Andrew Dys

Preacher, wife mourn loss of two of their own

The preacher and his wife have made their reputation in this town by saying yes to those who needed a soft shoulder. Families of the sick and the broke, the dying and the dead.

The Rev. Steve Hogg, senior pastor at First Baptist Church, and his wife, Monieca, will mark 19 years in Rock Hill in December. They left their beloved Kentucky with arms open in embrace of life south of the Catawba River.

Now, it's the Hoggs' turn for the biggest hug York County can offer.

Monieca Hogg's sister, Diane Combs, and brother-in-law, Homer Combs, were two of the 49 people who died on the Comair plane that crashed Sunday morning in Lexington, Ky. The Combs were headed to Atlanta, where they were going to get a connecting flight to California.

"Their 31st anniversary," Steve Hogg said Monday. "Vacation."

Homer, 51, was an owner/partner in a technology business called Systems Design Group. Diane, 52, worked there, too. Homer's youngest brother, Glen, is CEO and president. A family business.

The trip was supposed to be a getaway.

The brutal news reached Monieca Hogg at First Baptistjust after services finished, in Sunday School class. Then Steve Hogg heard.

"The suddenness, it just made me numb," Steve Hogg said Monday from Lexington, where the Combs lived. The Hoggs drove for hours Sunday, like families do in death, arriving not long before midnight.

Gone was the sister Monieca had traveled to Savannah with this summer on their annual trip together. The sister who came through Rock Hill and sat with Monieca during services, recalled Steve White, assistant pastor for music at First Baptist. The sister the Hoggs visited in Kentucky last month and so many other times.

The First Baptist family was knocked to its collective knees at first on Sunday. But before the Hoggs left, First Baptist's members did what Rock Hillians do when there is a death in the family.

Oh yes, the Hoggs are family.

There was prayer at the church and a caravan to the Hogg house. Pets were taken care of, vehicles gassed and prepped for the trip. Grass mowed, calls made to handle a week's worth of church business. For example, a quick Steve Hogg prayer with Lynn Moody, the new superintendent of Rock Hill's schools with a brutal job ahead of her, had to be postponed.

"I appreciate every prayer, every act," Steve Hogg said.

At Lesslie Elementary, Monieca is the third staffer since Friday to lose a close family member, said Seberina Myles, Lesslie principal. But Monieca Hogg, who talked to co-workers often of her sister, is more than the office secretary at the school.

"She was the calm in the middle of the storm here," Myles said. "I have never known a couple like the Hoggs, who are so committed to others. Whether those people went to First Baptist or not. They were always there for everybody else."

Before working at school, Monieca served the people at the edge of where hope runs out at Pilgrims' Inn, a Rock Hill Christian charity that gives out food to the hungry and helps keep the heat on in winter.

"Monieca's deep faith was always an inspiration to me in my ministry," said Tricia Kuhlkin, Pilgrims' Inn founder. "She would say that faith sustains us all. She and her husband have touched the lives of so many, and still do."

The airplane was trying to take off from the wrong, too-short runway, news reports out of Kentucky said Monday.

"The crash shouldn't have happened, but it did," said White, now pastoring to his mentor. "I told Steve it is okay to be in the receiving end of ministering in a time like this. I know Monieca is going to want to pick up the phone sometime when they get home and call her sister. But she won't be able to. It's up to all of us to help them and show them they are loved. That God is still in control."

The Combses leave a 25-year-old daughter, Andrea; a graduate art student in Savannah.

Now, an orphan.

Steve Hogg the pastor, the husband and uncle, is this time the calm in the storm.

"She has tough decisions to make," Steve Hogg said of his niece. "I'm a family member right now."

Hogg has performed plenty of marriages and countless burials. He's eulogized the dead.

Larry Sizemore, another assistant pastor at First Baptist, took Hogg aside Sunday where the two prayed. The two have told others, countless times, God would get families through grief.

Now, the Hoggs need God and others.

There was no long illness preparing the family for death.

Death came anyway.