College of Business
Alums are Invested in Community—Both Laurens and Anderson University
Gary and Apryl Bailey, graduates of the Anderson University College of Business, purchased a dilapidated building and transformed it into an award-winning destination in downtown Laurens that houses their accounting firm, event space and a restaurant that will soon open. The three-story, 20,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1907 on Laurens’ historic square, received the Gaines Jontz Rehabilitation Award from Main Street South Carolina, an initiative of the South Carolina Municipal Association.
Just as they are committed to Laurens, Gary and Apryl are committed to Anderson University, the place that gave them a great start in their accounting career. In addition to having served on alumni and athletic boards, they have hired many Anderson University students as interns, and many of them have joined their accounting firm as full-time employees. Not only that, the Bailey Building Renovation Project involved several Anderson University graduates, as well!
How did you discover Anderson University?
Gary: Before we came to Anderson, we were in high school together at Berea High School in Greenville. I like to say Apryl pursued me, but it was just the opposite—I pursued her.
Apryl: I was taking driver’s ed and the basketball coach taught driver’s ed. It was first period and he had Gary be his aide for first period to make sure Gary got to school. We met when I was in the 10th-grade.
Gary: I was in 11th Grade. I was on a basketball scholarship, then Apryl came to Anderson on a full academic scholarship. So we were always very blessed and thankful to the school because we graduated with no debt of any kind, even to pay for books while we were students there. That’s how we got to Anderson and just loved it.
Apryl grew up in a nice Christian home her entire life until she came to college, and I grew up to a single mom in poverty. My father was never around, I never had a relationship with him. We didn’t grow up in church, so I like to think Anderson was such a great place for a young juvenile who was on the verge and could go either way on certain things, to be in a school that honors Christ and learned from a lot of great professors and coaches and faculty. My faith grew as a result of Anderson University.
What year did you graduate from Anderson?
Apryl: I graduated in 2000. Gary was ahead of me and graduated high school a year ahead. We had planned to graduate together. We actually got married while we were students in 1999, so I was going to try to get my bachelor’s in three years, but meanwhile Gary broke his leg—a clean break, tibia and fibula—so he redshirted a year for basketball. He finished in five years and I finished in three. I graduated and got a job while he was still in college and playing basketball.
Gary: I graduated a year before in high school and a year after her in college (laughs), but I did use my time wisely and I got an accounting degree and in my fifth year I got a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems.
We were at Anderson as married students, so it was really cool to play on the basketball team and be married. We were married after our junior year.
Describe what married life was like as college students back then.
Apryl: For us it was a good foundation to just be poor, newly-married college students. We used to go to Little Pig and split a dinner, so it was nice to get accustomed to a little bit of money and it makes you appreciate it now when things are much easier.
Gary: And after our practice, the other guys had to go back to a dorm room and I got to go back to a bride and a nice apartment. We had saved our money and worked school jobs. We look back on that and say “what a great time of our life.”
What were some activities you had as a college student?
Apryl: Mostly Basketball. I watched every basketball game. Coach Lytton was at the school at the time when Gary first got there, and he let me for one year be the water girl, so I was able to travel with the basketball team. It was my ticket to ride on the bus. I don’t think it was a good or bad thing—one girl with all these guys—but I wanted to see Gary play and sometimes when we would play a few hours away, I wasn’t necessarily going to make that trip by myself.
Gary: Also, if I remember correctly, you were voted to the Homecoming Court your senior year.
How did you get to Laurens?
Apryl: My great grandfather was born on the land that we now live on. My family came down here every third of July for family reunions, once a year. This land came up for sale on this little lake that we had been going to. Gary and I bought a lot and my parents bought a lot. At that time we had taken jobs in Columbia. We wanted to build here on this little pond in Laurens County and now our children are the fifth generation to grow up on this land.
Gary: Apryl’s great grandfather ran the power plant. Duke Power built this little pond around 1900 and it had a hydro plant. Her great-grandfather ran that plant and her grandfather lived on that property until he left. He graduated from high school and all the boys in their class signed up for the service and went into World War II. Duke Power owned this property all these years and when they sold the pond they sold the surrounding property and we were able to buy that.
Tell me about your children.
Apryl: We have three boys—18, 15 and 7. Our oldest just attended his very first class at Anderson University today. We’re excited about that. He is a pole vault state champion and is on the Track and Field team for Anderson.
Gary: They all have attended school at Southside Christian, so we live out in the country and Apryl, until Zek was able to drive, would take them back and forth to the Simpsonville area for 14 years.
Let’s talk about your accounting business.
