Billy Graham Center
Collection 74 - Anne Blackburn Fryga . T61 Transcript
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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Anne Blackburn Fryga (CN 74, T61) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English. Foreign terms or phrases which may be unfamiliar appear in italics.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Bob Shuster, Katherine Graber and Paul Bartow was completed in February 2014.
Collection 74, T61. Interview of Anne Blackburn Fryga by Bob Shuster on May 24, 2010.
FRYGA: ...another thing. Yeah, really [laughs].
SHUSTER: Uh, Mrs. Fryga, this is Bob Shuster from the Billy Graham Center Archives.
FRYGA: Yes. Well I’m...been expecting your call.
SHUSTER: Good, now I’m recording this interview, is that okay?
FRYGA: Yes, that’s fine.
SHUSTER: Alright, well, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed this morning. I’ll...just ask you those questions I sent you and you can recall...answer as longly or as shortly as you want.
SHUSTER: Okay, let me just give a brief introduction and we’ll begin.
SHUSTER: This is an interview with Anne Blackburn Fryga [pauses] is that right...?
SHUSTER: By Bob Shuster for the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College. It took place over the telephone on May 24th, 2010...at 9:00 Eastern Standard Time. Um...why don’t we begin when and where you were born?
FRYGA: I was born in Georgia. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and was serving down there. So I was born in Coffee County, Georgia [laughs].
SHUSTER: Oh, and when was that?
FRYGA: December the eighth, 1920.
SHUSTER: And uh...when and how did you first meet Billy Graham?
FRYGA: Well, I went to Old Columbia Bible College...in...for my college education first. That...CIU they call it now. Columbia International University. And there, I was in classes with Billy’s sister, Katherine. And I met the mother at one occasion when she came to visit Katherine and of course, we knew about Billy. He was back and forth. I’m not sure where he was at the time but he wasn’t a student there. But we knew about Billy at that time.
SHUSTER: What did you know about him?
FRYGA: Well, he was a very attractive...young man. And an excellent Christian in his life.
SHUSTER: You mentioned you were classmates with Katherine.
SHUSTER: How would you describe her?
FRYGA: I...really did not know her very well because I was a day student. I lived in Columbia and I was back and forth from home to the college until my senior year. And I was not very close to Katherine, but I did know who she was.
SHUSTER: Did...and you said you met Morrow Coffey Graham, Katherine and Billy’s mother?
FRYGA: Yes, yes.
SHUSTER: How would you describe her?
FRYGA: A very dignified...just a typical sweet, southern lady.
SHUSTER: And did you say how you first met Billy Graham?
FRYGA: I really don’t remember other than knowing about him. But...I’ll have to tell you that later, as I was going back and forth to the Columbia Bible College conference grounds, Ben Lippen conference at Ashville, North Carolina, I would go up and work in the dining room and enjoy some of the conferences. And Billy would be up there enjoying the conferences too. And at one point Billy wanted to date a friend of mine, Austin Averett [?] who was in college with me at Columbia Bible College. And Austin was from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Back in those days, you had to have...a chaperone to go in an automobile [both laugh] yes. And Billy wanted to take us to...Craggy Mountain [North Carolina] to see the beautiful flowers there. The rhododendrons were in bloom. So Billy fixed up a date for me. And we sat on the back seat, I don’t even remember the guy’s name [both laugh]. But anyway, we had a great time. It was raining enough...this date of mine and I sat in...as we got up there to see the flowers, we didn’t go down the trail because it was very misty. But Billy took his date down and back again. Really, Austin was not responding too well. I’m sure God didn’t have her in mind for Billy’s mate. But now that was about as close a relationship as I had with Billy before I got to Wheaton. You see, I graduated in 1942 from Columbia Bible College and then I wanted to get a degree for teaching in the public school.
FRYGA: So that’s why I went to Wheaton. Columbia Bible College did not offer that at the time. So...I went to Wheaton then...in January of ‘43. And you see, Billy was on campus.
FRYGA: We had...
SHUSTER: If I can just ask you a question first, you had mentioned that a chaperone was required on your date. Was that a requirement of the Ben Lippen Conference because...?
FRYGA: Oh yes! Yes.
SHUSTER: Oh. And what did Billy look like at that time? What was his appearance?
FRYGA: Oh! He was very good looking! Yes, always has been! Very desirable date for a good Christian girl, yes! [Shuster laughs] That’s what he was.
SHUSTER: Why do you say that? What made him a good date?
FRYGA: Oh well, because he was such an outstanding...well, a gentleman and he was a devoted Christian at that time. And we could tell that God was going to do something great with him.
SHUSTER: Do you recall what the four of you talked about as you were driving up to the mountain?
