The story of FCO is really just a small footnote in a short chapter in one of the many volumes of history. History, or His Story (as it should be called), is the book that is being written in heaven about God’s infinite love and His desire to live and breathe among His people on earth. History is the story of God’s plan for the ages, the interaction between Creator and created beings. Psalms 105:4-5 says “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually! Remember the wonderful works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (RSV). A component of seeking the Lord is to be aware of what He has done for us in the past, and remembering can be a form of worship (This do in remembrance of me). While it is tempting to honor the “founding fathers” as it were, the story of FCO is not about one man, or a small group of leaders, it is about many people, all desiring to know God and walk with Him in humility and in service to others. It’s the story of people who have a calling on their life; a calling to follow Jesus, and a calling to serve others as optometrists. The story is far from over; rather, it is an ongoing story which will have numerous details, yet unwritten, unfolding in future chapters. While God often chooses a particular person, at a particular time, to start a new chapter, the glory that God reserves for Himself far outshines what any one individual is capable of containing within himself.
The Birth of FCO International
In 1971, Dr. Bill Billman, then a student at the Indiana University School of Optometry, saw the need for Christian fellowship among students at the school. He and a handful of other students and faculty began meeting regularly for Bible study and fellowship. Thus the Fellowship of Christian Optometrists was formed. For 15 years the group existed and grew as the informal, un-proclaimed organization known as F.C.O.
Dr. Clifford Brooks joined the faculty at I.U. in 1974, and through the years watched the group grow and change as he served as its faculty sponsor. In the fall of 1985, two students, Dawn Gutwein and Ed Frantsvog, showed a strong interest in missions, desiring to pursue optometry in the mission field. In the spring of 1986 the wheels were set in motion to establish F.C.O. as a legal, nonprofit organization, thus facilitating members’ involvement in the mission field, and enabling Christian optometry students and optometrists everywhere to form a network.
Dr. Brooks laid the groundwork and, together with Dr. Lon EuDaly and Dr. Michael Goen, wrote out a set of Bylaws. On October 8th, 1986 the organization became officially incorporated under the laws of the state of Indiana as “FCO International, Inc.” In March of 1987 FCO was granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service, making all contributions to the organization tax deductible. The Board of Directors included Dr. Cliff Brooks as President and Treasurer, Dr. Lon EuDaly as Vice President, and Dr. Michael Goen as Secretary.
It is interesting to note, that while the wheels that set in motion the framework for FCO began rolling at Indiana University, the Spirit was moving elsewhere as well. In 1973, Dr. Bill Brown graduated from Illinois College of Optometry, and began graduate work at Ohio State University in physiological optics. He joined the faculty there and with Dr. John Schoessler, another committed Christian faculty member started a Bible study that eventually grew to 20-30 students. In 1986, Dr. Brown moved back to Chicago to join the faculty at ICO, and had the idea that God wanted him to start a Bible study at ICO. To his delight he discovered that a fellowship group had begun to meet the year before on an irregular basis. Convinced that the groups at OSU and ICO would benefit from an over-riding goal or purpose in reaching out to others, when he heard about the mission emphasis of the newly formed FCO International, he helped lay the groundwork for a student chapter at ICO. Within a few years, nearly every school of optometry in the USA would have an official FCO student chapter! Many of the schools have a similar story, where God used a faculty member to sponsor and lead a few enthusiastic students to form official student chapters of FCO International, Inc.
Organizing the Details
While the foundation was being built on solid ground, the Lord was preparing somebody else to come alongside and to help with the details. In 1975, a 30-year-old optometry student at UAB named Joe Segree accepted Christ and began a personal journey that eventually led him to FCO. At first, he struggled with the idea of whether he should continue in optometry. Later, he attended seminary and even pastored a church, while continuing to practice optometry. By 1983, Joe had formulated plans for an organization like FCO, complete with a structure that would facilitate growth and implementation of that plan. In January 1987, when he first became aware of FCO, his ideas for an organization meshed exactly with FCO’s bylaws. He stated, “The similarities between those ideas and FCO as it really exists are striking, and obviously the result of providential guidance in preparation for involvement in the organization.” After struggling for 12 years trying to balance his profession with the ministry, he realized that the two were inseparable. Joe joined the FCO Board in 1990, and within a few weeks began a steady flow of charts, diagrams, letters, and structural ideas outlining his ideas for an organization that could not only handle growth but would accelerate the goals of FCO as outlined in its mission statement. Joe was instrumental in formulating plans for an annual conference, and has directed each one since. A meeting that took place in early April, 1987 between Joe, Cliff, and Dr. Glen Linsley, who was a board member of the Lighthouse for Christ Eye Centre (in Mombasa, Kenya) and some students helped spark some practical ideas for the organization and led to the first Annual Conference which took place at McCormick’s Creek State Park near Bloomington, Indiana on November 13-14, 1987. It was called a “Fall Retreat”, and included 3 hours of continuing education given by Dr. John Schoessler of Ohio State University (The registration fee was $45 and a room at the Inn cost $37.80).
Expansion and Growth
In 1997 Dr. Segree became Executive Director and began working on many different projects to facilitate FCO’s growth. During the 1990’s FCO grew with the addition of student chapters at several optometry schools. The annual conference expanded to include 7 to 8 hours of CE in 1994, up from the 3 or 4 hours offered during the first few years. By the early 2000’s the CE coordinator, Dr. Kelly Frantz, became a member of the Board of Directors. CE was expanded to 12 hours for the 2004 conference, and has remained at that level up to the present. During 2003 Dr. Joe Segree became Secretary of the Board, with Dr. Michael Goen retaining the position of Treasurer.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen exponential growth as virtually all the optometry schools now have student chapters. While FCO’s Board has had vision for student involvement all along, the addition of Dr. Kyle Cheatham to leadership has been the driving force behind the growth of FCO’s student membership. In 2010 Dr. Cheatham joined the FCO Board of Directors. His involvement injected new energy into the leadership and his vision for the future is particularly relevant as FCO transitions into the world of Web site development and online membership renewals and conference registration. Dr. Cheatham has worked closely with Dr. Kevin Harris, who became the most recent addition to FCO’s Board in September, 2013.
Just the Beginning
The history of FCO is full of rich detail, multiple stories of God’s interaction with ordinary people, working together with common goals and vision. The miraculous “chance encounters”, the connections made between individuals, an almost forgotten phone number shared with an old classmate, etc. form a story that is still being written. The history of FCO is one of prayerful foundations laid by a few men who were called to invest time and money into its structure. While some see parts of the whole clearly, the sum total of FCO is much larger than any one person could have imagined those many years ago as a few faithful mission-minded OD’s gathered together to share their faith and calling at McCormick’s Creek State Park in southern Indiana. What FCO becomes in the future will be beyond what anyone person could have imagined, thanks to a God who loves without measure and works all things together for His glory.
FCO's International Affiliates
FCO has sister FCO organizations in other countries. These include FCO Nigeria www.fconigeria.org, FCO Ghana, and FCO India.