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 email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
Numerous moments paved Billy Graham’s path to becoming “America’s pastor,” as he’s often labeled.
Busy sidewalks … Dec. 6 ‘Miracle on 7th’ event brings crowds downtown
Christmas Music Schedule
Schedule of Events
‘Someday at Christmas’ with Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack coming to ISU Dec. 11
Sandy Hackett’s famous Rat Pack is coming to Terre Haute to ring in a swingin’ holiday season with its critically acclaimed show “Someday at Christmas.”
Hailed as “extremely strong and hugely entertaining,” “Someday at Christmas” blends the classic charisma of the golden age of Las Vegas with some of Ron Miller’s greatest Christmas hits.
Community Theatre offers up family show ‘Babes in Toyland’ in December
Community Theatre of Terre Haute celebrates the season with the holiday musical, “Babes in Toyland,” based on the operetta by Victor Herbert & Glen MacDonough. It opens this Friday and continues through the weekend.
Heightened Sense of Place: Educators’ efforts helped put geography back on map in schools
Geography transcends dots on a map.
Teachers traveling abroad alongside Terre Haute geographer Dorothy Drummond have experienced the real-life cultures, atmosphere and people existing within those dots. An educator herself, Drummond has organized affordable geography tours of foreign lands for Wabash Valley schoolteachers for many years. The journeys involved more than sight-seeing.
Fade to Black: A few local theaters among last to part with century-old 35-mm film
The projectionist behind the first movie shown in the Indiana Theatre nearly 92 years ago would likely feel right at home in that same booth today.
HEALING WATERS: Team River Runner offers inspiration, opens doors for wounded veterans
Some people say the fun of boating on the Wabash is dealing with unexpected challenges such a big body of water can present on certain days; others delight in the wild beauty at Terre Haute’s doorstep, from bald eagles soaring above trees lining the banks of the Wabash to the panorama of the river itself as it curls through woodland in many places reminiscent of primeval splendor seen hundreds of years ago.
Leaving ‘footprints on the sands of time’
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Had I taken the time to read a street map, I would have been able to walk through Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s historic home four years ago. My daughter, Ellen, and I spent the better part of a day hiking over the grassy hillsides of historic Mount Auburn Cemetery, just a few blocks away from the great poet’s house, and never knew we were that close.
‘Abraham’s Family’: New musical illuminates common ground, value of respect the three Abrahamic faiths can share
At a table inside a Denny’s in Terre Haute on a July night in 2012, a trio of theatrical writers conjured a bold idea.
They considered creating a musical based on the story of Abraham, a religious figure to whom three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — trace their ancestries.
Musical explorer: Quest to see the world is a full-circle journey for Marshall native Chris Bennett
Marshall lies 5,553 miles away from the mountains of Tahiti, far too distant to see from the French Polynesian island paradise.
The small Illinois town can’t be spotted from Germany, either. Or Los Angeles. Or Croatia.
Chris Bennett has performed in all those far-away places, and many others, but her heart needs no GPS to locate her hometown.
Legends of the Valley: Region has its share of spooky stories and paranormal tales
“It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky, it’s all together ooky,” the Wa-bash Va-al-ley!
Believe it or not — words similar to the old “Addams’ Family” TV show theme song are not far from truth in describing this region that seems to have a high concentration of the paranormal in its legends and modern-day stories — from documented bigfoot sightings, to a long-distance phone call made from inside a tomb, to a ghost at a cemetery you meet after climbing 100 steps — if you dare to count them!
‘Writing is an act of faith ...’ Visiting writer E.B. White, in Brooklin, Maine
BROOKLIN, MAINE — This town of 820 souls sits in the middle of a wonderful nowhere, its craggy toes dangling from rock ledges that hover above the blue Atlantic. For a place that doesn’t seem to have much going on, it has plenty to see, so one day this summer, my wife and I, a week or so into our New England journey, hoped to find the home of writer E.B. White, who lived nearby for over half a century.
Lessons of the Holy Land: New book explores geographic impact of small, but significant place
The appeal of a book based on the geography of a small stretch of land 4,000 years ago might seem limited.
The key is location, location, location, as a real-estate agent might say.
The focal point of a new release involving Terre Haute authors and editors is a place 50 miles wide and 145 miles long — about 10,000 square miles total, or the size of Vermont. The story of that state in 2000 B.C. might garner a niche audience.
River of inspiration: Adventurous spirit leads artist to paint sights up, down the Wabash
Nancy Nichols-Pethick slogged through knee-deep mud in the woods near New Harmony last month. Her quest was to find the ideal view of the Wabash River and sketch the scenery.
