TERRE HAUTE —
Numerous moments paved Billy Graham’s path to becoming “America’s pastor,” as he’s often labeled.
This month, the evangelist prayed in his North Carolina home with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In 2010, Graham also prayed with President Barack Obama, whom Romney is challenging in the 2012 election. Thus, regardless of the Nov. 6 outcome, Graham will have prayed with every U.S. president dating back to Harry Truman in 1950.
For 55 consecutive years, including this one, Gallup has placed Graham on its Ten Most Admired Men in the world. No one else comes close to the streak by Graham, who will turn 94 on Nov. 7, the day after the election.
More than seven decades ago, though, Graham was an unknown anthropology student at Wheaton College, preparing for a career in ministry. It was then, during his first year at that small, Christian, liberal-arts college just west of Chicago that Terre Haute became an important stepping stone in Graham’s path to prominence.
Graham came to Wheaton in September 1940 to continue his education, after graduating from Florida Bible Institute. Though Graham pursued an anthropology degree, “he knew what he wanted to be doing — to be an evangelist,” Bob Shuster, archivist at Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center Archives, said last week by phone.
The college fit his intention, and was a “mecca of evangelism,” said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
Older than most other Wheaton students, Graham already had experience in the pulpit from his training in Florida. He was known to be “directed and concentrated,” Shuster said.
So, in late 1940 and early 1941, when the college’s Student Christian Council began assembling student “Gospel teams” to travel to churches around the region on weekends, singing and preaching, Graham was anxious and ready to ply his skills beyond the South, in America’s heartland.
In his 1997 autobiography, “Just As I Am,” Graham described his task, laid out by the Student Christian Council. “They assigned me to go with a singing quartet and preach at a church at Terre Haute in southern Indiana. I leaped at the chance to give my first sermon since arriving at Wheaton.”
Readily remembers trip
This fall, the Tribune-Star asked Graham — through his publicist, Larry Ross — to elaborate on his visit to Terre Haute. A staff member at the Billy Graham Evangelical Association office in Montreat, N.C., where the minister resides, personally asked Graham for his recollections of that trip to Indiana, Ross explained.
The summary of Graham’s remembrance, relayed by Ross this fall, said, “Time has dimmed the memory of the physical facts of the Terre Haute preaching event (such as which church and who accompanied Mr. Graham in the quartet), but the evangelist readily remembers going there in that first preaching experience at Wheaton.”
Graham quipped that his selection as a traveling student minister was for utilitarian reasons.
“Mr. Graham likes to say it was because he was one of the few students at Wheaton who had a car and could provide transportation to these ministry opportunities,” Ross’ summary stated.
Termed as “youth revivals” and “student emphasis weekends,” the journeys primarily consisted to Saturday night and Sunday morning services, the summary said. The coed singing quartet would perform, and then Graham would deliver a sermon.
Such a ministry format became prevalent in that era, according to Goff, who specializes in mid-20th-century evangelicals at IUPUI. Goff is writing a book on the “Old-Fashioned Revival Hour,” a popular national radio show hosted by Baptist minister Charles Fuller from 1937 to 1968; that program opened with Gospel music before the preaching. The songs “helped draw people in,” Goff said.
The similar song-then-sermon mix used by Graham and the singing Wheaton students apparently worked in Terre Haute.
“The quartet must have liked what they heard [in that initial sermon at Terre Haute],” Graham wrote in his autobiography. “Their report back to the council director opened a flood of requests for me to speak here and there.”
Worried about his grades, Graham put off many of those inquiries. “Lest my dismal academic history repeat itself, I turned down most of the invitations, at least at first,” he wrote.
His anonymity, though, was about to fade.
Pastor to presidents
In less than a decade, Graham was praying in the White House with Truman. Ironically, that first presidential experience did not end well. Graham was young and the subject of rising notoriety through intense coverage of his revivals in California by newspapers owned by tycoon publisher William Randolph Hearst, who liked the evangelist’s opposition to communism. Following a 25-minute White House meeting with Truman, who was embroiled in the turmoil between North and South Korea, Graham and three colleagues got peppered with questions from the press corps. The minister told the reporters everything he’d discussed with the president.
Truman was livid. He never invited Graham back.
Graham recalled the “fiasco” with humility in his autobiography. Wiser from it, “I vowed to myself it would never happen again if I ever was given access to a person of rank or influence,” he wrote.
That access did reopen. He met and prayed with all of Truman’s successors — Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama. A lifelong registered Democrat, Graham developed close relationships with many, firmly maintaining a sense of political neutrality, Goff said. Beginning with Reagan, Graham “tilted toward Republicans, but he never played favorites,” he added. “He and Clinton got along famously.”
