news-category: Alumni

GWU Alumni, Jill and Heath Forbes, Start Axe Throwing Business as a Ministry

A photo collage featuring three photos of women who are pointing and smiling to the axe they threw at Lumber Jill's and hit the target
Since Heath and Jill Mayo Forbes have opened Lumber Jill's Axe Throwing Lounge, they have been visited by GWU alumna, from left, Heather Lookadoo Cartee of Tennessee, Amy Mayo Eddins (Jill's sister) and Jen Wilhite Wilson, both of South Carolina.

Lumber Jill’s Motto is ‘Build Community. Give back. Have Fun.’  

Axe throwing is an addictive form of entertainment that’s a growing trend across America. It’s similar to playing darts, except you throw an axe at the target. After a throw and a miss, you’re hooked and will keep trying until you land one in the target. Heath and Jill Mayo Forbes, alumni of Gardner-Webb University, became so obsessed with the sport in 2018, they decided to open their own axe throwing lounge, Lumber Jill’s, in Summerville, S.C.

However, as first-time business owners, their goal went beyond offering a new form of entertainment. “We began to brainstorm that this could be something different, but we had to have a bigger purpose if we were going to upend our lives with it,” Jill stated. “We began to call it our ‘church, disguised as axe throwing.’ Where people could, ‘Build community. Give back. Have fun.’ That’s our motto. Where people could be seen and heard and feel like family. Where we could have good conversation and use our leadership skills to train our staff. And not just with axe throwing skills, but life skills. It has always been about way more than axes.”

They chose the name, Lumber Jill’s, as a play on her name and later found out just how appropriate it was. “As we tried to get a website, we realized there was more to it,” Jill explained. “In World War II when the British men left the lumber yards, the women who came in to take their place earned the title of ‘Lumberjills.’ It was kind of England’s answer to Rosie the Riveter.”

a collage of four photos featuring Jill and Heath Forbes at their business, posing with their family, as a couple and Jill with her friends
In this photo collage are Heath and Jill and their family, along with two of Jill’s friends from Gardner-Webb (top right photo) Annie Kelly Freeman of North Carolina and Abbey Medcalf Cooler of Georgia.

The couple started working to open the business and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They just kept trusting God to help them build a ministry to employees and customers. “We just decided to walk through every door until Jesus shut them,” Jill reflected. “He never shut them, but it’s truly the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Nothing has tested our faith more than this. Nothing has made us question our ability to hear the voice of the Lord more than this. We have never fought so hard for anything. Everything, from landlords to buildout costs to a stinking international pandemic, has made this so hard.”

After being open a few months, activity is picking up, and they are seeing regular customers. Once a month they host “Axe of Kindness” night to highlight an important cause or organization and “throw” support behind it. They have sponsored local soccer and flag football teams and helped raise money for an outreach ministry at their church, Seacoast. “The ministry is called The Dream Center, and one of the main functions is free health care,” Jill said. “The center serves about 4,000 patients a year free of charge. Lumber Jill’s was able to be a sponsor for the Hope for Healing Walk, the major fundraiser for the clinic.”

A photo of the Lumber Jill's Axe Throwing Lounge with two employees behind the counter

In addition, Lumber Jill’s is partnering with the Salvation Army for the holiday season. “We will have an electronic kettle, serve as a toy donation site, our staff is adopting three families, and we will volunteer together on a distribution day,” Jill informed. “We are focusing all our giving efforts toward that. Canned food drives, Black Friday toy donations, and we worked with a local candle maker to create a signature scent. A portion of our ‘relAXE and give back’ candle will go to The Salvation Army.”

Their customers brag on their employees, which affirms their mission to build community. “Over and over we hear about our great staff,” Jill observed. “It is truly the best part of what we do. We get this great opportunity to pour into them and watch them grow. They really love helping our customers. We, as owners, feel like our customers should never be treated better than our staff and it has paid off.”

Running the business is also something Jill, Heath, and their children do together. “One of the coolest things has been the investment our kids have had in this. It’s their business too,” Jill asserted. “They worked weekend after weekend installing ceiling tiles and stripping doors and picking out bathroom paint. They’ve been there when we’ve begged Jesus for inspections to go well. They know our electricians and plumbers and HVAC crew. They are part of the reason we refused to give up when it got hard. They are watching how we handle it all. They rejoice with us when the space is full of people and run food from local restaurants and play Pictionary during our family dinners—that’s what we call our staff meetings. And, working with Heath has been a new chapter. I have learned things about him that I didn’t have to know before. It has revealed blindspots and beauties in our marriage. It’s been a wild ride.”

Heath and Jill met at Gardner-Webb in early 2000. She graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in religious education, and he received a Bachelor of Science in mathematics in 2004. At that time, he was part of a dual enrollment program and also received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “We signed up for a spring break mission trip to Puerto Rico through Campus Ministries,” Jill related. “We began dating a few months later, and got engaged on another Puerto Rico mission trip one-and-half years later.”

Some of their favorite classes were Intro to Ministries taught by Dr. Alice Cullinan, professor emerita of religion and Intro to New Testament taught by Dr. Ron Williams, professor emeritus of religious studies and philosophy. Jill also enjoyed Christianity and Art class taught by Professor of Art Susan Bell. Williams led pre-marital counseling for the couple. “We rely on that daily, even after years of marriage,” she affirmed. “Ms. Bell mentored me outside of the classroom. My parents have her art hanging in their house. She spoke at our wedding, and my kids call her ‘Meme Susan.’”

The best advice she received while she was in college came from Tammy Bass, whose husband, Dr. Robert Bass, is a professor of mathematics. Tammy has since earned her doctorate and now works at GWU as director of First-Year Programs. “Tammy challenged me to pray that Jesus would show me something new about the Christmas story every year,” Jill asserted. “We call each other every January and share what we learned or insight we gained. I love it.”

An employee of Lumber Jill's gives a couple instructions on how to throw the axe

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