Gary: We have a CPA firm. I had a partner, George Love. He started the firm in 1992 in Dallas. Then he came to Laurens in 1992 and I partnered with him in 2010 after I was the CFO of a manufacturing company. George has retired, but we’ve been able to take over a small town CPA firm and have been blessed with a lot of growth. Now we provide audit and tax accounting services all over South Carolina and Georgia... We have 13 full time employees and a couple that works part time. Out of those 15 total, eight of them are Anderson graduates.
They came to us as interns. We come over to all of the events at Anderson University and talk to students who are maybe from a small town or we tell them who we are. We talk about our faith as believers and how that’s the most important thing to us. That’s how we operate our firm—starting with that—and everything flows through that. So we tell them who we are and what our firm is about and ask students if that’s something that interests them, then we would like to talk to them further. And so we try to get them in as interns. We offer full time internships to two students during the summer and our hope is that they will like us and we will like them and then hire them full time. We usually do that before they graduate, so after their junior year, they can have full time employment lined up before they start their senior year. That’s the goal and it’s worked out because we had a lot of students who interned with us who now work for us full time.
Let’s talk about the Bailey Building.
Apryl: We were two blocks down the street and really needed more space for our staff. We were using closets for interns, so there’s a building on our square that we had admired for a decade.
Gary: It’s 20,000 square feet, so it’s a big building.
Apryl: Ten years ago we thought, “What can we do? We couldn’t afford that, but at the same time we needed to expand our business, this building was for sale. We even looked at it one year and said “no” and then came back the next year and made a lower offer. It was accepted. We were researching tax credits.
Gary: Abandoned building credits, those kinds of things. It’s a three story building. The second and third floor had been abandoned for about 50 years.
Apryl: We actually bought the building in March of 2020. We started renovations in about June of ’21 and finished in April of ’22. The CPA firm takes up the whole second floor. On the third floor, it was historically already a banquet hall. We had to redo electrical and plumbing, install an elevator, redo plaster, fix holes that were in the floor and install a sprinkler system in the building.
Gary: It was a massive building that had holes through the roof and for 50 years that’s what it looked like.
Apryl: It’s the Palmetto Room now that we rent out mostly for wedding receptions.
Gary: Apryl hired a design firm out of Greenville, In Site Designs, to help with that process, and they had several AU grads who work in that design firm.
Apryl: Katie Skoloff is the founder of In Site Designs. On our project we also worked with Graceanna (Ellenburg) Judy, a graduate from Anderson. Now personally on a residence, we’re working with Ashton Acosta, who is the lead in residential design and she’s an Anderson grad. Then through Katie’s firm, after the project was complete, they wanted to bring a photographer down to get photos for them to use, and that was through Electric Soul, which was Carter Tippens, an Anderson grad. Also our builder while we were doing the project, he used somebody to document the whole thing and it was Six and Twenty Films, and that was Ben and Lauren Tinsley (Ben is an AU graduate). (Note that the interior photos in this article are from Carter Tippins/Electric Soul)
Gary: There’s always a connection with Anderson grads in different ways.
Wow, all those Anderson connections! So do you feel the event space has been pretty successful?
Apryl: We’re trying to make some more connections. We’ve got some weddings under our belt, and we are trying to go to wedding festivals. Our first floor… we are going to renovate the space for a Groucho’s. Gary and I purchased a Groucho’s franchise.
Gary: We’re excited about bringing another restaurant to the square, and Groucho’s is a really good fit. Everyone is excited about that. I think that brings as much excitement as us restoring the building itself.
I’m sure it feels good to be giving back to your community.
Apryl: We’re successful with our primary business. We like to reinvest in our town just like anyone else. Things you want to see around town, like nicer buildings, Groucho’s—a sandwich shop. That just makes sense to us.
Gary: We work here, we live here, and we want to share the blessings that we’ve received by investing into the town, in the square. Other families that are here locally have done the same. It’s sort of contagious. Another family has started to do the same thing—they’re investing into the town. It’s like a family town. You hang out here on the weekends. We have several local restaurants owned and operated by local families, and to know all of these families, it’s really fun to know you’re supporting the community.
Apryl: We have the Main Street Laurens organization and they recognized us for our building and I guess that’s up for an award from the South Carolina Municipal Association, the Main Street South Carolina awarded us the Excellence Inspiration Award.
Gary: It’s kind of like the top award for the state, so we received that for this building. It was a bigger project than we initially thought it would be, but we wouldn’t change it. It kind of gave us courage to keep tackling other projects.
We appreciate your giving back to Anderson University.
Our son is actually majoring in accounting as well at Anderson University. He’s going to come back and work at the firm with us. I was on the alumni board and also on the athletic board for a while. Apryl and I both were asked to be on the parent association.
