GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — God and a work ethic — that's what Don Hiers found at Connie Maxwell Children's Home nearly 57 years ago as a young, homeless teenager who stayed there for four years.

Hiers had a rough start early on in life with an abusive father who eventually kicked him out on the streets of Charleston when he was 15 years old.

"He was sadistic and vicious," Hiers said.

A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Hiers' father held hatred in his heart for many people, and Hiers was no exception.

Hiers recalled when he was 12, his father attempted to enlist the help of older neighborhood boys to beat him up.

"Another time, simply on a whim, he forced me to hold down the family cat while he castrated him and laughed as I became nauseous," Hiers said.

By 15, Hiers and his father were tired of him living in the home, which started his short time on the floor of a drive-in theater.

"I told the manager I was homeless, and thankfully, he felt sorry for me," Hiers said. "I picked up trash and garbage in the mornings that had been thrown out on the ground the previous night and he would give me hot dogs and popcorn to eat."

After a few weeks, a preacher and a Department of Social Services employee found him and led him to Connie Maxwell, which had about 300 children at the time and is when Hiers said he got a second chance at life.

"The older boys worked on the vegetable farm or the cattle farm, which included hogs, horses and chickens," Hiers said. "The older girls worked in the cottages cooking, doing laundry and ironing."

It was there he met John Sheriff, who said Hiers was a quiet, athletic resident.

"He was kind of rough cut when he got there, but he's turned out to be a fine citizen," Sheriff said. "He had it hard coming up, but Connie Maxwell was his savior."

Now, Hiers has been writing conservative guest columns published by the Index-Journal and occasionally in other newspapers in the state for 15 years.

But growing up, Sheriff said Hiers wasn't outspoken about his opinions unless you asked him.

"Believe it or not, Don was not the person out front (in his views). He was laid back, he was quiet, kind of shy," Sheriff said. "But now when it came time to make a decision, he didn't mind telling you how he felt about it."

Hiers would like to believe he'd still have the same values, opinions and political stances had his childhood been different, but he also knows it played a big part in forming his opinions.

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com