By Mark Rhoads
The recent death of Ruth Bell Graham, wife of Rev. Billy Graham, recalls a very early entry in summer 2006 to this Illinois Hall of Fame feature series in Illinois Review. Billy and Ruth met at Wheaton College in Du Page County when both were students there during World War II. There is a legend in my family that on their honeymoon night, Billy and Ruth only drove as far from Wheaton as my grandmother's house in Western Springs because gas rationing severely limited their radius.
My grandparents were wonderful people but if the story is true, it would not seem like the most romantic venue for a honeymoon. My grandparents Burton and Amanda Clark Rhoads were a deacon and deaconess of the Village Baptist Church in Western Springs and they were among those who made the decision to hire Billy Graham for his first and only job as a regular associate pastor and then a pastor of a local church. He served in Western Springs about a year and a half before moving on to Campus Crusade for Christ, radio ministries, and other activities in late 1945.
Because of the worldwide fame of Billy Graham, we sometimes overlook the independent fame, great musical talent, and recording success of Graham's close friend and associate---and a Western Springs, Illinois resident for 62 years---who is now 98 years old. George Beverly Shea was born in Winchester, Ontario, Canada on Feb. 1, 1909. He has become one of the most popular and long-lived gospel singers in the world. Bev's father was a minister of the Weslyan Church and Bev sang in the church choir in Ottawa. The family moved to upstate New York and Bev supported himself with insurance sales and tried his hand as a commercial radio announcer. Bev eventually moved to Chicago to announce and sing for Radio Station WMBI, owned by the Moody Bible Institute.