Cleveland to dedicate Billy Graham Avenue

Cleveland to dedicate Billy Graham Avenue

February 19th, 2012 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Although versions of the story vary, it was in Cleveland, Tenn., where Billy Graham was called a quitter and told he wouldn't amount to much.

When the incident occurred, the now renowned evangelist had decided to withdraw from school and was in the office of college president Bob Jones Sr. at Bob Jones College.

On Friday, three blocks of a street that runs through the north end of the campus of Lee University, which occupies the campus of Graham's former school, will be officially dedicated Billy Graham Avenue.

"This makes us extremely happy," said Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who initiated the drive to rename a portion of 15th Street about five years ago.

The street is only the fifth in the United States to be sanctioned by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to carry the name.

The letter from the association's legal counsel called the decision to name such a street in Cleveland "appropriate," Rowland said.

The street, he said, practically dead-ends into Lee University's Medlin Hall (then Bachelors Hall), the building where Graham lived when he entered Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University) in 1936.

A public ceremony in which the street is dedicated will be Friday around 1:20 p.m. just outside his former dormitory. Virginia "Gigi" Graham, the evangelist's firstborn child, will assist in the ceremony, which follows a private lunch at noon. The Voices of Lee will offer music, including Graham's signature hymn, "Just as I Am."

The proposal to change the name of the street actually was approved unanimously by the Cleveland City Council in May 2008. Green street signs have been up since then, and online maps include the name.

Rowland said many Cleveland residents don't know of Graham's connections to the city. The evangelist, he said, stayed at the university about six months. While there, he sold shoes in the city's downtown area at Parks-Belk.

His first sermon, Rowland said Graham historians have told him, was delivered at Charleston (Tenn.) Methodist Church on a Sunday afternoon. His second, he said, was preached at Antioch Baptist Church on Chattanooga Pike.

However, Graham worshiped at Cleveland's First Presbyterian Church, he said.

Rowland said the latest revision of Graham's biography includes the story about the university president's confrontation with Graham in what is now the president's office of Lee University.

When the then-student informed Jones he would be withdrawing, he said, Jones told him that made him a "quitter" and that he would not be successful. Another version of the story, he said, has a not-quite-so-harsh Jones telling the student with his good voice and good delivery he still might make something of himself.

Rowland said various stories say Graham's call to the ministry came in Cleveland, while others mention Florida.

Either way, he said, it is clear he was "on the way to getting his call" when he attended Bob Jones.

Dr. Paul Conn, president of Lee University, said Graham's time in Cleveland also may have helped define the tack his ministry would take.

"I believe his decision to leave Cleveland, transferring to a different college, expressed an attitude toward Christian ministry which played out in larger dimensions throughout his life," he said. "He left not merely for a warmer Florida climate but for a more open, inclusive view of the kingdom of God.

He rejected what he apparently regarded as a too-confining fundamentalism at Bob Jones College in favor of a more expansive evangelical approach. That way of understanding ministry, expressed in his simple decision to transfer from one college to another, became the defining characteristic of his career for the next three-quarters of a century."

Bob Jones College, which moved to Greenville, S.C., in 1947, presented the evangelist an honorary doctorate in 1948.

Beecher Hunter, president of Cleveland-based Life Care Centers of America, said it's appropriate the city once designated as "the buckle on the Bible Belt" have a street named for Graham.

Graham himself was invited, according to Hunter, but is too ill to attend.

"It's a truly remarkable family," he said, his company having been a national sponsor for Graham's son Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse ministry since 1995. "I wish it was possible he could come."