To figure out where we are going, sometimes we need to understand where we have been.
Here is the "rest of the story" about Phin and Jan Hitchcock, the founders of Fireside Ministry, told by Phin himself...
I was born at University Hospital, September 2, 1943. My father Phin Hitchcock, now deceased, was a medical doctor and was serving in the Navy when I was born. I have two sisters, Ginger and Emily, and a wonderful mother Virginia Fulcher Hitchcock (My mother passed away in 1995 and Ginger recently passed in 2014). Early childhood memories were “happy days” attending William Robinson Elementary, Langford Junior High, and Richmond Academy High School. My two sisters and I were very active in sports and Country Club social life, living on Milledge Road where the present Augusta Country Club parking lot now resides. Our family had all the trappings of the world – new cars every year, nice house, and vacation homes in Highland, NC and Long Boat Key, FL.
My mother was a wonderful Christian and my two sisters came to know the Lord through Young Life in high school. Our family attended First Baptist Church and were regular church-goers.
My dad, a respected, local surgeon at University and St. Joseph (now Trinity) Hospitals, was very successful in the eyes of the world. Though things did not always go well at home, where truth is lived out. Bad company corrupts good character, and my dad kept good friends that were bad influences.
When I was 15, just weeks before my 16th birthday, my dad had promised to get me a car. But then tragedy struck our family. My dad was home recuperating from surgery on both of his hands. He could not operate, or play golf—which was his passion. He was deeply depressed. It was late in August 1959 when I heard a loud noise from my parents’ bedroom. I ran to the bedroom and saw that my dad had shot himself in the head. He died that night. The next day on the front page of the Augusta Chronicle was my dad’s picture with the caption “Local physician commits suicide.” Needless to say my life was in turmoil. I was embarrassed, ashamed, angry and confused. My mom was a rock and my two sisters trusted the Lord and his grace and provision. I, on the other hand, had no one. Although I went to church and Young Life, I was not really present. I led a double life. For 10 years I followed the pattern of my dad and thought having a good time and accumulating this world’s goods would bring fulfillment. It did not, and I was constantly looking for the next best thing on the horizon.
I met Jan in 1967. We dated, partied and went out with friends who did the same. Our life was superficial, full of immediate, personal gratification, like soap bubbles—pretty but short lived. Despite not having a true foundation, we loved each other and were engaged to be married on November 1, 1969.
Just two weeks before we were to be married we met with our minister at First Baptist Church for counseling. We told him that we didn’t think we were Christians but wanted a good marriage and didn’t know what to do. He said that he was sure we were Christians and asked us to read the first three chapters of John’s Gospel and pray together. We tried this, but it was awkward. We didn’t understand what we were reading and praying felt forced and empty. God sent us help. Two days before Jan and I were to be married, we asked my sister Emily and her husband Ron what made their marriage so good. They had been praying for us for years and welcomed these questions. We read through a booklet entitled “Steps to Peace with God” by Billy Graham and both of us prayed that day, placing our trust in Jesus alone. We’ve never looked back—grateful to God for a new and true foundation.
Here is a timeline of our walk with Christ and lives together:
- Jan and I were led to the Lord two days before we were married October 29, 1969.
- Married November 1, 1969. Honeymoon in Gatlinburg for a week.
- Ron Higginbotham and Emily, my sister, left for the mission field in B.C., Canada to share Christ with Native Americans and discipled us by snail mail from 3,000 miles away.
- We joined First Presbyterian Church, pastored by John Oliver, in Spring of '70 and have never left.
- I owned and operated Bedford Nursery from 1969-1974.
- I took our family to Columbia Bible College for a one-year graduate course in Bible Survey with two children, Becca (4), Chris (2). Stephen was born the next year.
- I took a job with Georgia-Pacific in 1975-1980 and worked with the Southern Division Plywood Group as a Quality/Process Control Manager.
- From 1980-1981 I managed a pine saw mill in Warrenton, GA as an option of not moving to Atlanta with Georgia-Pacific Headquarters.
- I left Georgia-Pacific in 1981 and started Fireside Garden Center and Café on Boy Scout Rd. in a log cabin.
- In 1989 Jan and I went on a mission trip to Ecuador with our First Pres. youth group and began praying about full time missions.
- In 1992 we consulted with family and friends about beginning a ministry in Augusta, and as a result closed Fireside on Boy Scout Rd. and began Fireside Ministries.
- In 1992 Jan began teaching 6th grade at Riverside Middle in Columbia County.
- Our children began to go to college. Becca went to University of GA, Chris went to Covenant College, while Stephen was still at Lakeside High School.
- We began to plant vegetable gardens in public housing projects and shared the Gospel of Christ as we built relationships.
- We began doing Bible Studies at YDC in 1993 for 11 years, and also had garden and greenhouse projects at YDC.
- In 1999 Linda Tucciarone asked Jan and me to help her begin an inner-city Christian School, which became Heritage Academy and began with 5 kindergarten students in the fall of 2001 ending the year with 10.
- We helped with the school and taught our Fireside GED adult students in the same building on Sibley St. at East Boundary.
- In 2003 I began the Suzuki Violin Program with 5 students (now there are 60), Joan and Glen Johnson were the volunteer teachers.
- From 2001-2006 we began to pray for God to give us the old abandoned Houghton school at 333 Greene Street. Jeremiah 33:3 was our promise (and address).
- In 2006 Clay Boardman purchased the Houghton School and called us the next week and said he was going to save the school, and his family believed that it should be our permanent home.
- In 2007 Heritage Academy bought Houghton School and in 180 days R.W. Allen did the first floor renovation and was $100,000 under budget.
- In 2008-2014 Fireside continued to help renovate the 2nd floor of Heritage Academy with volunteers - well over 50,000 hours were given by many groups and churches throughout our city.
- In 2010 we began with others Turn Back The Block for Harrisburg. Our goal was to bring Harrisburg back to a viable neighborhood with restoration of people and places, "one house at a time." (Isaiah 61:1-4)
- In 2012 we began to establish a ministry outlet at the old State Farmers Market, next to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds, built 3 greenhouses and 40 large raised vegetable beds, and a country-style roadside curb market, sharing the gospel with customers and community service workers assigned to us by the county court system.
- In 2015 the entire upstairs of Heritage Academy was completed. Fireside had begun to collaborate with 4 other ministries in Harrisburg: Mercy Ministries, Icebox Ministries, Augusta Locally Grown and Turn Back The Block (I am still a board member). Our involvement and time will now be increasingly in Harrisburg, a vital community where much is happening and this will escalate dramatically in the coming years.