Jerry Levens said he was totally surprised when he was announced Tuesday as the 2017 recipient of the Pat Santucci Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award.
He had handshakes and hugs for many of the past recipients of the award, who were the first to congratulate him at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce. It was a sell-out crowd of 600 at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.
One of nine children and a graduate of Long Beach High School, Levens said, “I’ve been touched by many people, not really one person.”
He cited previous Spirit of the Coast winners he looked up to in the community like George Scholegel, Roland Weeks and Gerald Blessey and said, “Those guys were just so visionary that they’re inspiring.”
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He also received inspiration and motivation from Father Louis Lohan when rebuilding St. Thomas Church after Katrina.
“My business partners have been phenomenal,” he said, and they supported his causes.
“Leadership is a team sport,” he said, and he compared life to a relay race — someone passes you the baton, you do your laps, and pass the baton on to someone else, he said.
A partner in the Gulfport CPA firm of Alexander, Van Loon, Sloan, Levens & Favre PLLC, Levens is preparing to retire in a few years and is passing that baton internally at his CPA firm and throughout the community with his volunteer work.
“I think that’s our job to be that mentor,” he said. “To learn and to teach that next generation.”
Chamber CEO Adele Lyons said Levens “Exemplifies the Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award as a true servant. He is a veteran business, professional and civic leader in South Mississippi. Jerry works tirelessly for so many organizations on the Gulf Coast.”
The award is presented to a business leader who best meets the criteria of ethical conduct, reputation, recognition, leadership and credibility. Levens served on the board and helped establish the operating principles when the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau was created. He also served in leadership roles with Infinity Science Center, Gulfport Kiwanis Club, the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Biloxi and St. Thomas Pastoral Council and the Rebuilding Committee.
He was a member of the Gulf Coast Business Council and participated in the inaugural Master’s Program. He was inducted into the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Alumni Hall of Fame in 2008, and named by the Sun Herald and The Journal of South Mississippi Business as one of South Mississippi’s Top 10 Community Leaders in 2011. That same year, he received a Coast Young Professional “4 Ever Young” award.
Levens is a graduate of University of Mississippi, has served on state and national Certified Public Accountants, and in 1995 received the Public Service Award for all CPAs in Mississippi.
Spirit of the Coast past winners
- 1989 Walter Williams, Mississippi Power
- 1990 Roland Weeks Jr., Gulf Publishing Company
- 1991 Pat Santucci, South Central Bell
- 1993 C. Bruce Stewart, Biloxi Public Schools
- 1994 William A. “Bill” Peden, Jefferson Standard
- 1995 Alton Bankston, Bankston’s Paint & Decorating
- 1996 George Schloegel, Hancock Bank
- 1997 Lucimarian Roberts, Genesis Foundation
- 1998 George Robert Thatcher, Regions Bank
- 1999 Gene Warr, Warr’s Men’s Wear
- 2000 Ron Peresich, Page, Mannino, Peresich & McDermott, PLLC
- 2001 Dwight Evans, Mississippi Power
- 2002 Tim Hinkley, Isle of Capri Casino Corporate
- 2003 Dr. Jim Williams, University of Southern Mississippi — Gulf Coast
- 2004 Mike Garrett, Mississippi Power
- 2005 Janice Young, Sprint
- 2006 Chevis Swetman, The Peoples Bank
- 2007 Anthony Topazi, Mississippi Power
- 2008 Ricky Matthews, Sun Herald
- 2009 Duncan McKenzie, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi
- 2010 Gerald Blessey, Tradition
- 2011 Jon Lucas, Former IP Casino executive
- 2012 John McFarland, Sun Herald
- 2013 Elizabeth Joachim, Corso’s Inc
- 2014 Dorothy Wilson, DWilson & Associates Publishing and Marketing Solutions
- 2015 Linda Watts, Retired from Mississippi Power
- 2016 John Hairston, Hancock Holding Co.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce