OLA Hall of Fame honorees (l to r) Donna Benedict, Bruce Calhoun, Susan Crawley, Al de Rojas, Ray Knoll, Don Ruden, Steve Sutherlin, Gerald Ward, Art Waite, Scott and Skip Payne, sons of John Payne (honored posthumously), David Rips, son of Irving Rips (honored posthumously), and Pat Weber, wife of George Weber (honored posthumously).
NASHVILLE—OLA members gathered on Nov. 6 for the Hall of Fame banquet to pay heartfelt tribute to 12 industry veterans who have made outstanding contributions to the optical laboratory business. During a ceremony at the Gaylord Opryland that was part homage and part roast, friends, colleagues and family members took turns telling stories about the honorees and thanking them for their years of service to the industry.

The following Hall of Fame Honorees were recognized for their outstanding efforts.

Donna A. Benedict’s optical career began at Omega Optical Company in 1981. Omega Optical was sold to Optical Radiation Corporation in 1984 and she remained with the company until 1985. Following that, Benedict was co-founder and president of Delta Fashion Optical, a small retail chain which she operated from 1987 to 1990. In 1990, she and her father, Bill Benedict, co-founded Benedict Optical, where she served on the board of directors through 1998 and then served as president through 2002. Benedict also served on the OLA Board of Directors in 1994 and went on to become president of the OLA in 2002. In 2004, she co-founded Legends 4.0 Optical Laboratory with Bill Benedict. It was acquired by Vision Service Plan (VSP) in 2007.

R. Bruce Calhoun, a 32-year lab veteran, joined Central Optical in Barrie, Ontario as manager in 1986. He was made vice president and general manager of the company in 1989, responsible for all activities of the company. In 2002, Calhoun joined Riverside Opticalab as VP research and development where he continues to this day. He has devoted himself to being the original pioneer to bring OLA and the Canadian optical labs together. In 1988, he was elected the first OLA director for Canadian member labs and he served on the OLA board of directors until 1994. Throughout Calhoun’s optical career he has devoted time to ophthalmic schools as a lecturer, examiner and consultant.

As part of a family-owned and operated optical lab, Susan M. Crawley started working in the family lab, Volunteer Optical, while she was still in high school. After a brief stint with J.C. Penney Company as an auditor, she returned to the family business and began learning all aspects of the company where she now holds the position of VP of finance and marketing. She became involved in the OLA and ultimately was named only the third woman to serve as president of the OLA. Volunteer Optical recently joined the Hoya Vision Care Laboratory Network where Crawley now serves as project manager for the Japanese Sarbanes-Oxley project for North American vision care.

Al de Rojas joined forces with his father, Dr. AJ de Rojas to form De Rojas Manufacturing in the early 1970s. Soon after that he teamed up with his brother Ed, John Healy and P. Frieder to establish Optical Systems International. In 1981, Truesight Optical was formed to manufacture and market a new line of high-index lenses. The Truelite lens was acquired by Invicta Corp. in 2000; in 2003, de Rojas left Invicta to form Quest Optical. De Rojas’ passion for developing new products was instilled and nurtured by his father AJ.

Raymond A. Knoll purchased his first lab in 1977 with his wife Lydia as owners of Sound Optical Laboratory in Tacoma, Wash. The couple grew the company into a profitable entity which they eventually sold to Optical Resources. Knoll continued to employ his management skills and went on to serve as the president of the OLA. He is currently enjoying his position with Hoya Vision Care as VP Northwest region.

John Payne, who is being honored posthumously, began his career in optical with Bausch & Lomb in 1958. He moved to International Optical in Atlanta in 1965 and then went on to form Dynoptic Corporation in 1968 where he acquired several B&L locations. These new branches formed Icare Industries which eventually became one of the top labs in the U.S. Payne also had a hand in forming the Florida Association of Manufacturing Opticians (FAMO). He remained active in the industry until his death in January 2000.

Irving Rips, another posthumous honoree, is known as the inventor of the “invisible bifocal,” also known as the seamless lens. In 1955 he started the Younger Manufacturing Company where he created his signature bifocal. With this concept, the wearer of the seamless lens would look “younger” hence the name of the company. Some of his other contributions included lenses for post-cataract surgery patients and an anti-fog solution that accompanied NASA astronauts in space. Rips spent over 45 years in the optical industry, always busy thinking of new ideas.

Dan Ruden started his optical career in 1959 in sales at B&M Optical in Joliet, Ill. After the company was sold to the Milton Roy company in 1971, Ruden became division manager and moved to Florida to head up the wholesale labs where he opened three facilities. In 1979, he returned to the Joliet area and opened Expert Optics which grew from six employees to 110 and became one of the largest independent labs in the U.S. Today, Expert Optics also operates a small facility in South Bend, Ind.

Steven E. Sutherlin is a lifelong industry veteran who began working in the family business at a young age first as a delivery boy and then as a frames salesman. In 1991, he became president of Sutherlin Optical Laboratories, a position he continues to hold. Throughout his career Steve has served on countless committees; he is a past president of the OLA, the MOLA and the Lightbenders group. His involvement in the OLA includes stints on the Eyewear Awareness Committee the Executive Committee and “champion” of the organization’s three-year effort to restructure membership.

After serving a brief stint in the military, Arthur A. Waite was hired by Shuron-Continental in 1967 where his most important account was Winchester Optical. He was offered a job by Winchester in 1976 and has been with the company for over 32 years. Waite was elected president of the OLA in 2003 after having served on the board of directors and executive committee for eight years. During his optical career, he has also worked on various committees for the Vision Council.

Gerald Ward, came to the world of optics after a successful career editing technical journals. In 1966, he took over the editorship of Manufacturing Optician and revamped it into the world famous Manufacturing Optics International (MOI). In 1972, he realized his dream of publishing his own journal and Optical World was born. Since its inception, Optical World has been a presence at every OLA convention.

George G. Weber, a posthumous honoree, was only 14 years old when he met his future employer, Joe Sericko of Columbian Bifocal. Weber started there as a messenger and delivery boy working his way up to president of the company. During his career, he blazed a trail on the potential benefits of using computers and other technological advances in order to run a lab. In the early ’70s, he worked closely with a local software company to develop one of the first optical lab computer systems, a system which many labs adopted and still use today. Weber retired in 2001, some 49 years after running into Joe Sericko. He died in August of 2008.

View VM's 2008 Top Labs Report.