( ) 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 September 2013.
Collection 74, T756. Interview of Betty Kraklan Dresser by Robert Shuster on July 27, 2010.
SHUSTER: This is an interview of Betty Kraklan Dresser by Bob Shuster for the archives of the Billy Graham Center. It took place on July 27th, 2010 at eleven o’clock central standard time over the telephone. So, Mrs. Dresser...very appreciative for you willing to being interviewed. You wanted to say something to start with?
DRESSER: Oh I was just...it will come out in the interview. I know...I hadn’t...I’m not a personal friend or didn’t have a personal relationship with Billy Graham. But that will come out of the context I had.
SHUSTER: Sure. And we just wanted to talk with people who had been classmates and can talk a little about what they remember about him and also about Wheaton at the time that you were both students there.
DRESSER: Okay. Uh-huh.
SHUSTER: So let me ask you first: when and where were you born?
DRESSER : I was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan in February of 1924. A long time ago.
SHUSTER: And your maiden name was Kraklan, is that right?
DRESSER : That’s right.
SHUSTER: And what years were you at Wheaton?
DRESSER: I was in ‘42 to ‘46.
SHUSTER: And why did you choose to go to Wheaton College, of all the colleges in the US?
DRESSER: I chose to go to Wheaton because I had just become a Christian and I wanted to go someplace where there was a Christian atmosphere and where everyone else.... Where I didn’t have to fight the things I had to fight with in high school.
SHUSTER : Such as?
DRESSER: Such as parties and drinking and drunkenness and people getting sick at parties and things like that.
SHUSTER: How did you hear about Wheaton?
DRESSER: Through my church I believe. Our pastor.... There were people from Wheaton at our church, and I heard that it was a really good Christian school.
SHUSTER: And when and where did you first see Billy Graham?
DRESSER: [Sighs] I . . . probably just on campus. I can remember seeing him on campus, and I was a freshman. And so he was an upper class man.
DRESSER: I remember seeing he and Ruth one time on the steps of the Stupe (which was where we had our...went for recreation or things to eat, snacks and stuff). And just looking up to them because they were upper class men and they were a very nice-looking couple [Shuster chuckles] and had a wonderful testimony.
SHUSTER: Well what did he look like? What was his physical appearance at that time?
DRESSER: That time? Well he was tall and thin and very nice looking. Had a shock of hair, blond hair combed back. And had an intensity about him, I guess you could say.
SHUSTER: How do you mean intensity?
DRESSER: Well [pauses] he was just...I guess you’d say passionate would be the feel that was just around him. I guess enthusiasm. I don’t know how else to describe it.
SHUSTER: And that was something that was obvious even when he started...when he was just sitting around campus or was that something later?
DRESSER: Oh yes, I think it was obvious.
SHUSTER: You said they both had a very nice testimony. What do you mean by that?
DRESSER: Well they were just...it just seemed.... I didn’t know them, but seeing them around campus, they were very...I’m sure I heard things about them or...or there was...they was speaking at campus...I can’t remember specific times but.... It just...you knew that they loved the Lord.
SHUSTER: Now you were an anthropology major, is that right?
DRESSER: That’s right.
SHUSTER: So you had Professor [Alexander] Grigolia...
DRESSER: Yes I did.
SHUSTER: ...as a teacher?
DRESSER: That’s really why I became an anthropology major. It was over Dr. Grigolia.
SHUSTER: Oh because....
DRESSER: He was such a good teacher and challenging and just opened up a whole new way of looking at things and...mankind, etcetera.
SHUSTER: So what was the...what was the way that he opened up to you? What was the kind...what was his philosophy?
DRESSER: Well basically cultural anthropology. I’ve been racking my brain, but I can’t remember. He had a famous quote that we all said about something about...all people...everywhere people are.... I can’t remember the quote. And...but it just....
SHUSTER: What was the essence of it? What was the idea of the quote?
DRESSER : That the idea was that we all had...everybody was the same in one way but they all had different expressions of being the same or something like that. I can’t...I wish I could remember it.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that he was a very good teacher. What made him a good teacher?
DRESSER : Well for one thing he was interesting, and it was fresh [chuckles].
SHUSTER: It was fresh you say?
DRESSER: Yeah. It wasn’t something that he had just memorized and put back to you. He made you...made you want to learn more.
SHUSTER: What was his style as a teacher? How did he...how did he...?
