Ronald Frank Olejko (71)—who many ACR/ARP members knew as the man who managed the smooth planning and execution of the ACR’s annual meeting for more than 40 years—passed away on Sunday, Sept. 5, after a long battle with bladder and kidney cancer. He died peacefully at home with friends and loved ones by his side.
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Ron grew up in a large, close-knit, Polish Catholic family in Lorain, Ohio, a small industrial town 30 miles from Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie. Though ever proud of his Ohio roots and extended Olejko family, a trip to New York City opened up a whole new world for him. He studied business and accounting at Baldwin Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, then switched his major to speech. Shortly after graduating, he pulled up stakes and headed to the Big Apple.
In January 1975, Mr. Olejko obtained a temporary job at the Arthritis Foundation in Manhattan. At the time, the Arthritis Foundation, the American Rheumatism Association (ARA) and Allied Health Professions (AHP) were one organization, eventually becoming the American College of Rheumatology. He had found his lifelong career.
In 1976, he helped plan the ARA’s first annual meeting at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. In the mid-1970s, he moved to Atlanta with the organization and was appointed the executive director of the AHP. In 1986, the ACR asked him to move to a full-time role organizing all the meetings for the newly independent association. His official title was senior director—meeting services, American College of Rheumatology, and he planned conferences all over the world. This not only fed into his love of travel, but also increased the number of his friendships—as did his ability to light up a room, to draw people in and to make them comfortable.
He was known for his smarts, wicked wit and rapid responses.
At the time of Ron’s retirement in 2018, Jane S. Diamond, MPH, managing editor, Arthritis & Rheumatology, said, “Ron’s coworkers love him. He’s funny, fun, up for anything and unforgettable!”
Also at that time, Mark Andrejeski, then the ACR executive vice president, said, “Ron has always had member service at the top of his list. He paid attention to details that helped him form a special bond with many, many members. … He was great at remembering the little details of someone that made them feel special.”
Ron was preceded in death by his parents, Frank and Angeline Olejko, and two partners, Paul Franklin III and John (Jack) Hile. It was Ron’s desire to not have a formal service or burial, but to have his ashes spread at select locations he chose and specified. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to the Rheumatology Research Foundation, the Actor’s Express and the ASPCA.
The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) SE Board of Directors has confirmed initiation of a new scholarship fund, which is named to honor Ron, a veteran planner and long-time enthusiastic member of PCMA. Bernie Wilke, PCMA SE’s 2021 chapter president, announced, “The Ronald Olejko Membership Support Scholarship Fund will be beneficial to our chapter and will include two membership scholarships per year. These one-year memberships will be awarded to two meeting industry professionals based upon financial circumstance and industry involvement.”
When PCMA SE announced the titled scholarship, Ron said, “The friendships I made over decades in the meeting and hospitality industry, especially through membership in PCMA have been invaluable. Attending PCMA’s events and presenting at educational programs, both nationally and at the chapter level, have been excellent learning opportunities. It is truly an honor to have PCMA SE create a scholarship fund named in my honor to support membership in the association for those in need. I can personally attest to the benefits of PCMA membership and the quality education offered for members.”
In the coming months, the Ronald Frank Olejko Foundation for the Performing Arts will be created.
Learn more about Ron in the story we published upon his retirement.