FRYGA: Well, I don’t know that we did too much spiritual talk [laughs] as we were going up to Craggy but we were getting acquainted with, you know, our life and what we wanted to do and so forth. We knew that Billy was going into the ministry.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. You...and then you mentioned that you went to Wheaton to get the education credits to become a teacher.
SHUSTER: Why go all the way up north to Wheaton? I’m sure there must have been closer schools.
FRYGA: Well, I tell you. I had to run away from home to do that. My father was a very strict Presbyterian minister and he felt like only through him the Lord would direct his girls. So he did not let me have a job of any kind. I was supposed to stay at home and be an old fashioned type of girl, just at home. And I had all of this wonderful experience at Columbia Bible College and I was anxious to teach Bible in the public schools and had an offer of a job, but my father wouldn’t let me take it. So I got my aunt’s approval to go to Wheaton and I had several of my friends from Columbia Bible College that were at Wheaton at the time...
FRYGA: taking degrees other than, you know after they had graduated at Columbia Bible College. So many of us did that you know, so...that’s why...one reason I went up there. And another reason I went was because I needed to prove to the young man that I was in love with that I would go to any lengths to be with him. [Laughs].
SHUSTER: Was he also attending Wheaton?
FRYGA: No. [Laughs] He was...he was...had to leave Columbia Bible College and he was preparing to be a Methodist minister. So Michael Fryga went to...had to go to Emory - Candler School of Theology. And he had a rather rough time there, but anyway [both laugh]. He got through later, yes, and he did visit me while I was at Wheaton and that’s where he finally popped the question [Shuster laughs] and the first time he kissed me was on the steps of the Tower [both laugh] and then after that...and we were officially engaged at his mentor’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina. You see, a Methodist minister had adopted him and so that’s why he became a Methodist. But anyway, back to the engagement. After I got my ring, and visited him in Charlotte, North Carolina then I had the bell rung in the Tower.
SHUSTER: The Tower of course...
FRYGA: That’s the way we announced the engagement!
SHUSTER: Yes, still do. They still....college students still do that at Wheaton.
FRYGA: Oh is that right?
SHUSTER: Yeah, the Tower of course is the Bell Tower at Blanchard Hall.
FRYGA: Oh yes!
SHUSTER: Yes. Let me ask you, what was it like for you, a Southerner, being at a Northern school like Wheaton?
FRYGA: Well, it wasn’t as.... I got along alright because I had friends there already. But...it wasn’t as...as relaxed and as folksy as we [laughs] are down South. No, it was a little more rigid.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. What was Billy’s reputation on campus? How was he regarded here at Wheaton?
FRYGA: Well, he was well thought of and...you see that was just one semester.
FRYGA: Billy and Ruth graduated in ‘43.
FRYGA: Yes, well, so I went up in January of ‘43. And I was with them. Ruth was a friend of mine too because our fathers had corresponded with each other about some theological matters. And I was, you know, I was really charmed with Ruth. And having known Billy already before that, I was very pleased. But now about Billy’s reputation on campus. He was quite a leader and everybody thought well of him. He was just a charming personality, and I can remember he would get up on the parapet of the steps of the Stupe. Now, you know what the Stupe was, that’s where the....
SHUSTER: Sure, it’s like a soda fountain or....
FRYGA: Yeah, yeah. And that was where we would go and get our Coke and relax and go to the post office there at the Stupe. And there would always be a bunch of students hanging around. So Billy would jump up on the parapet on the, you know, the riser near, above the step and expound the crowd [both laugh]. And I can well remember the most outstanding thing that he said was encouraging us as we went into Christian service to use the media, the electronics, the newest and...well, of course at that time it was the radio. And now, he you know was encouraging us and he did. He used the radio so much when....you know that was a great help to him in his beginnings. And then later of course, television.
FRYGA: And God has blessed that so much in his life. In fact, I get some of Billy’s old messages...
FRYGA: and all on television now at my house. And it’s still a blessing.
SHUSTER: Did....so he would just spontaneously stand up and start speaking?
FRYGA: Oh yeah! That was a day and time in which you would have street preachers you know [both laugh]. I don’t know how much Billy might have done that on the...on the streets of Chicago or whatever, but anyway, yes. He was quite a leader. And then he was asked to conduct the services in the chapel service occasionally.
SHUSTER: What was that like?
FRYGA: Well, that was....well, just like he...preached later on in life. Yes. Very much that way.
SHUSTER: How would you describe his preaching style during those sermons, during those chapel services?
FRYGA: Well, he really appealed to our young, frivolous natures and...and encouraged our close walk with the Lord and developing our message to others. Yes.
SHUSTER: You say he appealed to your young, frivolous natures. How did he do that?
FRYGA: Well, he would talk about the things that we were interested in at the time.
SHUSTER: And what were they?
FRYGA: Well, that was relationship between boys and girls. Also....I can’t remember too much. Of course, our dependence on the Lord as our source of strength and our need to witness for him. I think those were the main things that I would say about that. I don’t remember any individual illustrations. After all, that was a long time ago [laughs].