DRESSER: That I don’t really remember much of how his style was. I ... I ... I think he lectured a lot. But I don’t really....
SHUSTER: Did you have field trips or outings in the class?
DRESSER: I really don’t remember anything like that. My memory is rather dim. It was a long time ago.
SHUSTER: Oh well [laughs] it was a long time ago I’m sure. Was Billy Graham in any of your classes? He was also an anthropology major.
DRESSER: I know. But I don’t think I got into anthropology until after Billy Graham was gone.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. There was also...he was also preaching on Sundays at the United Gospel Tabernacle in Wheaton.
DRESSER : I went to the Tabernacle.
SHUSTER: Oh, what was the Tabernacle like?
DRESSER: Well, since it was a Masonic Temple, to me, my memory is that it was really dark. There was light in the place by what was preached but the Tabernacle was not very conducive to worship, to....
SHUSTER: You mean physically was very dark?
DRESSER: Yes. And probably that went with the Masonic Temple, I’m not sure. But it was...it was on the upper floor. And...it was arranged just with chairs. It didn’t...it wasn’t (as I remember it) there wasn’t very much transformation of...physical facility for a church, but just setting up to have chairs for the students and people to come to church.
SHUSTER: So there was just folding chairs in a large...auditorium or hall?
DRESSER: I don’t even remember that. It didn’t seem to me if it was folding chairs, but I don’t really remember. I think it was straight chairs, as best as I can remember.
SHUSTER: Sure. How many people usually were there?
DRESSER: [Sighs] If I would remember (which I didn’t really count then), I would say from twenty-five to forty, I guess, I would say. Or maybe forty would be on the high side I think. But maybe it was more than that.
SHUSTER: And what did the service consist of?
DRESSER: [Pauses] I think...I don’t remember specifically . But singing, a couple of opening songs and maybe some announcements and someone preaching. Billy especially.
SHUSTER: Were there testimonies?
DRESSER: I don’t remember.
SHUSTER: What...you mentioned that Billy preached. What was his preaching like? [Train in background].
DRESSER: Well, it always...he always had that fire about him and about his preaching and basically that’s what drew you in and challenged you and brought you closer. You felt closer to the Lord. And also you felt challenged to...to continue on and be a real witness to the Lord.
SHUSTER: So he also preached Christian life sermons or Christian walk kind of sermons?
DRESSER: Yeah, I would say. Yeah, I would say.
SHUSTER: Do you recall any particular sermons?
DRESSER: No, I’m sorry I don’t.
SHUSTER: Or any...any other anecdotes relating to his preaching at the Tabernacle?
DRESSER: [Sighs] No, I just think a lot of the students went there because there was...it was just like a...like a move of God where the young people are involved. And there was just a sense of the fire of youth, I guess you’d say, there.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that students went there. Were there people from the town there?
DRESSER: [Pauses] There were other people there, older people, as far as I as a student was concerned but I don’t remember a lot of other people there. I mean I don’t remember who was there. I just remember basically students and people from the college. And there were...I’m sure there were townspeople there too. Different...you know, different older people.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that Billy Graham was one of the people who would preach there. Who were some of the other people you heard preach there?
DRESSER: Well I knew some of the professors that preached there. But I don’t even remember much about it.
SHUSTER: Do you remember any of their names or who they were?
DRESSER: Well, your saying reminded me. I knew all those professors that.... Dr. [Gordon] Clark and Dr. [Victor] Edman. Dr. Cleveland. I knew them from college, so.
SHUSTER: Do you actually remember them preaching at the Tabernacle?
DRESSER: I remember different ones preaching at different times. But I can’t say that I remember specifically which ones preached which or anything.
SHUSTER: When Billy preached, did he give an invitation?
DRESSER: I think he always gave an invitation.
SHUSTER: And what kind of response was there?
DRESSER: There was always a good response. But I don’t really.... It doesn’t stick in my mind what the response was.
SHUSTER: Anything else you wanted to say about the Tabernacle?
DRESSER: No. It’s.... I came...I had just been a new Christian . So coming to Wheaton was just very, very fulfilling for me. And so the Tabernacle just added that.
SHUSTER: Was that the only church you went to in Wheaton or...?
DRESSER: No, I had gone...I had sampled other churches. Actually, I went to the Bible class with [long pause] Dr. Wiest [?]. He taught at the Bible Church I think.
SHUSTER: So you went to the Bible Church as well
DRESSER: I went to the Sunday school class there. That was probably later in my time at Wheaton.
