Billy Graham Center
Collection 74 - Jeanne Smith Burton. T68 Transcript
Click here to listen to an audio file of of the unrestricted portion this interview (32 minutes)
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Jeanne Smith Burton (CN 74, T68) 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 Grabner, and Paul Bartow was completed in March 2014.
Collection 74, T68. Interview of Jeanne Smith Burton by Bob Shuster on August 20th, 2010.
SHUSTER: This is an interview with Mrs. Jeanne Smith Burton by Bob Shuster for the Billy Graham Center Archives. It took place on August 20th, 2010 at 9:30 AM in Mrs. Burton’s home in Wheaton. Well, good morning, and thank you for being willing to be interviewed today.
BURTON: Good morning. I’ll be glad to answer your questions if I can.
SHUSTER: Well, thank you. Let me just start with a little individual background. When and where were you born?
BURTON: I was born in Waterloo, Iowa. That’s on this question here.
BURTON: In Waterloo, Iowa in 1918.
SHUSTER: And what years were you at Wheaton?
BURTON: 1936 through ‘40 except that one semester in my junior year I wasn’t able to come because I was in an airplane accident...
BURTON: ...three days before I was supposed to leave for Wheaton.
SHUSTER: Wow! You were a pilot?
BURTON: No, I was flying with a friend in a small plane, and he was a Navy officer and, you know, a flier, and belonged to our church, and we were good friends. And something went wrong with the Aileron control, and we were out in San Diego over the bay, the San Diego bay, and he said to me, turned around and said, “Jeanne, we’re going to crash so just be prepared.” Well, how do you get prepared to crash [both laugh]? Anyhow, we landed on the Coronado golf course because he was able to turn the plane so we wouldn’t land in the water. And he taxied up into the edge of the...from...onto this golf course and crashed. And so, we both got out. We were hurt, you, know, injured but not badly. And is somebody coming?
SHUSTER: Yeah, somebody’s coming in.
UNKNOWN VOICE: Can you move your car, because...?
BURTON: Oh, I’m sorry.
SHUSTER: That’s okay. Now let me...
BURTON: I should have.... [Shuster turns off tape recorder, goes outside to move his call, returns, turns on tape recorder]
SHUSTER: You were saying about the accident that you had in San Diego, the plane accident? And you were about eighteen then?
SHUSTER: And you were living out in San Diego?
BURTON: Well, yes. My father was pastor of the First Baptist Church for twenty-five years. He was the pastor of the big white temple they called it.
SHUSTER: And then in 1936 you came to Wheaton as a student?
SHUSTER: When did Rosa Bell become your roommate?
BURTON: I think right at first because we lived with a faculty. His name was [George V.] Kirk. He was the business manager or something in the administration. And they lived over on...[sighs, laughs] the name of the street slips me now, but about three blocks from the college. And there were no rooms in the dorm. They were all filled up, and so they put us, we were late registrants or something, so they put us in a house with the Kirks. And so we just, you know, walked to the college from there. It was only about two and a half, three blocks.
SHUSTER: And Rosa was your roommate when you were a freshman?
SHUSTER: How would you describe her?
BURTON: [Laughs] She was a very positive minded person. She knew exactly what she wanted [both laugh] and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean, she was just a...and her experiences in growing up in Korea and with her parents and China, I think also. They had to leave China to go to Korea because of the communists, you know? They were coming down from the north, and so they moved to Korea. Tsing Tao I think was the name of the town. [The Bells lived in Tsingkiangpu, China, Pinyin romanization: Qingjiangpu] When...I came to Wheaton it was just a kind of a miracle because my father was on the board of trustees at Redlands University...
BURTON: ...which was the Baptist school up in the Los Angeles area. And I was scheduled of course to go there. And when this gospel team from Wheaton came to our church, it was actually in late August, I think, I was so impressed with those guys I said, “Daddy, I want to go to Wheaton.” And he said, well he was getting disillusioned with Redlands anyhow because they were getting liberal in their theology. And so he said “Well, if you can get in at this late date, why I guess we’ll let you go.” And so I applied for Wheaton. And because I had a straight A average in my high school grades, I guess they decided to let me in.