SHUSTER: Did you have any classes together?
FRYGA: Yes we did! Doctor [Henry C.] Thiessen’s Ethics and Theism. Now you know little old me [both laugh], well, I had all this good training with a lot of...when I was a child I had to memorize a catechism and the child’s catechism and then the Shorter Catechism. Westminster you know. Yes. And I had a pretty good background, but I don’t know that I was too focused on theology at the time [both laugh]. And anyway, Billy sat about five seats down. We had these long rows in front of the podium where Dr. Thiessen would stand. And Billy was forever conversing and asking questions and discussing points with Dr. Thiessen. So we considered him an unusually bright fellow [laughs] on spiritual things particularly, yes.
SHUSTER: What....do you recall any of the things that he asked about in class or any...?
FRYGA: No, I don’t. I really don’t.
SHUSTER: What kind of teacher was Dr. Thiessen?
FRYGA: Well, he was a [laughs] I would say a typical theology teacher. You had to really concentrate well to.... But he was an excellent teacher. But a little bit, you know, traditional.
SHUSTER: In what way?
FRYGA: Well, of course, all of the Wheaton professors were very biblically oriented and would always, whatever they were teaching us would go back to the basic Bible principles and focus on that, you know.
FRYGA: So that’s....
SHUSTER: You say he was a typical theological professor. What are they like?
FRYGA: [Laughs] What I mean is that you had to concentrate well because it was a workout for your mental abilities to keep your mind on the subject.
SHUSTER: His lectures were very densely packed.
FRYGA: Yes, yes, you got it there. [Laughs]. Thank you!
SHUSTER: Billy wrote in his memoirs that it was at Wheaton that he first had contact with African Americans as fellow students. Do you recall any of the black students on campus?
FRYGA: No, I don’t. In fact we did not have any, they were very scarce. I don’t remember any. I do remember in our service that we had to render, we girls had an afternoon class with elementary school children. And I had a black girl in that, you know little class that I taught. But on campus, no.
SHUSTER: This was your student teaching while you were at Wheaton? Your student....
FRYGA: Yes. That’s right.
SHUSTER: Let’s see ... I had... let’s see....Had you ever attended the Tabernacle at Wheaton when Graham was teaching there?
FRYGA: No, I did not. No.
SHUSTER: What was....how would you describe Ruth Bell as a student?
FRYGA: Well, Ruth was pretty, attractive, and a deeply spiritual girl. We enjoyed her company. She was intelligent, she was talented, you know all of that. God really picked out the right one for Billy, for a person that was going to be famous. And she was just...had a charming personality.
SHUSTER: Did...? You mentioned that she was deeply spiritual. What were the indications of that?
FRYGA: Well, she was in the dormitory, and I was living with the Campbell family a block off of campus.
FRYGA: So I was not thrown with her as much as I would be if I had been in the dormitory.
FRYGA: So....but now we were friends as we would be in the literary society and activities now. We had classes together too.
SHUSTER: What kind of student was she?
FRYGA: Well, I don’t know. She was very quiet. She wasn’t as verbal as Billy was in that ethics and theism class but she was a good student.
SHUSTER: The uh...now that semester when you were there was also a semester when Billy was president of the Christian Council on campus. Do you recall anything about his leadership there?
SHUSTER: Yep. Anything else about Billy Graham or Ruth Bell or the Wheaton campus that you recall or incidents that you want to mention?
FRYGA: Ruth had some pretty good advice for me one time when I asked her. You know we were brought up with the idea that that you didn’t...that you did not [pauses] go for extravagant things, you see. I had just come out of the Depression days and my family had really suffered from that. My father lost his job. So when I was on campus, I needed a dress coat and I had found one at Marshall Field’s [Chicago department store] that I thought was nice and had a fur collar [both laugh] that was extravagant to me. So I went to Ruth and I asked her if she thought that would be a good witness if I went that extravagant route to have a coat with a fur collar [laughs]. Yes. And she advised me that yes, the Lord could use the nicest things to witness for him, so I went out and bought the coat with the fur collar. [Both laugh].
SHUSTER: Of course a fur collar’s not an extravagance during a Wheaton winter.
FRYGA: Oh no! That was rather necessary.
SHUSTER: Indeed. Of course, you were as you mentioned, you were in Wheaton.... You came in January ‘41 and you were there until June of ‘44. Is that correct?
FRYGA: That’s correct.
SHUSTER: How did World War II affect life on campus? Or did it?
FRYGA: Oh yes, it did. We had a military contingency [contingent] there, arather large one. And two...some of...so many actually, the young men were being drafted. And I remember sitting in Chapel one day and this girl (I don’t remember her name. See, we had assigned seats) and this girl in the row in front of me was emotionally very much upset. Her boyfriend had...who had been there on campus had been drafted. And I was told (some of the girls told me) that the college allowed them to get married before he was shipped overseas. And she was sitting there weeping.