In various political issues, Graham occasionally felt that other religious figures, such as Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell and “700 Club” host Pat Robertson, “crossed the line” with their activism, Goff said.
His success in connecting with the masses is apparent. In 70-plus years of ministry, Graham has preached to more than 215 million people in 185 countries, according to the Billy Graham Library.
His climb to notability in the 1940s and ’50s was helped by a penchant for bridging gaps between people and factions, Goff said. He drew inspiration from 19th-century evangelist Dwight Moody, whose style was “getting past doctrinal issues,” Goff said. Graham “pushed to the forefront through his charisma and good looks.”
As a result, “He’s this integral figure in American Christianity in the 20th century,” Goff said. He’s remained active, but close to home in the 21st century, coping with prostate cancer, failing eyesight and hearing, and hospitalizations for various ailments in 2007, 2011 and August. His doctor declared Graham in “remarkably good health,” nonetheless. In 2007, Graham lost his wife and close campanion, Ruth, at age 87.
His appeal hasn’t faded, though. When Gallup released its 2012 Ten Most Admired Men list, Graham made it again.
Seventy-one years earlier, the good reviews of Graham’s sermon in Terre Haute — relayed by his accompanying singing quartet to the director of the Wheaton College Student Christian Council — put him a step closer to his destiny.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
Numerous moments paved Billy Graham’s path to becoming “America’s pastor,” as he’s often labeled.
3 virtues 4-H has taught these youths
Perseverance, integrity, honesty, responsibility and service are the hallmarks of any successful business.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: A Wood’s student’s quest to save thousands of turtles
If you don’t like something, sometimes it’s a matter of taking it into your own hands to change it. For Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College student, Amber Slaughterbeck, that mentality couldn’t be any more true.
TRIED 'N' TRUE: Fix this Oven Fried Chicken ahead of time
When my brother Gary’s wife got breast cancer, he needed something he could fix ahead of time to throw into the oven when it was time to fix supper after Kathy’s treatments.
Fit for a King: Couple opens Clayshire Castle as bed and breakfast in rural Bowling Green
There aren’t too many castles around the Wabash Valley, but now there is one worth checking out. Sit back and relax, and let me tell you the story of the Clayshire Castle and Lord Douglas and Lady Josephine. It’s a modern day fairy tale complete with, yes, a castle.
Steps to the River: Watermark Landing project brings artistic recognition to Valley’s most prominent waterway
Petra Nyendick recalls that when she moved to Terre Haute in 2005 in hopes of opening an art gallery, one of her initial surprises was usage of the Wabash River by people in the city was so light.
Bond of Brothers: Performance to reveal complex kinship between Dreiser and ‘My Brother Paul’
Two famed writers linger in Tedi Dreiser Godard’s family tree.
Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley
While in middle and high school, Jesse Walker developed a strong interest in the weather. He thought about a career at the National Weather Service or at a storm prediction center, but the idea of becoming a television meteorologist never entered his mind.
CULINARY COURSES: Clabber Girl Classroom Kitchen provides variety of cooking courses for the Valley
There are a few taste-bud-tantalizing-perks for having America’s leading baking powder producer in your backyard. For nearly 120 years, Clabber Girl has been a staple in Terre Haute. In 1899, Hulman and Company began offering up what was to become one of the oldest brands in the country, Clabber baking powder. In 1923, the company changed the baking powder brand name to Clabber Girl.
RIVER OF SOUND: Composer sees symphony bring his musical imagination to life
David Watkins smiled as he stood on the Tilson Auditorium stage. The audience stood, too, applauding.
Two of his compositions had just been performed by the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. Neither piece — “A Wabash Portrait” and “River Fanfare” — had been played publicly in decades.
The Beauties of Spring: Stunning array of wildflowers bloom each spring in Collett Park
Groundskeepers put off the first mowing of Collett Park each spring.
Admirers of the place, Terre Haute’s oldest park, like it that way.
A stunning array of wildflowers covers the 21-acre lawn for a few short weeks. Those plants, known as “spring beauties,” emerge in March, bloom in April and go dormant by May, when the brilliant waves of white and pink flowers disappear.
Day spent with daughter inspires Valley man to write children’s book for her
It started with a warm sunny blackberry picking outing, a bee buzzing, a little bird nest with eggs in it and a little girl begging her daddy for a night-time story. And from those ingredients the children’s book, “The Bee in the Blackberry Bush” came to fruition.
From kilts to haggis, Wabash Valley Scottish Society marks a decade of preserving heritage
As soon as Richard Cooper breaks into his Scottish accent, a smile automatically follows.
It happened last week as he recited a work of legendary Scotland poet Robert Burns.
Witness to history: April movie chronicles Jackie Robinson’s trials as be breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier — something Vigo County native Harry Taylor witnessed first hand
The upcoming movie “42” aims to show America what Jackie Robinson endured.