SHUSTER: That’s great. You said that you saw the Gospel Men’s...Men’s Gospel Quartet and they so impressed you. What impressed you about them?
BURTON: Well, just their Christian testimonies, you know. They gave their testimonies as well as singing. And I just thought, “Wow, I just would love to go to college where I’d meet men like that.” [Both laugh]. And...
SHUSTER: You said Rosa knew what she wanted. What did she want?
BURTON: Well, I’m not sure what I meant by that.
SHUSTER: How would you describe her? What kind of person was she?
BURTON: Well, she was very correct in her...in everything she did. And she was very sympathetic with missionaries’ children because she was one of them, and they didn’t always have an easy time. She...you know, it’s so long ago, it’s very hard for me to remember.
BURTON: But I know that we liked each other very much, and we got along well. And when we were able to move into the...it was called the New Dorm at that time. It was when that four story dormitory was just being built. It wasn’t finished when we got to Wheaton. And so that’s why we had to live in private homes around the town.
SHUSTER: Is this the building that’s called Evans and McMan now, McManis?
BURTON: Uh-huh. And right by the tennis courts there. There were tennis courts, I don’t know if there still are.
BURTON: And so they had to do that with all the students that were signed up for that dormitory because it wasn’t finished. And so we lived over there for about two and a half months I think it was. And Mr. Kirk was the business manager of the college, and his wife was very strict. Wow.
BURTON: If we left a drop of crumbs or anything on the floor we heard about it [both laugh]. But I don’t mean she was unkind, she was trying to make us be neat and good.
SHUSTER: Now Rosa became sick later, is that true?
BURTON: Yes, she got pleurisy, and she was in the infirmary for quite a long time. And I think that was when we were juniors although my memory, you know, it’s very hard to remember things like that.
BURTON: But anyhow, she got pleurisy, and she was in the infirmary for a while, and they decided that she was just getting worse and not better and it was going into her lungs, you know becoming lung cancer, and so.... I don’t know how she found this place out in Arizona. I don’t remember. But she heard about a place in Arizona where they worked with people with her problems. And so she got on a train and went out there, and her parents....
SHUSTER: And this was your junior year?
BURTON: I think so. Her parents were in China, and it was hard to get permission from them...
BURTON: ...so she just went.
SHUSTER: And then Ruth came out that same year? Is that the year that you met Ruth?
BURTON: Yeah, I think so. She came in the middle of the year, you know. In the middle of the semester...I mean second semester. And there were no rooms in the dorm. But Rosa was in the infirmary at that time, and so they put her...put Ruth in with me in Rosa’s place.
SHUSTER: Do you recall when you first met Ruth?
BURTON: Yes, you know I knew her family, and had I known her in...
BURTON: North Carolina where they lived. I have been down there to visit a few times, and so I really knew who she was.
SHUSTER: So you went down to visit Rosa and you met Ruth, is that what happened?
BURTON: Uh-huh. When I went to North Carolina to visit their family.
SHUSTER: So how would you describe Ruth as a young woman?
BURTON: Well, she was very, I’d say vivacious. She was, you know, she wasn’t pulled back at all. She was very outgoing, outgoing in her relationships with people. And she was very pretty. She attracted the young men pretty much [laughs]. And I can’t remember when she first met Billy, but he was really...like, fell in love at first sight as we say. And she wasn’t particularly interested in him more than other guys...
BURTON: but he pursued her. You know, that he became pastor (I guess they’d call it that) of a place, of a church group that met down in Wheaton in the...
SHUSTER: The United Gospel Tabernacle.
BURTON: Yeah. But it was...
SHUSTER: In the Masonic Hall.
BURTON: In Masonic Hall, yeah. And so we all used to trek down there on Sunday nights and listen to....
