Gregory Ward unearthed an intriguing mystery about Swartz, Retson and Co., an accounting firm that prides itself on numbers, figures and accuracy.
Two years ago, the firm’s youngest partner began researching its history to determine its true age. For decades, the oldest accounting firm in Northwest Indiana billed itself as in business since 1926. Ward, a professional CPA with a personal passion for history, found out otherwise.
“I’ve always wondered about it,” says Ward, who’s worked at the Merrillville firm since 2001.
First, he searched through old city directories in Gary, where the firm was founded. Then he sorted through dusty documents at the Indiana state public library, followed by treks to the Lake County recorder’s office. There he exhumed massive books that haven’t seen the light of day in more than a half century.
After months of detective work, Ward discovered the firm’s original certificate of partnership, dated Nov. 14, 1919, with original signatures of its founders.
“To me, that was pretty cool,” Ward recalls.
The firm was formed as a partnership under the name Gary Audit Co., in the old Gary State Bank Building in downtown Gary, 504 Broadway. Its three original partners were Walter Goedecke, Charlie Silep and Wesley Ginder.
The firm did business there for 56 years, until June 1975, when it moved its office to 235 E. 86th Ave. in Merrillville.
“At the time, we were the first business on 86th Avenue,” Ward says regarding what is now a busy commercial street housing NiSource’s headquarters and the Chase Bank Centre.
In the late 1960s, the state of Indiana informed the firm to remove the word “company” from its name because it was organized as a partnership. The firm then changed its name to include its partners’ names – Swartz, Retson, Lindholm and Kettas. When the firm later incorporated, its name was shortened to Swartz, Retson and Co., P.C.
“Our firm has been helping clients now for three generations,” Ward says.
Even more interesting is the length of careers of many of its 30 employees, including its six principals. For example, Michael Jones has been with the firm for more than 30 years. Debra Van Prooyen joined in 1993. Richard Young has been there since 1983. Tammy Lynch joined the firm in 1992. And Richard Zondor has more than 30 years of diversified public accounting experience.
“And we have another employee who’s been here since 1963,” Ward says, referring to a former partner whose father was a founding member. “He still comes into the office every day.”
Those long-lasting careers have paid huge dividends for Swartz, Retson and Co., whose clients sometimes rely on the firm’s experiential expertise.
“Some clients ask us for the history of their own firm,” says Ward, who has performed more than 300 business valuations and financial audits/reviews/compilations for privately held companies. “We take pride in this fact. Such experience makes everything else work here.”
The firm has helped new and established companies through various changing economies and business environments. Its employees specialize in several areas, including audits, reviews, tax planning and preparation, succession planning, business valuation, employee benefits and business consulting.
Clients come from every business sector—construction, manufacturing, medical, wholesale distribution and automotive industries, as well as nonprofit organizations. Many of them have been dealing with the same employees at Swartz, Retson and Co. every day, and every decade, since 1919.
Ward’s colleague Tom Newman says plans are in the works to properly celebrate the firm’s 100-year anniversary in 2019, complete with a new logo and marketing hoopla.
“Thanks to Greg’s history lesson about Swartz, Retson and Co.,” Newman says.
The partners have high hopes for the future.
“We understand that it may be challenging for people to get excited about accounting,” Ward jokes. “But we are proud of our history, and our future. We plan to be in business for another 100 years.”