On the Mississippi Gulf Coast the Levens name is synonymous with accounting. It began when high school sweethearts Mary and Gene Levens married. He was a financial planner and also prepared tax returns, and she became a self-taught public accountant. Together they had nine children, three of whom are accountants – Bernadette Levens Tolson, CPA, Jerry L. Levens, CPA, CFE, and Donna Levens Schmidt, CPA.
Mary Levens, who’s beginning her 53rd year as an accountant, said, “I’m very proud of those who went into accounting. I must have had a pretty good influence on them. I was always good with figures and did income taxes and accounting for small businesses.”
However, she says when the large clan — which includes 28 grandchildren — gets together all the talk is not about accounting, unless it’s tax season. The siblings include two registered nurses, an electrical engineer and two who’re self employed, bringing some non-accounting talk to the discussion.
“We may bounce things off each other; unusual things and we exchange ideas, but that’s the extent of the shop talk,” Jerry Levens said.
In the past Mary Levens operated accounting offices in Gulfport and Pascagoula but now works with her daughter, Bernadette Tolson, in a Gulfport office. “Oh sure, we sometimes argue, but at the end of day we’re still mother and daughter,” she said.
When the Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Levens, 76, she was on her way to take an Internal Revenue Service test to allow her to continue taking pay for doing tax returns even though she’s been doing it 53 years. “I don’t mind,” she said. “It keeps out the fly-by-nights. I have no plans to retire any time soon. I enjoy the interaction with people.”
Bernadette Levens Tolson, 53, has been a CPA since 1987. “It’s not bad at all working with my mom. I started hanging out with her when I was eight so it was a natural thing to go into accounting,” she said. “I remember mom giving me checks and receipts to put in order.”
Tolson says she was encouraged to get the CPA designation when older brother Jerry passed the CPA test.
“I certainly wanted to be equal with him,” she said. “My practice is different from my siblings. Mine is 60 percent taxes with individuals and small businesses, not as much corporate like Donna or auditing like Jerry.”
Jerry Levens has been a CPA since 1979 and a CFE (certified fraud examiner) since 2004. He is a partner in the Alexander, Van Loon, Sloan, Levens & Favre firm with offices in Gulfport and Wiggins. “No doubt my mother had an influence on me, and my dad, who was a CFP. Being exposed to them was a positive influence on me,” he said, “and I have no regrets. I love accounting. It clearly is helping people and business owners achieve goals and strategies with timely, accurate information.”
Jerry Levens is actively involved in the American Institute of CPAs and the Mississippi Society of Certified Public Accountants, which he served as president. Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed him to the State Board of Public Accountancy, which he served as chairman.
“Our family recognizes that it takes resources to get through college and we know what an impact college has had on our lives. That’s why we’ve established and support three college scholarship funds,” he said.
One is the Gene and Mary Levens Scholarship awarded to Long Beach High School seniors to attend Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Jerry and Donna, the family’s two University of Mississippi graduates, endowed a scholarship with the UM Foundation to help deserving accounting students. Bernadette Levens Tolson established a scholarship for business majors at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“We know we got some breaks along the way and want to help others,” Jerry Levens said. “All nine of us attended MGCCC but went to a variety of different senior colleges.”
He hosts a yearly family Christmas celebration at his house with 90 to 100 people in attendance, and, in true accountant style, uses a spread sheet to organize the event.
Donna Levens Schmidt, 49, is the only one of the nine siblings who doesn’t live on the Coast. A resident of Houston, Tex., she’s employed with Crestwood Midstream Partners and works with corporate accounting.
“I was influenced by Mama but not told to go into accounting,” she says. “I took my first class in accounting and thought ‘this will work for me.’ It just makes sense and it all falls in place.”
She recalls as a youngster of seven and eight helping her mother sort vendor tickets by colors on the dining room table. A CPA for 25 years, Schmidt now has a son, Phillip Schmidt, who’s an accounting major at Ole Miss where he has a professor who taught her and brother Jerry.
“I tell students to stick with accounting if the first course makes sense to them because everyone needs an accountant and they’ll be able to find a job,” she said.
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