SHUSTER: Before we talk about that, let me just ask you a bit more about Ruth. I mean you said she was very outgoing in personality.
SHUSTER: Can you think of examples of that?
BURTON: Well, just being very friendly. I can’t think of any specific examples. I just remember, you know, that was her personality.
SHUSTER: How did she compare with her sister Rosa? How was she similar or different?
BURTON: Rosa was much more, I hate to say straight-laced but much more correct or...I don’t know how to say it. But Rosa...Ruth was much more outgoing with people. So that’s about all I can say.
SHUSTER: Did she have a sense of humor?
BURTON: Oh yes, I’m sure she did.
SHUSTER: What kind of student was she?
BURTON: You’re talking about Ruth now?
BURTON: Well, I think that she was a good student, not an A student, but she was so popular. She was always...guys were always wanting to date her. So she probably spent more time going on dates than the rest of us. I’m not...I hate to say things that are kind of...I’m not positive about them, but it seems to me that’s the way I remember.
SHUSTER: Sure. Well, did...do you recall any anecdotes or stories from when she was your roommate? Anything that kind of illustrates her character or your relationship?
BURTON: Well, I remember one incident which is too bad I remember it, but.... You know, we had like 11:00 o’clock we were supposed to be in at night and on weekends, on week day nights it was 10:00 o’clock and on weekends it was 11:00. Well, she went to Chicago with some kids, I don’t think Billy was involved in this. But she got home late. The dorms were locked at 11:00 o’clock. And so she climbed up in a window on the second floor because the window was open, and she got in. And when the dean heard about that, they campused her, what they called keeping you from going anyplace for about six weeks I think. She was what they call campused [both laugh]. So ...
SHUSTER: Well, I guess that probably happened a lot with different students.
BURTON: I suppose.
SHUSTER: And how did you get along with Ruth?
BURTON: Oh, we were very good friends. And I had...after college...well she had to leave you know because of being sick. She had to go out to Arizona...
SHUSTER: Oh, she was sick as well? Or did she take care of her sister?
BURTON: Oh I’m sorry, this is Rosa.
SHUSTER: Oh, okay.
BURTON: You asked me about Ruth.
BURTON: Well, I think she just stayed at Wheaton and graduated, but I can’t....
SHUSTER: But how did you get along with her? I mean ...
BURTON: Oh, we got along very well. She was happy, easy person to get along with. I hope I was [laughs].
SHUSTER: When did you first meet Billy Graham?
BURTON: I knew you were going to ask me that and I was trying to remember. I think that he was attracted to Ruth when he saw her.
BURTON: And he was endeavoring in various ways to get acquainted with her. And she was interested in another guy. I can’t even remember his name now. So she wasn’t particularly anxious to respond positively to Billy, and of course after they got married and everything, we all looked back on that and laughed because she could have been dating him a lot sooner than she was...than she did. But he pursued her, quote unquote.
SHUSTER: Now you graduated from Wheaton in 1940, is that right?
BURTON: Yes, but I had to go to summer school. I graduated in the summer of 1940 because I missed that one semester when I was in an airplane accident three days before I was supposed to come back to Wheaton. So I had to finish up in summer school.
SHUSTER: And now Billy came in the Fall of 1940 I think for his first semester, is that right?
BURTON: Well, I think so. You know, it’s very hard to remember all of those things.
SHUSTER: So you were still at Wheaton in the Fall of 1940?
BURTON: Well, I was there for summer school, and I think he came early...
BURTON: ...which new students were supposed to do.
SHUSTER: I see. So you only knew him for a few months then on campus, is that right?
BURTON: Well, actually a few weeks, I think. I was very...it doesn’t mean I knew him personally, but he was so attractive all the girls were interested in knowing him [both laugh]. He had blond, curly, kind of wavy hair. And he was tall, very handsome.
SHUSTER: What was his manner like?
BURTON: Oh, he was gracious to everybody I think.
SHUSTER: So you didn’t have many conversations with him or...?
