Celebrating 45 Years of Augusta Magazine

Before James Brown Arena and before Augusta Mall, there was Augusta Magazine

Like a lot of organizations with long histories, the exact year of origination of Augusta Magazine became confused over the years.

The “20th Anniversary Issue” was the cover of this magazine’s October/November issue in 1995, observing the founding year of 1975.

But the 35th anniversary, for some unknown reason, was celebrated in 2009 instead of 2010.

And for about 10 years, the year 1974 has appeared over the credits and staff box page instead of 1975.

The augustaarchives.com electronic files of The Augusta Chronicle, however, in articles profiling founding editor and publisher Marion Vann clearly and repeatedly report the founding year as 1975.

So look for flashback stories and other features in the coming months leading up to the official 45th anniversary issue in 2020.

It should be a good year for celebrations since 2020 will mark the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Miller Theater on Feb. 26, 1940, and of Bell Auditorium (then Municipal Auditorium) on March, 31, 1940.

It also marks the 75th anniversary of The Augusta Players with its first production, “Kind Lady,” debuting Nov. 15, 1945, in the Music Hall section of Bell Auditorium.

And 2020 marks the 65th anniversary of the wonderful “Evenings in the Appleby Garden” music series with the first offering taking place on June 14, 1955, at the Appleby branch library on Walton Way across from Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church.

There was a lot happening on the Augusta area entertainment and social scene in 1975 when a Fort Gordon officer’s wife named Marion Vann decided to launch Augusta Magazine that year.

Its first issue of nearly 45 years ago came about before the opening of either Augusta Mall or Regency Mall or even before the civic center whose name now honors late soul music legend James Brown.

The year that Augusta Magazine was launched duo pianists Ferrante & Teicher (famous for “Exodus” and other movie themes) were entertaining in Bell Auditorium, and B.J. Thomas was singing his long list of hits including “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” at Leonard’s Lounge nightclub on Deans Bridge Road.

Downtown Augusta was booming with big name stores on Broad Street like Belk’s, Davidson’s and J.B. White’s packed with shoppers and with cars taking all the available spaces using coin-fed parking meters.

It wouldn’t be until three years later in the summer of 1978 that Regency Mall, the largest shopping mall in Georgia in the number of stores, would open followed a week later by Augusta Mall.

And it wouldn’t be until just before Christmas of 1979 that the $18 million Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center (renamed James Brown Arena in 2006) would offer its visiting celebrities, the first being country music star Waylon Jennings.

Newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers in April of 1975 was speaking on the subject of marriage at St. Mary’s On The Hill Catholic Church for a family community outreach series.  Seven months later, she would file for divorce from her cheating husband, Jules.

Dr. Raymond Moody, a student at the Medical College of Georgia, in 1975 would publish his book, “Life After Life,” that he wrote in a rocking chair in his closet-size laundry room in a rented house near Richmond Academy.  It would sell more than 13 million copies worldwide.

And also that year of 1975 would find former teen TV idol Rick Nelson performing in the Maxwell Theater at then Augusta College; theAugusta Mini Theater making its debut at the Wallace branch library and world famous novelist Erskine Caldwell─ author of “Tobacco Road” and “God’s Little Acre”─ speaking to a standing room only audience in the Augusta College Activities Center.

Caldwell had started his publication career writing high school sports stories for The Augusta Chronicle while his father, Ira, pastored a Presbyterian church in nearby Wrens, Ga.

So that year of financial stability found Marion Vann introducing Augusta readers to a new publication geared to promoting the city and all the area offered to potential residents and business developers.

She had dabbled in promotional journalism a few years earlier when her husband, Claude, was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., by creating “Shop Talk” for the Army base residents.

In later interviews, she would say that the principal reason for becoming publisher and owner of the monthly magazine was to provide extra income for her recreational pursuit of horses and their expensive eating and equipment needs.

Shortly after her husband was transferred to Fort Gordon in 1971, Vann showed a copy of Shop Talk to an agent for Knox Realty Co. who suggested she might try the same for Fort Gordon military personnel and civilian employees.

That gave birth to the “Fort Gordon Guide and Directory” in 1973 which led to Augusta Magazine two years later.

Jerry Rogers and his father, Joe Rogers, a widely beloved community leader, bought the magazine 10 years later in 1985 with Jerry becoming publisher.

Joe, a Pennsylvania native and transplant to Augusta who died in 2015, was known as “Mr. Tide” during his many years as spokesman for the Procter and Gamble plant until his retirement in 1992 as governmental relations manager.

His son, Jerry, a Georgia Tech college of management graduate, had spent three years as account manager of Bermuda Business Machines before becoming publisher and owner of Augusta Magazine.

Beth Siciliano served as editor during the Rogers’ years.  Her husband, Larry, was the advertising director of The Augusta Chronicle and her mother, Louise Shivers, was an internationally known novelist.

Rogers would own the magazine until February of 1994, selling it to five-generations Augustan William S. “Billy” Morris III, then chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Co. and publisher of The Augusta Chronicle. His son, William S. “Will” Morris IV, is CEO of MCC today.

Morris, like the original owner Vann, also loved mixing his love of horses with his love of magazines and had bought the Fort Worth, Texas,-based Quarter Horse News magazine in 1981.

Subsequent editors of Augusta Magazine would include Virginia Playford and Sherry Foster, whose husbands, both named David, also worked for Morris Communications Co.  Kate Cooper Metts served as publisher for 12 years before Ashlee Griggs Duren became publisher in 2015.

With the acquisition by Morris came the support of MCC’s corporate communications division led by England-born Reginald Wells, a founding editor of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Wells led MCC staffers Jeff Barnes, Bo Roberts and the author of this article into creating the first “Best of Augusta Bash” held on Jan. 11, 1996, in the Imperial Theater to celebrate the magazine’s 20th anniversary year.  Elvis tribute artist Steve Chappell was the hit of the evening.

The success of that venture with entertainment, demonstrations and food samples by participating restaurants led to the event being expanded at Fort Discovery and in recent years at Sacred Heart Cultural Center.

It’s now become one of this area’s most anticipated annual events with the magazine’s “Best of Augusta” awards widely respected and eagerly sought.

“I wanted the magazine to contain articles that people enjoyed reading,” founder Vann told writer Francine Wilson of The Augusta Chronicle in 1986.  “I wanted them to walk away after reading the magazine with a good feeling.”

That philosophy of publishing seems to have worked well for someone who got into the magazine business just because she wanted some extra income to feed her horses.

–Photo by Amy J. Owen

Article appears in the June/July 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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