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Lower Burrell native oversees U.S. currency printing process

Emily Balser
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Courtesy U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Leonard Olijar holds up a sheet of freshly printed $5 bills before they go to the final sealing process to become usable currency at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C.

Leonard Olijar didn't have much money growing up in Lower Burrell, but now, he's surrounded by it every day.

Olijar, 57, is the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where he oversees the security and production of U.S. paper money. He has been with the Washington bureau for nearly 30 years, working his way up to his current position, which he assumed in May.

“I'm literally making billions of dollars every year,” Olijar said with a smile. “I just don't get to keep much of it.”

Growing up in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Olijar was instilled by his parents with the value of education. Although neither was able to attend college, they encouraged him to set his goals high.

“I've really got to give credit to my parents and my siblings,” he said. “We never had much money, but I never lacked in love or support.”

He was the first college graduate in his family. After graduating from Burrell High School in 1976, he went on to graduate from Penn State University in 1980 with a degree in forest products. After dabbling in a few different jobs, he returned to school and graduated from the University of Colorado with an accounting degree in 1987.

“I really managed to marry my two degrees together,” he said.

Olijar's brother, Paul, said Leonard's dedicated spirit led him to his current role.

“I knew he'd be successful whatever he chose to do,” said Paul, a Plum resident. “It's great to see.”

About the job

As director of the bureau, Olijar says his days are never the same. One day, he's approving the next security feature to be used on American money; the next, he's working with his boss, Treasurer Rosa Rios.

Olijar said he spends a lot of time interacting with employees at the bureau to stay in touch with the day-to-day operations.

“The work they do is critically important,” he said. “We need to continue to design our currency with sophisticated security features.”

He said he knows nearly all of the 1,800 employees' names. The group feels like a family, he says, because most, like himself, have been there for years.

“It's a very exciting, dynamic workplace,” he said. “Nothing is more important in what we do than keeping our nation's currency secure.”

Brother Paul said one of the interesting parts of having a family member at the bureau is getting a personal tour of the facility. Paul said he never realized how much security was involved with money.

“You learn a lot more with a personal aspect,” he said. “That was really enjoyable.”

Still loves the Valley

Olijar makes the four-hour trip back to the Alle-Kiski Valley a couple times each year to visit family. He always makes time to fit in a few Pittsburgh traditions.

“I like to come out and get my big shipment of pierogies,” he said. “Most people down here don't have the time to make them.”

He likes to spend time outdoors in Lower Burrell and take in some Pittsburgh sporting events when he has time.

“I still love the Pittsburgh Steelers,” he said. “I think that's the one thing that people who leave Pittsburgh take with them.”

He said he follows the region's bald eagles and peregrine falcons. He said he can't believe how much cleaner the rivers are compared with the days when he left.

“It's just a beautiful area,” he said. “I love the outdoors.”

Paul said Leonard likes to make a pit stop at Glen's Custard if he visits in the right season.

“When we were growing up, we didn't have much money,” Paul said. “Going to Glen's in Springdale was a treat for us.”

Even though all seven Olijar siblings are spread across the country, they remain close.

His sister, Clara Montanari, said Leonard often hosts big family gatherings at his home in suburban Virginia.

“He's very family-oriented,” said Montanari, of Hopewell.

No plans to retire

Olijar said one of the most popular questions he gets asked is when he will retire, but it likely won't be anytime soon.

“I'm a bit of a workaholic,” he said. “I have a hard time imaging retirement.”

Olijar said now that he is director, he has the chance to make some positive changes within the bureau. Some projects he is working on include trying to get a new production facility in Washington, implementing advanced security measures and an employee engagement initiative.

“I love what I'm doing,” he said. “So why would I retire — and go out and get another job doing something else?”

Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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