By: Mark Thomas
Photo Credit: Landon Vonderschmidt
Hockey players have a reputation. Tough. Rich Birks has played the game most of his life, but there is a Hockey story that brings tears to his eyes.
The 60 year old Birks was born in Boulder, CO. His father was a minister, and the family moved several times. Some of his early years were spent in Michigan, a hot bed of youth Hockey leagues where he learned the game. His 5th grade year was spent in the Netherlands. The young Birks, in a bit of sports diplomacy, learned soccer skills from his Dutch friends, and he in turn taught them how to play baseball.
The passion for Hockey continued into college at Graceland University in Iowa. "A bunch of Canadians would come down. We had a club level team, playing other regional schools. I played 5 years, including a year after graduation."
But sports weren't the only thing on his mind. From his Junior year in High School, Rich wanted to be a CPA. "I took an accounting class, and going into college I knew that's what I wanted." While attending classes at Graceland, he interned with a local CPA firm.
On graduation, he was ready to sign with a big international firm, and did. He was recruited by Arthur Anderson and Company, and landed a position in their Kansas City office. Family and college buddy connections influenced his choice.
After four years of working with Arthur Anderson on the audit side, Birks was ready to make a change to a local firm.
The company that became today's Novak Birks was formed in 1977. Rich joined in 1982. Fourteen years ago the company moved from Blue Springs to their Plaza location, placing them closer to both staff and clients. The business originally was focused on payroll service, but has since transitioned into other areas of specialization including nonprofit organizations and governmental audits. "We're viewed as experts in the greater metro," explains Birks. The firm also services Multi Employer benefit plans and 401K audits. "That means lots of work for unions because of health and welfare and pension plans, plus information reporting to the Department of Labor." Birks also notes that it's not just number crunching, "To really do our clients service we have to understand the industry and understand their business. That's what we take pride in."
"We also do Mom and Pop sized businesses. We like to give every size client personal attention. We feel that is something that differentiates us from other firms."
Since the majority of the companies clients are generated by referral, Rich sees the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce as extremely important. "I find the chamber a strong connection with a genuine fit for our business. In particular, Mid-America GLCC events are so much fun and engaged."
While the work hours are plenty, there still is time for Hockey. Rich recently attended the Sin City Shootout Sports Festival in Las Vegas, arguably the largest annual LGBT sporting event in the world.
The event has grown from a Softball Tournament to a festival that includes 23 sports and 8,500 participating athletes. The Hockey teams at the event are a composite of athletes with different abilities from around the country. Rich plays defense. "Our team didn't get blown out, " he chuckles.
What makes this veteran Hockey player tear up? Before he came out, his now college age son, about 13 at the time, was attending a Hockey Camp in Michigan. A gay college student counselor who was supervising the dorm floor was harassed with some ugly slurs. Rich's son and several others, "turned the place upside down, to find the culprits", chastised them, and then (what Rich is most proud of), reached out to the harassed counselor to make sure he was OK.
"The kids 'get it'."