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.
- Valley Life
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.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Keep your garden — and yourself — safe from lead
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead poisoning is the No. 1 preventable environmental cause of illness in children.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Need something for the kids? Try these Ritzy Cookies
When we have dinners at the church, one of the ladies brings these cookies. Nancy Kahl has been making these for some time now. They are so good. Need something for your kids? Make sure that there isn’t any one who can’t have peanuts. These are so easy and extra good.
DNR stocks ponds in Terre Haute with catfish
Fishing opportunities in eight Indiana cities got a boost on Monday as part of an ongoing effort by the Department of Natural Resources to promote angling in urban areas.
Katherine Trueblood to celebrate 90th birthday
A card shower is planned to honor Katherine Campbell Trueblood on her 90th birthday.
State Park Road Rally coming up June 9-11
Participants will pilot their own vehicles, as their navigator steers them to points of interest and natural wonders during the State Park Road Rally June 9-11, with overnight stays at Canyon Inn in McCormick’s Creek State Park.
CANDLES plans film night
CANDLES Holocaust Museum will host a film night at 7 p.m. on Thursday, featuring the documentary “Porraimos: Europe’s Gypsies in the Holocaust” and its director Alexandra Isles, at the museum.
“Porraimos” premiered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
Author to lead interpretive writing workshop
An interpretive writing workshop led by Alan Leftridge, Ph.D., author of the textbook “Interpretive Writing,” will be offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 12 at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.
WEDDING: Published May 19, 2013
Ruth Brown and Josh Edwards were married at 2:30 p.m. on May 11, 2013, in West Terre Haute by the Rev. Paul Shelton.
Fraud and Scam Awareness Seminar is Tuesday
The Investor Protection Trust estimated that more than 7.3 million seniors (about 20 percent of all Americans 65 and older) have been victimized by a scam. Met Life Inc. estimated the annual loss by victims of elderly scams at $2.9 billion dollars.
FAMILY TIES: While searching for my grandfather, I found my mother
I remember the afternoon my mother received the chilling news from her nephew that her oldest sister and brother-in-law had been killed in a car/bus collision.
GRAPE SENSE: Same old whites getting you down? Try something different
If the same old Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio is getting you down, try something different.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A Rhubarb Nut Bread for the season
Last fall we went to the Covered Bridge Festival. Gene loves to go. Anyway, I got to talking to this lady, Treva Smith, at Bridgeton.
ENGAGEMENT: Published May 12, 2013
Friends of Library plans annual book sale
The Friends of the Vigo County Public Library is planning its annual book sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 4 p.m. May 19 in the Main Library Lower Level Meeting Rooms A, B, C and D.
Woman’s Press Club celebrates 100 years
On Feb. 18, 1913, a group of 13 female journalists and activists met for lunch at the Tea Room in L. S. Ayres Department Store in downtown Indianapolis to found the Woman’s Press Club of Indianapolis.
Children’s Museum to host orientation for summer volunteers
Those who are looking for a way to give back to the community and have fun at the same time are invited to attend a volunteer orientation session at the Terre Haute Children’s Museum from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Walk for greyhound rescue
A family pet walk fundraiser open to all breeds is set for at 2 p.m. May 19 at Buggs Temple on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis.
‘Food Safety: From Garden Gates to Dinner Plates’ workshop coming up in June
There is a new law on the books in Illinois called the Cottage Food Operation Act of 2011. This new law allows for the preparation and sale of certain low-risk foods in the private home without the expense of a commercially certified kitchen and for the sale of said foods at a farmers market.
Scams are brown bag focus
The Vigo County Public Library’s next brown bag event, “Don’t Be a Victim!” featuring Amy Wardlow, is set for 12:10 p.m. Thursday at the main branch.
Countryside, Kalorama gardens celebrating opening weekend
Countryside Gardens, owned by Terry and Jennie O’Rourke, and Kalorama Gardens, owned by Steve and Linda Gard, opened for the season this weekend. Both gardens are in Marshall, Ill. Opening days continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Saturday seminar to bring nationally known genealogists to Ivy Tech
The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society is offering the public a unique opportunity to learn more about the new techniques and methods now available for individuals interested in doing genealogical research on the Internet.
Evening Thyme Garden Club to host garden fair at Clark County Fairgrounds
The Evening Thyme Garden Club will present the 15th annual garden fair from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m Saturday at Clark County Fairgrounds in Marshall, Ill., with free parking and admission.
Student mentoring program offers one-on-one technology instruction
The Connecting Generations Mentoring Program can help those who would like one-on-one instruction on how to use the Internet or other technology.
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.
CHRIS DAVIES: Keep sodium levels in mind when sweating buckets
Salt, or sodium, is vital to life. Too much or too little sodium can cause all kinds of problems in your body. How much sodium do we need if we are exercising consistently?
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Union Hospital creates community garden
Union Hospital will be opening a community garden on its campus in mid-May. Before they embarked on such a challenge, they looked to their neighbor Indiana State University for advice.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: Try this when you’ve got to avoid salt
I have a good friend in an assisted living complex. She went to her doctor last winter and he told her she had to leave off the salt. My mother used this when dad couldn’t have any salt.
I like to keep this on hand. In summer when it’s real hot I keep in refrigerator. Keep in an air tight container.
NEWSMAKER: May 5, 2013
Carolyn Whitcomb Jeffries was installed as president of the State Huguenot Society of Indiana on April 21 at Meridian Hills Country Club of Indianapolis.
ANNIVERSARY: Published May 5, 2013
Mr. and Mrs. Larry Abel
Larry and Rose Abel will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.
The couple will have a reception in June.
- More Valley Life Headlines
- Longtime weatherman Jesse Walker relates well to people of Wabash Valley