Practical knowledge: Retired Parke County resident dedicated career to values, educational bent Extension offers
Being a “guide on the side” with a desire to serve others recently garnered Parke County resident Mark Spelbring the Indiana Extension Educator’s Association’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Career Award.
‘The road less traveled’: The Indiana National Road Association encourages exploration, preservation of ‘the road that built America’
Its significance cannot be overstated. Its past is our past. Our future will be a product of the opportunities it provided. In a young, thriving nation, it loosened the dam on economic development and provided a route for the open floodgates of prosperity. It was the great migration route west. It holds 200 years of history to be uncovered and discovered.
“It” is the Historic National Road, the nation’s first “superhighway.”
Visiting Emily: 'New feet within my garden go...'
In an early stillness that belied the busy streets just outside the door, my wife and I stood in the cool back porch of poet Emily Dickinson’s imposing old house. It was a humid June morning, one that had turned warm after an overnight rain, and there were few visitors to the home of the strange woman who once said, “I sing, as the boy does by the burying ground, because I am afraid.”
Points of interest along the Wabash: Small towns along southern stretch of river offer peaceful sights, historic stops
A drive along highways running parallel to the Wabash River’s southern miles offers peaceful sights.
Points of interest along the Wabash: A few public access points provide unique peeks at river communities
While giving a presentation on the Wabash to a gathering of Indiana State University’s Osher Lifelong Living Institute in June, river enthusiast Brendan Kearns asked how many people in the audience had been “on the river.”
Points of interest along the Wabash: Parks, diners, nightspots — even ice skating — surround Wabash at Lafayette
LAFAYETTE — Lafayette and West Lafayette share the liveliest riverfront on the Wabash.
The most compelling sights depend upon a visitor’s tastes.
Points of interest along the Wabash: Small northern Indiana towns display Wabash front-and-center
BLUFFTON — A quest to see the white limestone bedrock that gave the Wabash River its name requires tenacity.
The Miami Native American tribe labeled the waterway “waapaashiki,” meaning “water over white stones,” describing the clear river they witnessed in its upper reaches in northern Indiana. Their moniker morphed to “Ouabache” by French fur traders to the pioneers’ Anglicized “Wabash.” The river water appeared clearer in those Native Americans’ days than now, thanks to a murky tint from sediment and nutrients.
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: Sustainability hubs will leave the world a better place
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TRIED ’N’ TRUE: You can’t tell there’s Velveeta in this fudge
At Christmastime we make sweets, candy, cookies, etc. When we were in State Soil and Water, we would bring cookies and candy for the last night at the meetings. A friend of mine, Marie Bunting, brought this fudge recipe and samples.
Usher in the holiday season with … ‘The Sound of Christmas’
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Hatfield Hall will usher in the holiday season with “The Sound of Christmas,” featuring Elisabeth von Trapp and the Carolian Brass, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Community School of Arts open house features steel sculpture
Indiana State University’s Community School of the Arts will host an open house from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at Turman Art Gallery in the Fine Arts Building, 649 Chestnut St.
The open house will present an opportunity to meet the teachers, learn more about spring 2014 offerings and register for classes and private music lessons. On display in the Turman Gallery will be artwork created by adult students participating in “Metal Sculpture” and “Digital Photography” classes and children participating in “Saturday Art Day.” There will be a special performance by the “Terre Haute Guitar Club,” and guests can enter a drawing to win a free spring arts class.
Bridgeton to host Country Christmas celebration this weekend
Bridgeton will host its annual Country Christmas celebration from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The shops will be open and full of gifts.
GRAPE SENSE: ‘Today’s Bordeaux’ campaign features more affordable wines
There is an old saying among wine enthusiasts: “The more you drink wine, the more you gravitate toward the French.”
And if you haven’t heard that one, certainly you’ve read and heard people talk about expensive French Bordeaux wines.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: A good bread for dishes like spaghetti or lasagna
I have made this bread for many years. It is wonderful with spaghetti or lasagna. I’m not sure where the recipe came from. We all love garlic bread. If you are just starting to make bread, this is a good one. I have taken this bread to the field, carry-in dinners, just about everywhere.
Comedienne Chonda Pierce coming to Indiana Theatre
Southern charm blended with some sass, wit and a woman’s view of the world’s quirks produce comedienne Chonda Pierce’s “Girl Talk.”
Music, cookies and Santa Nov. 23 at ‘Christmas at the Cecilian’
The Sinfonietta Pops Orchestra concert “Christmas at the Cecilian” sets the mood for the holidays with music, punch and cookies and a visit from St. Nicholas. The concert begins at 3 p.m. Saturday in Cecilian Auditorium at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
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