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When it comes to international travel, the Jiraks are in a league of their own. They’ve visited 59 countries so far—and have no plans to stop any time soon. 

Don Jirak ’63 senior photo

It all began with something Don Jirak didn’t do at North Central. “I’d arranged to go on one of [Chaplain] George St. Angelo’s [’43] study abroad trips between junior and senior years,” he says. “Then I got a job offer that I thought was really great. I canceled my trip … and lived to regret it. But I learned my lesson!” 

That’s for sure. Now retired, Jirak and his wife “make it a point to travel every chance we get,” he says. This fall they’re headed for the Swiss and Italian Alps. 

Insights like those are among the lessons Jirak values most about his time at North Central. They’ve made a difference not only in his personal life, but in his career. 

After graduating with a business major, Jirak served in the U.S. Navy for four years before accepting a management position at Montgomery Ward. He stayed with the company for 18 years, along the way earning an M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In 1985 he left to become an entrepreneur. His company, Audiometric Associates, conducted hearing tests and hearing conservation training for companies that employed staff in noisy environments. 

“I don’t recall the specific business skills and facts that I learned at North Central. It’s been 53 years, after all!” he notes. “But I do remember the attitude I developed—interested in things, open to new ideas. That’s really important, especially when you have your own business. You need to do your own thing and move in whatever direction motivates you.”

Don ’63 and Mary Ann Jirak visiting the Acroplis of Athens, Greece

So it’s no surprise that Jirak and his wife have been faithful friends of the College for years, generously supporting the North Central College Fund, the renovation of Old Main and the fine arts. Their most recent gift to the Brilliant Future Campaign took the form of a bequest earmarked for the Science Center. 

“It’s amazing to see where the College is now compared to where it was 50-plus years ago,” says Jirak, whose dorm, Seager Hall, was the premier upperclass residence hall when he was a student. “We’ve improved and expanded everything, from the programs to the campus. It’s been wonderful to see the College grow.” 

“Higher education in general and North Central in particular are important to both Mary Ann and me,” he continues. His wife taught business courses and was coordinator of the community career services program at Harper College for more than 30 years before retiring. “We’ve seen how important education is. It’s the foundation for everything else that goes on.”