SHUSTER: And you said you used to go down to the Tabernacle to hear him preach? [Graham did not start preaching at the Tabernacle until 1941, when Burton had left campus]
SHUSTER: What was his preaching there like?
BURTON: Well, he was what I would call fiery [both laugh]. More evangelistic type. Because he was full of wanting people to know the Lord. So he was very enthusiastic in his presentations. He wasn’t laid back at all.
SHUSTER: How do you mean?
BURTON: Well, some ministers are very sedate and don’t shout or raise their hands or anything, but Billy was not that way. He was just full of enthusiasm, and he showed it in his preaching and even his arms. He would raise his arms, you know like that.
SHUSTER: Now this was at the United Gospel Tabernacle downtown. Who had been preaching there before Graham became the preacher there?
BURTON: I’m sorry, I just can’t remember.
SHUSTER: That’s alright. Had you been going there before Graham was preaching?
BURTON: Well, some. I went to the Baptist church some too because my background was Baptist...
BURTON: ...but we were not restricted in where we could go to church, you know, so we could go where we wanted as long as we went [both laugh].
SHUSTER: How many people, when Graham was preaching at the Tabernacle, how many people usually were there?
BURTON: Probably, I think maybe 100 or 150. It wasn’t a large crowd, and it wasn’t a very large auditorium either.
SHUSTER: What was the auditorium like?
BURTON: It’s very...you know, I have pictures of so many places in my mind, it’s very hard sometimes to remember. But I don’t think there was anything in the way of anything outstanding about it. It was just a big assembly kind of a room.
SHUSTER: And were the people there, were they mainly from the college? Did they come from the town as well?
BURTON: No, there were some people from the town. That was...and then people from the college who wanted to could go there. We could go to any church we wanted to.
BURTON: And I went to the Baptist church for a while, and I didn’t like the pastor there. He was getting... he was quite liberal in my estimation, what I was used to. And so I quit going to the Baptist church and started going to the Tab. What we called the Tab.
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Now...as you say, Graham came in 1940. Was he already preaching as soon as he came? As soon as he came to Wheaton he began preaching at the Tabernacle?
BURTON: I thought...I thought he came before. He must have...he must have come before the fall of 1940 because...I ...oh boy. I’m just sure that I knew him, and I think it was because I was in summer school . I had to take that semester of summer school and he came while I was there in summer school. I think that’s how I met him. It’s very hard to remember all the way that far back [laughs].
SHUSTER: Sure. Did...he and Ruth started dating seriously while you were still here at Wheaton?
BURTON: I’m not sure it was seriously, but I think that she was...she had her eyes on him more than he had his eyes on her [laughs]. You know, I think she just was very attracted to him.
SHUSTER: Oh, okay because you had said earlier that she was dating a lot of boys, and he was...
BURTON: She was.
SHUSTER: And he was really more sweet on her than she was on him at the beginning.
BURTON: Yeah, but I think after a few dates she decided that he was the one she really wanted to date.
SHUSTER: So what kind of couple were they? How would you describe them?
BURTON: Oh my. How do you do that? I don’t know. I don’t know what to say about that. Maybe he was more the dominant one, but Ruth was never the kind to be backward either. But you know she was...she was a very interesting person. She was a poetess. She wrote poetry.
BURTON: I have lots of her poetry. And she was contemplative at times, but also she was very joyous in her Christian experience. So you know, she was just a very well-rounded person.
SHUSTER: Can you think of any stories or anecdotes from their dating or their courtship?
BURTON: Well, I think I remember.... It’s so hard for me...even though I try to think of this...some....because I tend to get things mixed up, you know, with different people. It seems to me like...well, I better not say that. They were going down to Downers Grove, or he was going down there to preach for some special occasion and she wanted to go hear him I think and so we went down there. I’m just...I’m sorry, but, you know, it’s a long, long time ago.
