The Rev. Billy Graham was born on a dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, some 99-years ago. He was raised by strict Presbyterian parents. When Prohibition was lifted for example, their father forced Billy and his sister, Katherine to drink beer until they were both sick, which created an aversion, in both of them, to alcohol and drugs.

As a lad, Graham was devastated when he was turned down for membership in a local youth group because he was “too worldly.” It so happened at the time that there was a series of revival meetings going on in Charlotte and one of their farm hands encouraged the lad to attend, which set him on his life-long journey. According to the Billy Graham Center, he was converted in 1934 at the age of 16 during that revival meeting.

After graduating from Sharon High School, Graham attended the Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee. After one semester he got discouraged and was almost expelled, but Bob Jones Sr. warned him not to throw his life away. “At best, all you could amount to would be a poor country Baptist preacher somewhere out in the sticks... You have a voice that pulls. God can use that voice of yours mightily.”

Graham transferred to the Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida. In his autobiography, Graham writes that he “received his calling on the 18th green of the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club.” The Rev. Billy Graham Memorial Park is located today on the Hillsborough River directly east from the 18th green and across from where Graham often paddled a canoe to a small island in the river, where he would preach to the birds, alligators and cypress stumps. Graham eventually graduated from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, with a degree in anthropology.

It was at Wheaton that he met a fellow classmate, Ruth Bell, whose parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China, where Ruth was born. Graham wrote: “I saw her walking down the road towards me and I couldn't help but stare. She looked at me and when our eyes met, I felt that she was definitely the woman I wanted to marry.” Ruth said that she “wanted to please God more than any man I'd ever met.” They were married two months after graduation and later lived in a log cabin designed by Ruth in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Montreat, North Carolina. They had five children, all of whom are in the ministry, 19 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

While serving as a pastor of the Village Church of Western Springs, Illinois, not far from Wheaton, his friend Torrey Johnson told Graham that his radio program, “Songs in the Night,” was about to be cancelled for lack of funding. Consulting with members of his congregation, Graham decided to take over Johnson's program with financial support from his parishioners. Launching the new radio program on January 2, 1944, still called “Songs in the Night,” Graham recruited the baritone George Beverly Shea as his director of radio ministry. That broadcast continued for a few years and became the forerunner of the “Hour of Decision,” a weekly radio broadcast heard around the world for more than 50 years, regular television specials broadcast in prime time in almost every market in Canada and the U.S., and his syndicated newspaper column “My Answer” carried by hundreds of newspapers across the country.

Billy Graham counseled or met with every president in the White House from Harry Truman in 1950 to Barack Obama, except for John Kennedy, and that was because Kennedy was Catholic. Harry Truman had less than flattering words about Graham, but the evangelist became close friends with Nixon, Regan and the Bush family, even though Graham was himself a Democrat.

Reference: The Billy Graham Center.

The public is invited to hear Civil War expert Terry Elliott explain how the Civil War guerrillas led to the Oklahoma outlaws following the war before the Civil War Roundtable of Western Missouri, at 7 p.m. March 14, at the Village Heights Community of Christ Church, 1009 Farview Drive, Independence.