Northwestern names building after Billy Graham

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2011 - 8:37 PM

The renowned minister was president of the Christian college in Roseville from 1948 to 1952.

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Roseville Mayor Dan Roe, Will Graham, Billy Graham's grandson, and Northwestern College President Alan Cureton celebrated the ribbon cutting and dedication of the Billy Graham Community Life Commons at Northwestern College in St. Paul on Friday, 10/7/2011. Earlier, Graham talked about his grandfather's legacy and deep roots in Minnesota. Billy Graham served as president of Northwestern College in the 1940's and 1950's.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Billy Graham returned to Minnesota Friday -- in words at least -- when Northwestern College in Roseville dedicated a new campus building to their former president. It is the only structure in Minnesota named for the preacher who launched a worldwide ministry here more than 60 years ago.

Graham didn't make it to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Billy Graham Community Life Commons building at the Christian liberal arts school where he was president from 1948 to 1952.

But William Graham IV attended the event and read a letter written by his grandfather.

"I am never comfortable having my name on buildings and organizations, but because of my deep appreciation for Northwestern, I am overwhelmed that you would name the new building in my honor," the letter states.

Graham, who turns 93 on Nov. 7, moved his evangelical headquarters from Minneapolis to North Carolina in 2004. He tends to stay close to home in Montreat, N.C., where he has the 24-hour care of a nurse. He suffers from Parkinson's-like symptoms and fading eyesight caused by macular degeneration.

But he still meets with religious leaders and other prominent figures almost daily. His 30th book, "Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well," comes out this month.

Maybe one more sermon

Will Graham says his grandfather would love to preach at least one more time. The family has considered videotaping a sermon from his home, though nothing has been finalized.

"His mind is sharp; it's just physically tough for him to get around," said Will Graham.

A North Carolina native and ordained Southern Baptist minister, Billy Graham attended schools in the South but eventually made his way to the Midwest, attending Wheaton College in Illinois in the early 1940s. He was a church pastor before being asked to become Northwestern's second president at the age of 30.

It was during his tenure as president of Northwestern that Graham's world-renowned ministry was born. He established the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis in 1950.

"For him, this was a pivotal part of in his life, these four years [at Northwestern]," said Will Graham. "He's got such fond memories. A lot of the people that helped him run this school ended up helping him run the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. For him, Northwestern was his hub. This is really the beginning."

Student center is a good fit

The new 70,000-square-foot building bearing Graham's name contains the campus dining center, student lounges and study areas, office and meeting space and a prayer chapel.

"Our alumni would tell us that when he was president you could most likely find him talking with the students, engaging in conversation," said Amy Bragg Carey, vice president of institutional advancement for Northwestern. "And so we think it's fitting that this building is named in his honor."

She said the commons is one of only a few buildings in the country named for Graham.

"Wheaton College has their center. And then of course in North Carolina ... with the headquarters there. But here in Minneapolis, where he had his ministry for so many years, you cannot find his name on a building. We really felt like this was an appropriate thing for Northwestern ... and really for the state of Minnesota."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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