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May 18, 1987 - WV Televangelist Davy Jo Hissom Killed In Plane Crash
By Heath Harrison
August 18, 2013


With a rapidly growing church and television ministry, Charleston pastor Davy Jo Hissom seemed poised to become a national figure in televangelism.

However, all of that came to an end on May 18, 1987, when he lost his life in an Ohio plane crash at the age of 35.

A graduate of Sissonville High and a successful businessman who ran Davy Jo’s Shoes on Charleston’s West Side, Hissom said his conversion to Christianity came in 1978, while his brother in law was dying of leukemia.

He gave up the shoe store in 1980 and made evangelizing his career.

As head of Charleston’s fundamentalist New Life Church, located on Oakridge Drive, Hissom quickly drew in young attendees, increasing the size of the congregation, which would eventually number more than 600 under his leadership.

Known for his colorful and energetic preaching, Hissom’s sermons reached an audience of 2.5 million television viewers.

His television program, with its opening montage of nature scenes set to “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” was a familiar presence on local airwaves in the 1980s. A mixture of preaching and talk show, it aired daily on stations in Charleston, Hurricane, Ashland and Myrtle Beach, S.C. In the Kanawha Valley, he was carried on two cable channels and WVAH.

At the time of his death, Hissom was in negotiations to join the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which would have expanded his audience to 12 million homes.

Hissom was traveling through Ohio to visit several churches, looking for models for a new sanctuary accommodate New Life’s increasing membership, when the Cessna 337 he was riding in nosedived into a cornfield near Reilly Township in southwest Ohio, killing Hissom, New Life associate pastor Fred Bailey, church member Earl Mullins and Nicholas County evangelist Russell Coleman, who piloted the craft.

Mourners filled the Charleston Civic Center for Hissom’s funeral five days later, with the crowd estimated at 2,000 people. He was buried in Floral Hills Garden of Memories in Pocatalico.

New Life Church continued after his death, but would be rocked by a controversy in 1988, when the church’s new pastor, Michael Agnello, would resign after telling the congregation he had allowed himself to get ''too close'' in his relationship with Hissom’s widow. Agnello was married at the time.

The church survived the episode and continued operating under the New Life name for another decade with James Legg as pastor, though crowds never quite reached the size they had in Hissom’s day.

In 2000, the congregation, numbering at about 275, merged with Cornerstone Christian Center, an African-American church on the West Side. The two congregations took the name Covenant Christian Fellowship and continued on at the Oakridge Drive location.

This week's video, courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives at the Culture Center, features two WCHS reports, one by Alan Cohen from the crash (with footage from one of Hissom's broadcasts), and a report by Mark Scott on church members dealing with the aftermath.

Remember When: May 18, 1987 - WV Televangelist Davy Jo Hissom Killed In Plane Crash

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