LYNDEN — By the time Marv Tjoelker graduated from college, he had a wife and a small child.
He also wanted to be a certified public accountant.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Custer, Tjoelker didn’t learn what CPA stood for until high school.
“During my senior year in high school at Lynden Christian, I took a bookkeeping class taught by Dorothy Otter. Dorothy was a part owner of Farmers Equipment here in Lynden and also taught high school classes on a part-time basis,” Tjoelker said. “Miss Otter asked me to stay after class one day and suggested that I become a CPA. She shared that Dennis Gross of Larson Gross was the CPA for Farmers Equipment and described in pretty good detail his role in helping Farmers Equipment in being a successful business.
Tjoelker also learned that being a CPA involved numbers.
“I really liked math,” Tjoelker said. “But it also involved helping people and businesses with their financial matters and I really like helping people.”
Looking back at nearly four decades as a CPA, Tjoelker said that “many, many people have helped me through life, and I hope to do the same to others.”
Truth is that Tjoelker has helped people in his career. This is one reason the Larson Gross accountant has been recognized by the CPA Association with the 2021-2022 Washington Society of CPA’s Community Leadership Award.
“I really didn’t serve over the years with the idea of raising the image and public perception of CPAs,” Tjoelker said. “Rather, I have found that spending time helping and serving others is such a blessing to me.”
Now partner and co-owner of the accounting firm Larson Gross and Associates, Tjoelker received his award at a recent Mt. Baker Rotary Club meeting.
Darren Johnson, president, Mt. Baker Rotary Club, said that Tjoelker is the “embodiment of the Rotary International motto Service above Self.”
“As a Rotarian, he has graciously given of his time and talent to help those in need both here locally as well as internationally,” Johnson said. “It comes as no surprise to any of us at Mt. Baker Rotary that he won the (award).”
Since 2014, Kelli Visser, has been Tjoelker’s business partner, and CEO, of Larson Gross. Working with Tjoelker the past 15 years, Visser said the firm’s vision is “a direct reflection of Marv’s impact on her in his almost 40 years with Larson Gross.”
“Marv’s humble spirit and servant attitude, plus his knack for making the complexities of tax and accounting (and life) more understandable, are exhibited throughout his professional, civic and personal achievements,” Visser said. “Marv has a very full life and calendar, but he never ceases to amaze how he can consistently be fully present with his time and attention from him in each of these moments.”
‘Always has time for people’
A local attorney, Will Johnson has known Tjoelker for more than three decades. Starting out working with mutual clients, the pair became the best of friends. Johnson recently said that Tjoelker is “a special person, who always has time for people.”
“I’ve personally seen him take young people to my office and other businesses to introduce them and help them obtain financial support for their special projects and charitable organizations,” Johnson said.
A man of “strong Christian faith, high morals and impeccable ethics,” Tjoelker has a “very friendly personality, is not judgmental and has a wonderful way to help people when they are dealing with substantial crises in their lives,” Johnson said.
Visser explained that her business associate has a “level of commitment to excellence and is steadfast in his ability to persevere to whatever finish line he is working toward.”
“Marv is that someone for so many who will show up at a moment’s notice if needed,” Visser said of Tjoelker. “His dedication of him to his colleagues, his clients, and to his business partners is exemplary. So many individuals have been blessed by being a recipient of Marv’s positive perspective on life, her problem-solving mindset, and her commitment to relationships. Marv has helped solve many business and personal challenges in his leadership roles, often through his skill with story-telling usually centered around horses, his grandkids, or both.
A Class of 1981 graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Tjoelker wanted to work in his chosen field. But CPA firms were not hiring when he left college, he said. “I was struggling to get a job.”
So he took a job down in the auditing department at Deloitte Haskins and Sells, an international accounting firm in Spokane. He worked there until 1983 when he heard from Larson Gross.
“It was great timing as Deloitte had decided to close the Spokane office,” Tjoelker said. “Joining Larson Gross was a great move for my career. I was able to work with business owners and farmers, many of whom I knew from the community. It has been so great to work closely with local families and businesses for 40 years, really doing the things that Miss Otter had told me that her CPA did for them. ”
In 1994, Tjoelker became a partner at Larson Gross in 1994, then served as the firm’s CEO from 2002-2012, then Chairman of the Board from 2012-2019.
Tjoelker said he decided after the financial crisis of 2008-2009 that he “needed more training to really be able to help our clients with future financial.”
So he went back to school and by 2014 was credentialed to become a Certified Financial Planner.
“It has been almost 40 years now at Larson Gross and it has been a tremendous ride,” he said. “The partners and people I get to work with every day at the firm are very special to me. It is really fun to team up with others at our firm to work together on bringing value and helping our clients succeed.”