Gary: Apryl and I got to go there at no cost to us, just sweat equity, I guess; so we feel like it’s a blessing now to be able to give back financially to the university so that other students have that same opportunity that we had.
At the end of the day, what gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment?
Gary: Family. My wife of 24 years and our three children and just thanking the Lord for the blessings, especially for someone who did not grow up with a family; that’s extremely important to me; as a father and a husband, to be blessed with businesses that can support them and support all of these other families that we get to employ and then to be able to serve in the community and even have resources to give back to Anderson University. To me, it’s a combination of all of those things that just brings you love and joy. Obviously our faith in Jesus Christ is by far our greatest joy, and it’s through that that everything else in our life is funneled.
What advice would you give somebody interested in accounting?
Gary: This is something we tell our children. In our household, Ecclesiastes 12:1 is our family verse right now with our children. “Do not let the excitement of your youth cause you to forget your creator.” And so we use that with our children because there’s so much excitement going on in their life. They’re growing up, they’re teenagers, they’re getting their driver’s license, Zek just went off to college—a lot of excitement there. So we say “don’t let that excitement cause you to forget your creator. Then the other part of that is so when you get old, you won’t have regrets, basically. We used that as the starting point with Zek when he starts college.
We tell young people “If you like business, accounting is the best. We always encourage that if someone’s going to get a business degree, we always say “Go into Accounting. You have so many opportunities. You can do so many different things and you have so many ways, whether it be in public accounting, private, government, nonprofit. It doesn’t always have to necessarily be in the accounting profession, even though you’ve got an accounting degree.
Apryl: Accounting is one of those professions where your degree is important, so we encourage people “Get your accounting degree, you can decide if you want a master’s or not based on what you want to do.” If you want to be a partner in a firm, you’ll need your master’s. Get a CPA license. Stay on track with school, then think about what you want to do in the future and how much education you need.
Gary: And we’re biased. We have a public accounting firm, but we always tell young people to go into public accounting first, stay in there for five years. Even if you don’t like it, you have so many opportunities after five years. Get your CPA license. You can do anything. But, I tend to think you have so much flexibility. I love public and I’m going to clients every week and talking to them. Some folks might just like to stay at one company and focus just on that company.
Apryl: Gary worked for Elliott Davis, a big regional firm and went to work at a manufacturing plant as a CFO for a few years, and then decided to go back and now he’s self-employed.
Gary: In the CFO role I was full time for two years, and then part time CFO for 11 years, and that helped us grow our firm, so it really was a blessing to have that opportunity to do that. I ended up being a CFO for 13 years of a company that’s got offices in mainland China, Hong Kong. Apryl and I went on a trip to Hong Kong on business. Again, it goes back to Ecclesiastes 12:1. That doesn’t stop when you’re an adult. There’s always excitement. Always do things in life. Just don’t forget your creator. And so we keep that in our minds that even if we’re doing all of these things that are fun and exciting, don’t forget our creator—that’s what it’s all about.
There are lots of accounting programs. Why would you recommend Anderson University?
Apryl: The students that they turn out. Anderson students are very hirable and highly sought after.
Gary: We mainly recruit from Anderson University—that’s where we’ve always recruited from first. I feel like employers love Anderson students, whether it be in accounting, nursing, teaching—whatever it may be. I think Anderson produces a student who’s willing to work hard. Everyone we have has come out with a moral foundation in Christ and that in my opinion makes a great worker, because they’re grounded in something that’s not earthly. It’s not changing. It’s more important than what’s going on in culture at that time.
Apryl: It’s about more the student we’re getting and the graduate. We can teach you on the job things.
And now for the first time, you’re parents of a college student.
Just recently with freshman move-in, it was amazing the job that everyone at Anderson University did—faculty and staff and upper class students—how they made freshmen feel so welcome. When we pulled up, they were out there. They got everything out of our car. They were like “We’ll put it in the room for you.” All of these great things, and then to end with a worship service, getting the students started out right. We can’t think of a better place to leave a child than Anderson.
Apryl: They’re working on the total student. It’s not only about accounting, it’s about complete development and character.
Gary: We often say that we feel like parenting is, “You're bringing our children up in Christ and it's like building a house. You've poured that foundation, but it's still curing and you don't want to send them somewhere where they can get cracked while it’s curing.” I feel like Anderson University is a great place. You've left mom and dad and now you're surrounded by other believers who are helping to finish off that curing process before you head out to the world. That's kind of the way I think about it.
Photo credits: Anna Kate Photography (Baileys) and Electric Soul (Bailey Building photos)