SHUSTER: I know that Billy also preached in chapel at the college. Do you recall any of those occasions?
DRESSER: I really don’t.
SHUSTER: Okay. He was also...during his senior year and your freshman year, he was president of the Christian Council. Do you recall anything about his work there?
DRESSER: No I don’t. I was involved in some, you know whisp of Christian Council I think from the very beginning, but maybe more later on.
SHUSTER: Oh, what did you do...?
DRESSER : I would go to Chicago and ride the El [elevated train] and try to pick up conversations with people to lead them to the Lord. That was one of the big things we were doing at that time.
SHUSTER: So you would just sit down with people on the elevated train and just...begin a conversation and start witnessing to them?
SHUSTER: How did people respond?
DRESSER: Depends on the situation . Sometimes there were good things, sometimes there were you know, just very nice conversation but nothing . And sometimes it was not...
SHUSTER: Do any of those occasions stick out in your mind?
DRESSER: No they don’t.
SHUSTER: How did it affect you personally going out and witnessing in that way? You said you were a new Christian?
DRESSER: Oh. I really had the desire to have people come to know the Lord. So...find what I had found. And so it just was . . . it was . . .sometimes I feel it was frustrating because I’m very...I was a very bashful person so this was really...took everything that the Lord had in me to do anything [laughs].
SHUSTER: In February 1943 there was an awakening on campus. When Harold Warren was special services. Do you recall that?
DRESSER: Yes, I remember. I remember John Stuart getting up and confessing his sin of running the track team on Sunday. And that just opened up everything and confession of sin just started. Once you know, different students one after the other. I went forward one time and confessed. I don’t even know what I confessed. But...it was a wonderful time. And you felt...I think I...I was there the whole time. During those days and nights. And just...hardly could tear myself away . Feeling the cleansing of the Lord. The freedom of cleansing. And so it was a time of repentance I feel. And yet also the presence of the Lord just drew so close, and you just wanted to be there.
SHUSTER: What affect did the awakening have on you personally?
DRESSER: Personally I think it just...two things. It opened my eyes to the power of God to...to work in a revival. I...that was totally new to me, and it was...the power of God. But personally, I think it was just a very...fulfilling and I just drew close to the Lord I feel. And strengthened me as a Christian.
SHUSTER: What kind of affect did it have on campus? Was the campus the same or different afterwards?
DRESSER: Oh I remember them telling about students bringing in things they had stolen. And the piles of things that were brought in. And I remember that was surprising to me. And students confessing that they had cheated on exams or on things. Different...I can remember that clearly.
SHUSTER: And did the campus...was the campus different...
SHUSTER: Was the campus...were the students different afterwards? Was there some kind of permanent change in the campus or...?
DRESSER: Oh yes. It was different. Yes.
SHUSTER: Different in what way?
DRESSER: I just think the spiritual life of the campus just went up. There was a new joy on the campus.
SHUSTER: Do you recall any particular incidents or stories from the revival?
DRESSER: [Sighs] I can’t except the one that started off...
SHUSTER: Oh with the track star talking about racing on Sunday.
SHUSTER: Oh. Billy Graham wrote in his memoirs that Wheaton was the first time that he had African Americans as classmates. Do you remember black students at Wheaton?
DRESSER: I’m...I remember them but I don’t really remember too much about it. I came from a high school where there were a lot of African Americans, so it wasn’t anything new to me.
SHUSTER: Do you recall the names of any of the African American students or...?
DRESSER: No I don’t right now.
SHUSTER: What were race relations like on campus?
DRESSER: I don’t think it was an issue. To me it wasn’t. I don’t know. Maybe it.... That was before [laughs] things were really thought of in race relation terms. I don’t think we thought in those terms particularly. Or at least I didn’t.
SHUSTER: Now of course Billy was from North Carolina. Did he have a strong Southern accent or...?
DRESSER: [Pauses] Yes, he did. But my roommate had a stronger one [laughs].
SHUSTER: Where was your roommate from?
DRESSER: She was from Mississippi. You probably have interviewed her. Jane Levring Stam was my first roommate.
SHUSTER: I don’t...I’m not sure if we’ve interviewed her or not. Maybe.
DRESSER: Oh you ought to interview her. She’s...oh what’s her married name? I forget it now. Her husband Paul Stam died, and she remarried another Wheatonite.
SHUSTER: Oh yes, yes, we did do an interview with Jane.