SHUSTER: Oh, not that’s okay. Sure. Is there any particular story that stands out in your mind about them? Or any incident, any detail from their...of their dating?
BURTON: Not that I can remember.
SHUSTER: Yeah. So you probably didn’t have any classes with Billy, I imagine.
BURTON: No. I don’t think so.
SHUSTER: Did you have any classes with Ruth?
BURTON: Yes, I think we were in a Bible class together, I think.
SHUSTER: What kind of student was she?
BURTON: She was a good student. She was very social too though, you know. I’m not sure if she was an A student, but I don’t remember [sighs].
SHUSTER: Now Graham had mentioned...mentions in his memoirs that it was at Wheaton College that he really first had contact with African Americans as students...
SHUSTER: ...and as fellow students. Were there black students at Wheaton at that time?
BURTON: Yes, there were a few if I remember correctly. I can remember kind of the face of one girl. It was a black student. And she ... it was very hard for the black students because there were people from the south there. Of course, I grew up...we had in my high school it was mixed race. And so we...I was used to...
SHUSTER: That was in Iowa or San Diego?
BURTON: In San Diego.
BURTON: I was used to having black students in my...in my school so it didn’t bother me. But some people from the south were very bothered with that. And I lived in the south enough when my husband was in the Marine Corps to know, in his own town which is Cleveland, Texas, I used to cry I would get so mad because the way people treated...the whites treated the black people and I just...you know...was antithetical to what I grew up with.
SHUSTER: Sure. Well, how were black students treated at Wheaton?
BURTON: They were treated very well. I think there must have been some students that were put off a little bit if they were from the south. I don’t think ...well I don’t know how old you are, but it’s hard for people to remember how blacks were treated in the south in those years before the...before World War II.
SHUSTER: At Wheaton, I mean, did the black students just stay in the dorm with everybody else or did they have to stay off campus?
BURTON: Well, I imagine they were treated just like any other student. If they got their application in on time, they could live in the dorm and otherwise they had to live off campus.
SHUSTER: Did you have much contact with the black students on campus?
BURTON: I don’t...I don’t remember any particular...interviews or anything like that or being with them...I....
BURTON: It’s awfully hard to remember fifty or sixty years ago [laughs].
SHUSTER: Oh sure, sure, just...just interested in finding out what you do remember so that’s fine. Now let’s see, we’ve read that when Graham was a student, he had a friend, John Streator...
SHUSTER: ...who had a moving service that he helped him with.
SHUSTER: Do you recall anything of that? Did you have any contact with John Streator?
BURTON: Yes. And afterwards too when he moved, when he left Wheaton, I think we had a circular letter of some kind that we...would, you know, go around to all of that us that graduated in that class. And so I think he was kind of involved in that, but I don’t remember much about it.
SHUSTER: Who was? John Streator?
BURTON: Yeah, John Streator. Uh-huh.
SHUSTER: But do you recall John Streator having this moving service and Graham helping him?
BURTON: Yeah, I think he had a small, kind of a pick up truck kind of a thing. And helped people move. I think he actually...I’m not sure, but he might have been the one that helped me move into the dorm because as I told you, I stayed with the Kirks for about three months before the dorm was finished. And I think that he might have helped me, you know, move my stuff into the dorm.
SHUSTER: Do you...well, do you have anything else that you wanted to add about memories of Billy Graham or Ruth Bell at Wheaton? Anything that you wanted to add to what you’ve said?
BURTON: You know, it’s hard. Rosa and Ruth get all mixed up in my thinking.
BURTON: I’m just think that...I just remember that Ruth was very pretty, and she was very attractive to guys on the campus, so she was always being asked out for dates. And Billy was...had some competition [both laugh].
SHUSTER: Did you ever double date with them or...?
BURTON: No, I don’t think so.
SHUSTER: Okay. Anything else you wanted to add?
BURTON: [Reading from a list of questions supplied by Shuster] Was he a big man on campus? I think he was because he was so tall and handsome and had such a pleasing personality. I think he was very popular. The Gerstungs [Fred and Lillian], yes, I remember the Gerstungs.
