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Answer Man: Graham's ties to Rochester go way back

Billy Graham
Billy Graham talks to local Rochester media during an interview in the early 1970s.
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Dear Answer Man, I recall that the late Rev. Billy Graham had ties to Minnesota, Rochester and the Mayo Clinic. Was he here often? — The parishioner

Graham’s ties to our fair state go almost all the way back to the start of his ministry. He founded his organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in Minneapolis in 1950, and it was the group’s headquarters for nearly half a century. Before that, in 1947, he was hired as president of Northwestern Bible College, also in Minneapolis.

In 1986, he was the keynote speaker at the ceremonies in Jacksonville, Fla., when Mayo opened its group practice there.

And, for many years in between, Graham was a familiar face in the Med City. The mighty Post Bulletin archives are replete with interviews Graham granted to our reporters.

In 1970, he answered questions from Pauline Walle on the topic of women’s liberation. "Jesus dignified women on a scale they’d never known before," he said.

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In February 1971, Graham, then 52, had surgery at Methodist Hospital to remove a blocked salivary gland. He returned that December for a checkup. "They told me I am in good shape except for the slight elevation in blood pressure for which I have to take medication," he told Ken McCracken. Doctors "had me running on a treadmill this morning" as part of the checkup.

In 1973, here for treatment of high blood pressure, he talked to McCracken again, this time about criticism he was facing for not trying to help end the Vietnam War through his friendship with President Nixon. "History will have to judge whether his decisions were right or wrong," Graham said.

In 1976, Graham was treated here for an old back ailment, taking time to visit with McCracken again, sharing thoughts on his health, diet and exercise regimen, U.S. leadership in the world, his plans to write two books, and his talks with country singer Johnny Cash about filming a movie, "A Man in Black." "Johnny has had a rugged life, and his story should make an excellent movie," Graham said.

In 1977, he was admitted to Methodist Hospital after complaining of pain in his left leg. He was treated for phlebitis, an inflammation and clogging of a vein. His health prevented him from attending Jimmy Carter’s inauguration — an invitation he declined by phone from his bed at Methodist Hospital.

In 1979, Graham, again in Rochester for a routine checkup, was nearly mobbed "with well wishes and greetings" after he slipped into the back of Rochester’s First Baptist Church during a service. "He likes to be just part of the congregation and join in the service," the Rev. Paul Siewert explained.

In 1985, while here for an angiogram at Saint Marys Hospital, Graham talked to Ken McCracken about the then-upcoming summit meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, saying that it "may be the most important political event of this decade. … I would like to call upon all the people of the world to pray for this summit."

This list could go on and on and on, but there’s room here for just one more of Graham’s ties — his son, Nelson, in 1979 married a former Mayo nurse, Carol Lee Kolden, whom Nelson met at the clinic while recuperating from a leg injury suffered in a fall. The wedding was performed on the front lawn of the family home in Montreat, N.C. And the pastor performing the ceremony? Do you even have to ask?

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