SHUSTER: How was Graham regarded by other students on campus? Was he a big man on campus?
DRESSER: Oh yeah, I think so. He was looked up to as, you know, as a leader and...as especially as a Christian leader.
SHUSTER: Now you said you never had any actual personal contact with him?
DRESSER: Except at the Tabernacle shaking hands or something.
SHUSTER: I know that he and Ruth had both been involved with the Mooseheart Sunday School. Do you...did you have any connection there?
DRESSER: I heard about it, but no I didn’t have anything to do there.
SHUSTER: He also had evangelistic meetings sometimes over the weekends in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, when he was a student.
DRESSER : No, I did not.
SHUSTER: After he graduated, he was pastor for about a year at Western Springs, a nearby suburb.
DRESSER: I remember hearing the program on the radio, but I don’t remember anything specifically.
SHUSTER: So you heard the program Songs in the Night?
SHUSTER: Oh. Did you ever go to that?
DRESSER: No, I don’t think I did.
SHUSTER: Okay. Is there anything else you wanted to add about that time or about Billy Graham at Wheaton?
DRESSER: I don’t believe so.
SHUSTER: Did you have any contact after graduation?
DRESSER: Oh yes. My husband and I were in seminary in New York City when he came to do his New York evangelistic outreach. So we attended a couple of the evangelistic services there.
SHUSTER: That was in 1957?
DRESSER: Must have been [laughs].
SHUSTER: So about twelve years or so, ten years or so after graduating?
SHUSTER: What...what did you think of the services then?
DRESSER: Oh, it was just so thrilling . I just...I can remember they weren’t in a big place...I mean it was big, but it wasn’t like Madison Square Garden. At first. The one that I remember.
SHUSTER: So the meetings you were at were not at Madison Square Garden?
DRESSER: [Sighs] Maybe they were, but it seems to me it was like in a...I may be...my memory may be very wrong. It was like an auditorium or something? Or something...
SHUSTER: What years were you at seminary?
DRESSER: Let’s see. I graduated in ‘46 and I was thinking about...’48 to ‘51.
SHUSTER: Oh, ‘48 to ‘51 you were in New York.
DRESSER: Let’s see . Fifty...no. Must have been ‘48 to ‘49. We were in New York.
SHUSTER: How about yourself? What has been your...life like since graduation? What were some of the things that...
DRESSER: I’d like to go back to the Billy Graham meeting.
DRESSER: I know that what took me so by surprise is that he was...he had been there a while and yet, the sermon was good. But when the invitation was given, the tramp, tramp, tramp of people going forward just.... It was just so awesome to know that it was really (I think I felt it was the Lord pulling people and not Billy Graham). I mean, of course it was Billy Graham that was used, but it was the Lord through him. And it was awesome.
SHUSTER: How did his preaching compare with your memories of the Tabernacle?
DRESSER: Oh, he had mature . And still...but still had the same fire that he had at the Tabernacle.
SHUSTER: But how do you mean he had matured?
DRESSER: Well, there’s probably...a little more depth and a little more matured in the cutting edge, I guess, of...of evangelistic passion I guess you’d say.
SHUSTER: And yourself since graduation?
DRESSER: Well...I became a pastor’s wife and a mother. So as a mother, I just raised the family. I have a grandson at Wheaton now.
DRESSER: And one grandson that graduated from Wheaton. I...as a pastor’s wife, I basically taught Bible and in latter years I’ve taught Bible study methods and how to study the Bible. And I still do that once in a while ... at my age.
SHUSTER: And those...
DRESSER: That’s been my passion.
SHUSTER: And of course you live in Michigan now. Has most of your ministry with your husband been in Michigan?
DRESSER: We had been in Pennsylvania I think for about twelve years. And then my husband was from Wheaton. So we came back to Detroit. My husband came under Evan Welsh who was one of the pastors and one of the student pastors or whatever it was.
SHUSTER: He was a pastor at the College Church and he also was a chaplain for many years at the college.
DRESSER: Yes that’s the word I was hunting for. So we came here under Evan Welsh. And so we’ve just...our son is a pastor now. And so we’re in that church. Our son’s church. But that’s.... So I’m still doing a little bit, but not very much anymore.
SHUSTER: Well is there anything else you’d like to add?
DRESSER: No, I think that’s it.
SHUSTER: Okay, well I’ll.... Thank you very much for this interview!
DRESSER: Oh, you’re quite welcome.
END OF TAPE