SHUSTER: Now the Gerstungs’ home is where he first lived when he moved to campus.
SHUSTER: So you remember those? You remember that?
BURTON: Yes, but not particularly when he was there. I think that...why do I remember that? It seemed like a later time. Gerstung was a German teacher I think at the college...
SHUSTER: I know they lived at 741 Irving.
SHUSTER: What were the Gerstungs like?
BURTON: It is so hard to remember these things.
BURTON: He was...I think she was more, you know, kind of outgoing and welcoming than he was. He was a kind of a...what do I want to call him?...staid type of German [both laugh]. But I don’t mean by that that he was unkind at all. I just mean....
BURTON: He just wasn’t really outgoing...
BURTON: ...as much as some people are.
SHUSTER: But they rented rooms in their house to students?
BURTON: Yes they did. Uh-huh.
SHUSTER: Anything else you’d like to add?
BURTON: I just remember what a miracle I thought it was that I got to come to Wheaton. Because, you know, I told you, my father was expecting me to go to Redlands and I was too and that Gospel Team from Wheaton changed ...it really changed my whole life when you think about it.
SHUSTER: Who was on the Gospel Team, do you recall?
BURTON: No, I think I might have that written somewhere down in my past, but I don’t ...I don’t remember.
SHUSTER: And you met your husband at Wheaton or did you meet him later?
BURTON: No he was...he never went to Wheaton. He was in the Marine Corps. I met him at my father’s church in San Diego because I was back east at a...I was...I was.... Not a sponsor, I was a worker at a Christian camp in Indiana with a friend of mine. Ruth Schnicke. She and her brother were both students at Wheaton. And so my friends in San Diego from the church were writing me letters and telling me about this handsome Marine officer that was attending the church, [laughs] so I was set up to be interested in him when I met him. And also, somebody had told him about.... Oh, another Marine officer, his name was Harris Schuman [?] I remember, and he told...my husband, he said “You know, there’s some nice girls here at church, but I think the one that you would like the best is not here. She’s the pastor’s daughter.” So that was quite a setup you know? And then he used to sit with my mother in prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, and so he got to know my family before he ever knew me.
SHUSTER: Well, that’s nice. That saves time.
SHUSTER: And as you mentioned, you married, and he was in the Marine Corps for his career, and when he retired, you moved here to Wheaton, and he was in the Business Office and then in Investments [of the Wheaton College administration].
BURTON: Yeah, it was very unusual that he was invited to come here. He was going to be applying for a job someplace and...I can’t remember the name of the person. Oh boy, my memory is so bad. Anyhow, they knew him, and he was on the Trustees at Wheaton (this guy was). But he knew Tom through the military or something. And when he heard that he resigned, you know, was quitting the Marine Corps, and he knew that he had a background in business (because that’s what his major was at Baylor). And so he called him up. He was actually in San Francisco at the time just coming in from the...from being overseas. And they called him up and asked him if he could come to Wheaton for an interview. And so he got on a...well, actually everybody traveled by train then, almost, so I don’t think he flew. He came back here to Wheaton for an interview, and they asked him to come to work here. So we never had a month when he was unemployed.
SHUSTER: And you’ve been in Wheaton ever since?
SHUSTER: And his name was William, right? William Burton.
BURTON: No, Thomas.
SHUSTER: Oh, Thomas. I’m sorry. Thomas Burton.
BURTON: His middle name is Marlon which is a name from his family background.
SHUSTER: Well, anything else you wanted to add before we turn off the tape recorder...turn off the recorder?
BURTON: I just remember my days at Wheaton with great love and interest. I don’t think I ever had any really bad experiences here. And I was just so pleased to be able to come to this wonderful school.
SHUSTER: Well thank you very much for sharing your memories this morning.
BURTON: I’m sorry I’m not better, but....
SHUSTER: No, that’s quite alright.
END OF TAPE
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