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Coast CPA takes time to give back to community

Bay St. Louis — Chuck Benvenutti believes that a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s one of his favorite sayings and something he believes makes a difference. It’s also a reason he finds time to be involved with a multitude of community activities.

The 53-year-old certified public accountant is serving his second term as chairman of Partners for Stennis, a movement that began in the early 1990s when talk of base closures first started. There’s a lot of military at the Stennis Space Center and local people bound together to show support and appreciation for what the facility means to the area. The group is made up of business people from Hancock, Harrison and Pearl River counties and St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana along with businesses housed at Stennis.

“Jobs — that’s why I’m involved in it,” he says. “The high-tech growth and opportunities at Stennis are unbelievable. We now have the nucleus to grow and grow and we have high tech people there who are not leaving.”

Benvenutti says Partners acts as a catalyst to include major players in Stennis Space Center planning and in establishing good relationships with boards of supervisors. The group holds quarterly general membership meetings at the site and monthly teleconference board meetings.

‘Greater good’

But Partners for Stennis isn’t Benvenutti’s only area of service. Hancock County Chamber of Commerce executive director Tish Williams finds it hard to summarize his involvement.

“Chuck does so much for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast. With him, it’s a true commitment,” she said. “It’s not an option for him; it’s a way of life. His motive is for the greater good.”

She points out that he was named the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year for 2004, an honor his grandmother, May Beyer, received in 1982.

“He has played a major leadership role in the development of three strategic plans for the area, working with the executive council of Stennis Space Center, Partners for Stennis and the business leaders of Hancock County,” Williams said. “By the year 2008, Hancock County will be a thriving and vibrant community, recognized nationally as a superior place to live, work, retire and play. Chuck will continue to be a key player to make this vision a reality.”

Benvenutti is one of eight children of Pete and Betty Benvenutti of Bay St. Louis. He has been in private practice there as a CPA since January 1982. That’s after a 3-1/2-year stint in the U.S. Navy, graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi and working as an Internal Revenue Service agent for three years. He says his time with the IRS was good training. His U.S. 90 office has four CPAs and four support employees.

“We feel lucky to live where we want to and make a living,” he said. “Only a handful of those I graduated with live here and even less earn a living here. Most had to leave the area and some are returning now to retire.”

He’s proud of what he’s been able to do and says there’s no silver bullet that substitutes for hard work and long hours. He’s equally proud of what he’s been able to do for the community but hastens to add that he didn’t do it alone.

“I don’t get anything done by myself. I owe my success to others,” he said. “Things don’t happen without the help of others. Hancock County is a great place to be right now and a fun place. We’re trying to make it where our kids can make a living here.”

A large portion of Benvenutti’s community involvement has been with the Bay/Waveland School System. His three children went through the system, and he served on the school board for several years. “I’m always looking at how to make things better, and I’m happy with the efforts that I put in. It’s a very progressive school system,” he said.

Benvenutti has been active in chamber activities, too, serving as an officer and on the education committee. For years, he worked to make the Beachfront Festival a success and is a past board chairman of the United Way.

He became involved with Gaits to Success when a banker asked him to do pro bono tax work for the organization that provides horseback riding opportunities for kids in Special Olympics.

He’s especially pleased that Hancock County started a Boys & Girls Club one year ago and says it exists because of teamwork. He serves as the county unit chairman and on the board of the Gulf Coast Boys & Girls Clubs.

Leadership style?

Benvenutti says his leadership style is to surround himself with people smarter than himself. “There are others interested in everything you get involved with, and they have to take ownership, too,” he said. “Others must understand they can make a difference.”

When he finds time to relax, Benvenutti enjoys spending time with his family — wife, Beth, three children and granddaughter — and escaping to his camp in the marsh where he fishes and soaks up the outdoors.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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