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A chronicler’s daughter shares memories

No gossip, just news. That was the goal of The Christian Chronicle from the beginning, says Lavella Hicks McMillan.

Printer’s ink flowed through the veins of Lavella Hicks McMillan at an early age. She was 2 when her preacher father, Olan Hicks, published the first issue of The Christian Chronicle, a newspaper for Churches of Christ. 

Lavella Hicks McMillan

Lavella Hicks McMillan

Her brother, Mark, remembers “the black ink smudges on Daddy’s tummy, on the front of his white dress shirts, which he wore every day,” she said. Her mother, Opal, “bless her heart, worked so hard to get them clean.”

Born in Chicago, McMillan and her siblings — Mark, Clark and Janet — all played roles in the production of the Chronicle’s first issues, from 1943 to 1954. Olan Hicks’ died in 1963, and Clark Hicks served as the Chronicle’s editor and publisher in the early 1970s.

McMillan grew up in Abilene, Texas, and moved with her family to Henderson, Tenn., where her father taught at Freed-Hardeman University. She attended Freed-Hardeman, married and completed her degree at Lipscomb University and Tennessee Tech. 

She did mission work in New Hampshire for two years, served a brief stint in the Women’s Army Corps and then moved to Melbourne, Fla., to teach. She divorced and later married Ned McMillan, her husband of 46 years. She taught math and English and served as a media specialist for her school before retiring in 1999. 

Lavella McMillan has a son by her first marriage and two grandsons, plus two stepsons. She and her husband worship with the Melbourne Church of Christ.

Tell me about Olan Hicks. What kind of man was he? 

I remember a time when we were living in Abilene, and he was holding a meeting at, seems like, the 14th and Vine Street Church of Christ. We had gone to every night’s service, and I was so worn out. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. 

Olan Hicks

Olan Hicks

I got to crying and couldn’t stop. He held me in his arms and still greeted people after the service was over. He would shake hands with someone and then pat me on the back, then shake hands with someone else. I wonder how he did it without losing patience with me.

He was witty, reserved and always fair in his dealings with people. He always seemed to be about the meekest man I ever knew — no braggadocio personality, just the unvarnished truth about what he was thinking. He always took the back seat to anyone else who was around him, always stood back and let others go ahead of him. He tried to teach us the same thing. 

We had a period of several years when we always had a family time when we’d pile up in Mom and Dad’s bed and he’d read us a Bible story from Hurlbut’s Bible story book.

I understand that he never saw himself in an editor/bishop role. Tell me more about that.

He could name about any preacher anywhere in the world if you asked him, since he knew first-hand who was where, but he wasn’t a glad-hander type at all. He was fairly reserved and didn’t expect anyone to cater to him.   

When we would travel and go to church, he always had to have an outline of a sermon in his coat pocket since he would inevitably be invited to speak by the preacher. 

“Daddy was what I call a ‘chronicler.’ He didn’t want to sway opinion except toward what the Bible taught and only wanted to report what had happened or was happening.”

I found one of his little scribbled outlines the other day. It was only about five or six words, but enough to help him get his thoughts together. Also, I remember him getting off on tangents when preaching. After catching himself, he’d say, “That one’s free of charge” or “It won’t cost you a penny for that sermon” and then get back on the subject. 

He never had his own agenda.  He said his main verse was Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2: For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. That was Daddy.

Was there ever a moment when your dad came to the realization, “Wow, this was the right thing to do?” or was it more gradual?

Yes, Daddy knew that printing and publishing the Chronicle was the right thing to do, since it let people know what was happening in the church all over the world.  

The United States was just realizing that mission work was so important, and the Chronicle was at least partially responsible for that knowledge. 

Otis Gatewood and Maurice and Marie Hall were the most well-known missionaries I remembered, but there were lots of people who were in the mission field, including the Padens in Italy. There were so many at Abilene Christian College who were mission-minded, such as J.W. Treat, Homer Hailey, and many more.

The Chronicle wasn’t the only thing your father printed, right?

The name of the company wasn’t The Christian Chronicle, but Hicks Printing Company. Daddy printed lots of other stuff. There was a song book called “Great Songs of the Church” as well as a whole series of commentaries on the Bible and also lots of bulletins for various congregations around Abilene. We kids would help fold and get them ready to deliver or to be picked up.

I know from experience that the Chronicle will eat up any spare time you have! Plus, family-run newspapers can be expensive labors of love that become contentious among family members. Were there ever times when you saw the newspaper as a burden?  

We all went without a lot of things, and clothes, and all that, but it was the only thing we knew. 

“He was witty, reserved and always fair in his dealings with people.”

Mom wasn’t brought up in the church, but when she married Daddy, she really pitched herself into whatever he wanted to do. She was really a people person and could talk to anyone she met. She was such a great asset to him. I often wondered if she might have had second thoughts about marrying him if she knew what she was in for! 

Seventy-five years after the Chronicle’s first issue, how do you see your family’s legacy in the greater story of the Lord’s church? 

As for me, I’m still very oriented toward mission work, and served some years in New Hampshire. 

Now I’m a member of a congregation that is mission-oriented, and also a ladies’ Bible class that contributes to different missions.

Daddy was what I call a “chronicler.” He didn’t want to sway opinion except toward what the Bible taught and only wanted to report what had happened or was happening. His emphasis was always on mission work and spreading the Gospel worldwide — no gossip, no opinions, no trying to sway people’s opinions about certain things, people, places or work that was going on, just straightforward reporting the situation as it was. 

Filed under: 75th anniversary Dialogue Freed-Hardeman Olan Hicks Top Stories

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