Jerry Townsend had started considering retirement several years ago when a young couple came to him looking to join and eventually take over his business, Townsend Accounting.
By Angel Wyrwas
Jerry Townsend had started considering retirement several years ago when a young couple came to him looking to join and eventually take over his business, Townsend Accounting. “We set up a partnership,” said Jerry, “but last fall they told me they wanted out, they had decided not to stay here.” He was ready to retire but he couldn’t leave hundreds of clients’ tax returns unfinished. “I was even busier than before because the partnership had dissolved.”
Soon after, local resident Rachel Brockel approached Jerry about buying the business. “It was a godsend really,” he said. “She wanted to know when she should take over and I said a good percent of her finances will come from tax season so the sooner the better.” Jerry and his wife Jan sold the business in February. He stayed to work through the busy season and to offer any help needed during ownership transition.
Jerry grew up in Baker and graduated from Baker High School. After getting his degree in business with an emphasis in accounting in 1970, Jerry began teaching business classes in western Montana. “I did that for about 10 years but I just got burnt out,” said Jerry. He went back to school and took some more classes. Then a job opening at Holte and Associates brought Jerry back to Baker in 1980. After five years, Jerry and Jan bought the business and it became Townsend Accounting.
After 38 years in the business Jerry has a lot of practical knowledge. “There is just no way that one person can know every tax law as they are ever changing, but accountants contact each other and have a wealth of places to find out what we need,” said Jerry. The biggest change in tax law came in 1986 during President Ronald Reagan’s leadership. “Absolutely everything changed in the tax code not long after I bought the business,” said Jerry. “There are always new codes and variations but that year the changes were huge.”
By far the biggest change during his many years in business was during the 1990’s when computers and programs became available to aid in tax preparation. “Before that,” said Jerry, “we had to prepare all taxes by hand and look everything up in tax booklets and tables. Computers changed my job greatly. We just input the information and it does all the calculating.” Because preparations took less time, Jerry could also grow his business with more clients. “We started with about 250 tax returns and now we’re doing 600-700,” he said.
“I remember many times when I was raising my children that Jan and I would go to their sports or music events and I would have to bring a box of tax stuff to work on at the motel,” said Jerry. “I don’t even know how we did it without computers.” Then he laughed and said, “But the computers are only as good as what you put into it!”
Jerry intends to continue working when needed but has plans to spend time with his wife at their homes in Baker and in Sturgis, SD. “Jan is currently on kidney dialysis and I want to be there for her as much as I can,” said Jerry. They have three adult children, Angie, Robert and Jay and six grandchildren.