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Alarm Detection CFO Named Waubonsee Featured Alumnus
Like many students, Terry Olah, of Aurora, spent a relatively short time at Waubonsee Community College. However, by any measure, he made the most of his time at the college. He earned an associate degree in just 18 months, met his wife, made lifelong friends and began his life’s work. Because of this special relationship with the college and in recognition of his professional accomplishments, Olah has been named Waubonsee’s Featured Alumnus for June.
Having grown up in Aurora, Olah had a basic familiarity with Waubonsee. His father had taken a few courses at the college as part of his jobs at both Western Electric and All-Steel. Olah’s brother had also attended, and so after graduating from Aurora Central Catholic High School in 1974, Olah decided to become a Waubonsee Chief.
Waubonsee has always been a place for local students to meet. Luckily for Olah, a certain West Aurora High School graduate named Kim also decided to attend her local community college. After meeting as students at Waubonsee, Olah and his wife Kim are still happily married.
But Olah didn’t find just one lifelong relationship at Waubonsee. As a member of the college’s golf team in 1974 and 1975, Olah played with teammates Dave Richardson, Jeff Barkley and Larry Paprocki, and the group has remained close.
“Once or twice a year, we meet to recapture the spirit and play a tournament amongst ourselves,” Olah explains.
The group of friends, which dubbed themselves “Team Bonzo” after Chief Waubonsee, even has a traveling trophy in the form of a bronze chief that is given away to the best golfer at each outing.
The group has had a lot of fun over the years, but the friends have also seen each other through some difficult times. Sadly, Paprocki passed away several years ago, but now his son Jeffrey has stepped in to maintain the foursome.
During Olah’s college years, golf helped him maintain focus.
“Playing a sport helped keep me fresh,” Olah explained. “It wasn’t really that difficult to balance academics with athletics. Golf kept me sharper and more focused.”
The 3.87 grade point average that Olah achieved at Waubonsee serves as proof of both his ability to balance multiple priorities and his natural intellect. In fact, Olah was able to graduate with an associate degree in business from Waubonsee in just three semesters because he passed several College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests and earned his remaining credits that way.
As he was finishing up his time at Waubonsee, Olah was scouting the campus’ job boards looking for a way to make extra money to help him as he transitioned to Aurora University (AU). It was on one of these boards that he saw an opening for a central station operator at a small locally owned alarm company.
Olah didn’t know anything about alarms when he walked in the door of what is now Alarm Detection Systems back in 1975, but he did know a bit about the Bonifas family who owned the company, having been next-door neighbors with them as he was growing up. He got the job, and when Bob Bonifas heard Olah had an associate degree in business and was working toward an accounting degree at AU, more responsibilities started coming his way.
Olah did well with these additional responsibilities, and so when he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1978, Bonifas asked him to stay on.
“What a tremendous opportunity that was,” Olah said. “I thought ‘what better way to learn?’ than to be exposed to everything and get to do everything hands-on at this small company. I mean I was the accounting department when I started.”
Almost 25 years later, the company has grown tremendously, as has Olah’s role. Now vice president and chief financial officer (CFO), Olah oversees the information technology, human resources and accounting functions of a company with 230 employees. Alarm Detection Systems is typically listed in the top-25 of the more than 13,000 alarm companies that exist nationwide.