On March 10, 1908, at the Millard Hotel in Omaha, an association of public accountants organized and over the next few years adopted the name “Nebraska State Association of Public Accountants.” The group adopted a constitution and bylaws, formed committees but decided not to incorporate. The Association elected its first Chairman J. M. Gilchrist, who held the first CPA certificate in Nebraska and whose descendants are still active in the Society. Along with Gilchrist, other founders of the Association were J. W. Tulleys (Cert. No. 3), R. F. Svoboda (Cert. No. 4), R. B. Merriam (Cert. No. 5), E. A. Dworak (Cert. No. 6), Emil Ganz (Cert. No. 8), E. J. Robinson (Cert. No. 9), A. L. Searle (Cert. No. 11) and George W. Holbrook (Cert. No. 14).
However, on a July day in 1928, the Nebraska Society of Certified Public Accountants was formed and became one of Nebraska’s premier professional associations. The Society was established when six public accountants met on July 23, 1928, to approve the Articles of Incorporation of the Nebraska Society of CPAs. Signing as incorporators of the Society were Henry C. Moeller of Lincoln who held Nebraska CPA certificate #18 and would eventually become the Society’s first President, G. Lawrence Greenfield of Omaha (Cert. No. 28), Raymond H. Walker of Lincoln (Cert. No. 35), Calvin B. Remmington of Lincoln (Cert. No. 36), Wayne McPherren of Omaha (Cert. No. 47) and Harry E. Judd of Lincoln (Cert. No. 48).
The Society grew slowly at first. In 1938, Society records reflect that there were only 23 members; that number grew to 52 in 1948, and then to 207 in 1958. In 1968, the membership grew to 320; 510 in 1970 and then took a major jump in the 1970’s to reach 1,390 by 1980. Part of the reason for the 1970’s growth was the passage in 1971 by the Legislature of mandatory continuing education for licensed practitioners. Nebraska was the first state in the Union to pass such legislation and it led to the Society sponsoring increasing numbers of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) courses for its members.
The late 1950’s proved to be the turning point for the Society. In 1957, the Nebraska Public Accountancy Act passed the Nebraska Legislature, and in 1958, Arnold Magnuson was hired as a part-time staff person. Magnuson would, over the next 32 years, guide the growth and expansion of the Society and eventually become its full-time Executive Vice President. Magnuson was the only employee until October 1972. At that time, the Society opened its first executive office and employed an executive director (Magnuson) and one secretary. Currently, there are 4 employees. The executive offices were first located in the Stuart Building in Lincoln, but in 1985, the office was moved to the Roman L. Hruska Law Center across the street from the State Capitol. When Magnuson fully retired in 1992, the membership had grown to approximately 2,400. In 1990, Dan Vodvarka was named the Society’s second Executive Vice President. In 1995, his title was changed to President, and the highest elected Society office was changed to Chairman of the Board.
In 1971, the Society offered only two or three educational programs each year. However, that number grew to 5 in 1972, 40 in 1975 and 54 in 1980. Currently, the Society schedules nearly 100 CPE courses each year.
In 1928, there were three committees on which members could serve: Committee on Legislation & Education, Committee on Finance and Committee on Ethics. Today, the Society has 9 committees and occasional ad hoc committees and task forces which are established to accomplish specific goals.
The Society has always been active in monitoring the actions of the Nebraska Legislature and U.S. Congress. The first lobbyist for the Society was hired in 1956, and today Walt Radcliffe of Radcliffe and Associates lobbies for the Society along with Vodvarka. Tied to the lobbying is the Society’s Political Education Committee (PEC) which was established in 1982 and makes contributions to the campaigns of Nebraska’s State Senators. Annually the Society holds a reception for all Nebraska State Senators on the evening before the first day of each legislative session. This tradition began in the mid-1970s and remains a highly attended event by usually 30 of Nebraska’s 49 State Senators.
Historically, the Nebraska Society has led the nation in supporting “cutting edge” legislation for accountants. As previously mentioned, Nebraska was the first state to pass mandatory CPE legislation. In 1991, Nebraska became the 14th state in the Union to pass the 150-hour education requirement for new CPAs, and in 1994, the Society helped draft and supported a successful effort in the Nebraska Legislature to pass the first bill in the nation allowing for the partial ownership of CPA firms by non-CPAs. In 2009, the Society helped draft and supported the quick passage of “CPA Mobility” legislation. The new law allows licensed CPAs from other states to practice public accountancy in Nebraska without the need to obtain licensure by reciprocity, register or pay a fee to the Board of Public Accountancy. In 2013, the Society helped draft and supported passage of “Expanded CPA Experience” legislation and in 2017 the Society continues its long opposition to efforts to extend Nebraska’s sales tax to professional services.
In an effort to directly help accounting students and Nebraska colleges and universities, the Foundation of the Nebraska Society of CPAs was established in 1976. In 2016, The Foundation provided nearly 70 annual accounting scholarships to select accounting students at 14 Nebraska colleges and universities. The first President of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation was J. B. Dresselhaus of Lincoln. Over the years the Foundation has experienced constant growth through generous donations from CPAs and members.
During 2016, the Society celebrated its 88th Anniversary at its Annual Meeting and Fall CPE Conference at LaVista. Today, with almost 2,635 members and under the leadership of Chairman of the Board Michelle Thornburg of Omaha, Society members can reflect on a history of growth and accomplishments with pride and look forward to a future in which the Nebraska Society will search for new and innovative ways to serve its membership and the CPA profession.