The famed evangelist Billy Graham passed away yesterday. He was 99 years old.

Billy was well know for his fiery passion from the pulpit, but long before Billy Graham became a religious icon around the world, he delivered a sermon that inspired young people in Grand Rapids in 1947. We found a copy of the poster promoting the event.

Before there was a "Billy Graham Evangelic Association", a young preacher stepped up to the podium at the Civic Auditorium and enthralled over 6000 faithful attending a Youth for Christ rally. It was there he realized God had given him a great gift.

Graham's first sermon is remembered on the Billy Graham Archives site set up by Wheaton College in Illinois, including the colorful poster used to promote the event throughout the city.

George Benes was the man behind the poster and he recalls the event this way:

“Prayer, the timing, the novelty and professional promotion paid off. Grand Rapids was primed for Billy Graham’s first city-wide campaign. Whether the first meeting was sufficient indication that we needed to move to the Civic, I do not recall. However, all promotion, posters, news ads, and follow-up mailers all stressed the fact, “5,000 FREE SEATS.” There were bus loads from various areas — Grandville, Jenison, Sparta. Gradually hesitant church people began to respond and the final days saw the Civic filled — 5,000 seats were a lot of seats to fill night after night. As word spread, groups from as far as Holland, Michigan, Muskegon and Kalamazoo from forty and fifty and sixty miles distant, were in attendance.”

“…The dates came for the meeting. I remember Billy as a gangly boy; he didn’t have much of an appearance. I had seen him at NAE or Youth for Christ, so I did know what he looked like. He didn’t dress very sharp … because he didn’t get much remuneration. So I bought him a couple of suits here. He got a dark suit and another suit, and he looked sharp.”



More From 100.5 FM The River