeast Ann Arbor." He gave $10,000 each to his mom, sister, nephews, and niece and endowments to three of the four universities where he earned degrees and taught (he didn't give anything to MIT since it did not accept him into its Ph.D. program; he did to Michigan, because it did). And he joined Toastmasters International to practice his public speaking.
So how is he feeling now, with investments melting down right and left? Olmstead-still single, still working part time at Tetra Tech, still driving his seven-year-old minivan-seems unperturbed. "It's down to a couple hundred thousand," he says of his winnings-but even before the market plummeted, "it was never enough to retire on." Still, he's trying to pick up more hours at work-and, he adds, "I am available for speaking gigs."
[Originally published in November, 2008.]