SHUSTER: Because you....
FRYGA: That’s the kind of thing that was going on. It was very hard on a good many students. Of course, they weren’t supposed to get married.
FRYGA: I think they just made an exception for this....
SHUSTER: And she was weeping because he was going overseas?
FRYGA: Yes. Well, yes, he had already been sent overseas. Yes.
SHUSTER: Did you...maintain any contact with Billy and Ruth Graham after they had graduated?
FRYGA: No. They became too famous for me. [Both laugh]. You see my...after...as soon as I finished at Wheaton (in fact, I didn’t even go to, I went back to the Baccalaureate but I didn’t go to the graduation). I hurried on down to Charlotte, North Carolina to Michael’s Methodist preacher and his wife, mentors who had adopted him and got married on June the 20th shortly after, you know. I had finished up. And....so then as we served from one pastorate to another (you know in the Methodist church, you didn’t serve more than four years at a time in any one place, but...) During our second pastorate, which was the longest pastorate we had, at a little place in Grambling, South Carolina, Billy came for a one...session preaching in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And I went to that. We encouraged our people of course to go. We always tried to get them if he was anywhere near us...but really he wasn’t near in the eight pastorates that we served in South Carolina under the Methodist church. But now in Spartanburg, I did get to speak to him after the service was over. I think that was held on the Wofford [College] campus on the football field.
SHUSTER: Yeah, according to our chronology here, that was March 19th, 1950 so that was almost exactly sixty years ago.
FRYGA: Yeah. Oh, it was? Well, I had forgotten what time that was.
SHUSTER: But you spoke to him is that...?
FRYGA: You know I was delighted that I was able to speak back then. Billy would just get down and walk off, you know. It wasn’t...he didn’t have all that famous reputation that he’d have to, you know, not to mingle with the crowd after it was over. So anyway, when I went up to him, he called me by name. He had remembered me. And I was delighted. But I want to say this about....I think that one of the greatest things that Billy’s...ministry has taught us in our ministry was that...that prayer...if you have a backing up of prayer, that God will pour out His Spirit upon you. That it’s really nothing that you are going to do in your strength. But God will with the Holy Spirit and the backing of prayer can use you in a wonderful way and we will never do anything successful for the Lord giving out the message of Lord Jesus until we are backing it up with prayer. And that has gone with us all through. You know, Billy emphasized that so much, that he couldn’t do anything without organized prayer. For instance, in Spartanburg, there were groups of...of prayer going on a long time before he ever came to preach. And that was true about everything that he did from then on, always.
SHUSTER: And these have been organized by his...his staff ahead of time or...?
FRYGA: Oh yes! Well, in making contact with the leaders, the church leaders, in different communities.
SHUSTER: Did you see evidence of his prayer life when he was a student?
FRYGA: Well, no more so than any of the other students really, you know.
SHUSTER: You had mentioned about going to Wheaton in order to get your teacher’s degree and to teach Bible in public schools. Did you teach Bible in public schools?
FRYGA: No, I didn’t. As a minister’s wife, I’ve been...had all kind of jobs teaching in the Sunday school. One place I organized the young adult class which is named for me now and still keeps up with me after all of these years [Shuster laughs]. And then, oh, all kind of things. In retirement here in West Columbia, I go to a Methodist church and I was...I have various offices in that - staff-parish relations committee which helped to organize...approach the people that we needed on staff and that kind of thing. And then I was a president of The Young at Heart, which was the retired people’s organization.
SHUSTER: Anything else you’d like to add?
FRYGA: Well, I’ve always been delighted to tell people that I was in college with Billy and Ruth Graham when they wanted to know about my spiritual [laughs] training and so forth. And yes, you know, you need to let people know that you’re not a radical and all these things. And it’s been a blessing to me to have been thrown with the famous people who have done so much for the Lord through the years. And I have supported the BGEA, and I now support Franklin Graham. I encourage our young people to do the shoe boxes for Christmas. And have the feedback of the wonderful messages that are in print that encourage young people.
SHUSTER: The shoe boxes of course are done by Samaritan’s Purse to distributed...small gift that are distributed to children at Christmas time.
FRYGA: Yes, yes.
SHUSTER: Let me ask you too, just occurred to me, did you happen to know Grady Wilson when he was at Wheaton?
FRYGA: No, I didn’t.
SHUSTER: Well, I guess that’s...I wanted to thank you again for being willing to be interviewed. You give a very human and pleasant picture of Billy Graham at Wheaton and I am grateful for your willingness to share it this morning.
FRYGA: Well, God has really used him and we’re always so thankful that we have been touched by his life in a personal way.
END OF TAPE
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