Harry Taylor witnessed it firsthand.
Robinson wore jersey No. 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Taylor wore 41. Both were 28-year-old rookies, considerably older than most. Taylor got delayed by military service in World War II. Professional baseball’s unwritten but ironclad code of racial discrimination had kept Robinson and other African-Americans out of the majors since the 1880s.
Sisterly Habits: Fillenwarth sisters are linked together in more than one sense
The Fillenwarth sisters are sisters in more than one sense of the word.
Both were born two of the eight children of city cop Henry and his wife Catherine Fillenwarth. Both grew up among a large and giving Catholic extended family in inner-city Indianapolis in the 1940s.
Geocaching Indiana: Clay County man develops idea to use geo-art to create outline of state in caches
Indiana, long-known as the Crossroads of America, has for years been a destination for people coming from around the world to witness such activities as the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, Indianapolis Colts football games and Indiana University Hoosiers basketball games.
Since October 2012, Indiana’s attractions have come to include the surprising geo-art creation of a group of Wabash Valley geocachers — people who use Global Positioning Systems and similar location-sensitive devices to find hidden objects for fun.
Voice of a Storyteller: Chance meeting of Twain, Paris youngster inspired narrative voice of Huck Finn
The block offers no hints of its place in American literary history.
Customers dodge raindrops, walking in and out of an auto parts store.
Pearls of the Wabash: Efforts to reintroduce mussels
Broken bricks, shattered large clay tiles and thin strips of lumber nailed into a crimped piece of sheet metal, sit piled down a county road in Hillsdale.
Natural Habitat: Meet 17-year-old Ben Cvengros, who has a knack for capturing wildlife — in particular, birds — on his camera
I would like to introduce you to a 17-year-old Parke County teenager who has an incredible level of patience. Ben Cvengros was 12 years old when he found his passion for photography.
WORD PLAY: Scrabble Club broadens Greene County youngsters’ vocabularies and experiences in a fun way
Drew Helton nodded his head like a wise college professor dispensing scholarly advice.
Doing a lot with a little: Family’s resourcefulness leads it to reuse vegetable oil as fuel
Up a winding driveway, tucked off a main road in Clay County, sits an average-looking house in a hardwood forest. The homeowners, Chris and Lori Hart, are two resourceful people.
Crossroads Rep opens with ‘You Can’t Take It With You’
The 2013 summer season for Crossroads Repertory Theatre at Indiana State University bears the theme, Three Laughs and A Scream. It opens June 21 with a comedy that has remained popular since it was first staged in 1936: “You Can’t Take It With You.”
‘Pirates’ to invade Terre Haute Children’s Museum on Saturday
The Terre Haute Community Band will perform “A Pirate Adventure: The Treasure of Music!” at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Terre Haute Children’s Museum.
Learn about ‘The Wabash in Legend and Lore’ at Symphony fundraiser
Hear Vigo County historian Mike McCormick speak on “The Wabash in Legend and Lore” during the Terre Haute Symphony League’s fundraiser at noon Wednesday in the Country Club of Terre Haute. Reservations are due Friday.
GRAPE SENSE: Some think Chardonnay is next big thing in northwest wine
Does the wine world need another great Chardonnay region? California has the great big buttery, woodsy Chards while Chablis brings the mineral and acid. There is virtually every style in between from regions across the globe.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: A Bar-B-Que recipe from my brother, Mark
My brother Mark lives in California. He does a lot of cooking. Both of my brothers are great cooks. (I’m the oldest of all my siblings.) Mark gave me the Bar-B-Que recipe.
Concert to honor Indiana composers, arrangers
The Terre Haute Community Band kicks off its summer season with Indiana’s official state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” written by Terre Haute’s own Paul Dresser.
Water show kicks off Vigo library program
The Vigo County Public Library will stage its kickoff event for the summer reading program “Dig into Reading” with a water show from 3 to 4 p.m. on Monday on Walnut Street in downtown Terre Haute.
BRUCE’S HISTORY LESSONS: This week in 1944: D-Day and the Airborne assault on Normandy
This week (June 5) in 1944, with the D-Day invasion of the Nazi-occupied Normandy coast set to begin, the man in charge of that invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, paid a special visit to members of the U.S. 82nd and the 101st Airborne.
All Valley artists encouraged to submit art at Vigo County Fair
Artists from throughout the Wabash Valley are encouraged to submit works to the 84th Vigo County Fair, which will take place July 7-15 at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Recycling initiative in full swing at Vigo County Public Library
The Vigo County Public Library has recycled the weight of two compact cars (7,000 pounds) since April, this after an employees’ initiative to recycle library-wide.
- More Features Headlines
- 3 virtues 4-H has taught these youths