Jeff Kilarski, ’94 had aspirations of becoming a news or sport broadcaster after earning his degree in communications from Grand Valley State University. However, his life’s path headed in a different direction. He is now a senior account manager for Pon Companies and an avid cyclist in his free time. His journey to where he is today is what makes his story so unique.
Kilarski grew up in Plymouth, Michigan. His decision to attend Grand Valley was based on the good reputation of the communications school and the overall size. While he was a student at Grand Valley, he worked for Alumni Relations, assisting in the annual alumni fundraising campaign. He also worked in the Sports Information department, writing press releases and attending sports functions. Kilarski notes that his favorite memory while at GVSU was traveling with the football team to games.
After graduation, Kilarski didn’t take his anticipated path.
“The journey has been a whirlwind and started very fast,” Kilarski said.
He began working after graduation as a systems analyst for Caretech Solutions, an information technology and web products and services provider for more than 200 U.S. hospitals and health care systems. From there, Kilarski opened his own restaurant in Novi, which is one of his proudest career moments.
“It was such a relief to finally get the doors open after dealing with so many variables that go into opening your own business,” Kilarski said.
In the midst of these big career moves, Kilarski was married to his wife Laura and they had two children, Hannah and Tyler. After having the experience of opening his restaurant, he began doing sales in the Detroit area. Eventually, an opportunity opened in Dallas, Texas, where he moved with his family.
Now, Kilarski is the senior account manager for Pon Companies, where he does outside sales to both medium and large size companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The company focuses on international trade and development.
Kilarski has been living with type one diabetes for the past 25 years, and has become an avid cyclist, training, motivating and encouraging other diabetics to get on a bike. He leads weekly rides to help other diabetics learn how to balance endurance exercise and managing their blood sugar. His passion for health opened a door for him to lead the annual cycling fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association in Dallas that is hosted each year.
“It doesn’t matter if the ride is 10 miles or 100 miles. It’s great to get diabetic riders involved to share stories and ideas of how to beat the disease,” Kilarski said.
His team of 125 diabetic riders once raised $55,000 for diabetes, placing third in the country out of 90 events for diabetic teams in 2012. In 2013, his team raised $90,000 with 170 riders.
Kilarski is motivated by the positive results from type one diabetic clinical studies he became involved in. He gets inspiration from his wife, Laura, who encouraged him to get involved with diabetic clinical studies. He’s also inspired by his good friend, Lew Alexander, who helped get him involved in various diabetic events.
Without Grand Valley, Kilarski does not believe he would have been as successful in his career.
“Grand Valley is a household name even in North Texas. I had won a sale or two because the decision maker on the other end of the sale knew the school or attended as well,” Kilarski said.
Kilarski resides in Frisco, Texas with his wife and two children.