Billy Graham Center

Collection 441 - Paul Robinson. T1 Transcript

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Paul Robinson (CN 441 T1) 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 which 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. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.

... 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 transcript was made by Paul Ericksen, Arnila Santoso and Jeffrey Dennison and was completed in February 2003.

Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (66 minutes)

Collection 441, T1. Interview of Paul Robinson by Paul A. Ericksen on March 27, 1991.

ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview of Paul Robinson by Paul A. Ericksen for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. This interview took place at 9:25 A.M. on March 27, 1991, at the office of the Archives at the Billy Graham Center. Well, Mr. Robinson, I wonder...I’d like to start just by finding out when and where you were born.

ROBINSON: Well, I was not a Midwesterner. I was born in New York state in the Buffalo- Niagara Falls area. And our family in that area went back, oh, a couple hundred years. And now they’re...they’re all gone. But I’m a western New Yorker. And I say western New Yorker because when you say New York state, people immediately think of the metropolitan area which is 450 miles away [laughs]. And so they’re two different countries. But I was...I was born and raised in western New York.

ERICKSEN: Now were you...did you grow up in a...a town or on a farm?

ROBINSON: Well, I grew up in small town. My father was a...was a pastor and an evangelist, so he traveled quite a bit. But he also had several churches and I I had that kind of experience, the preacher’s kid experience.

ERICKSEN: What was your father’s name?

ROBINSON: Robinson.

ERICKSEN: And what was his f...?

ROBINSON: But I could...I could...I could tell you a story there, you can...which you can cut it if you don’t want it. father I say was an evangelist. And that was...he was quite active during World War I and traveled around, but it was terrible to...for him try to get a hotel with a name like he had. His name was Rimanoczy, R-I-M-A-N-O-C-Z-Y. And that’s the...that’s the name he brought over from the old country [probably Germany; clears throat], and [pauses] when I was...when I was nine years old, he...he decided that he would not subject my brother and I to all the...the detail that he had to go through some places in order...because of that name. It was suspect in was worse than this war. We...we had...that’s all behind us. But then was quite a...quite a thing have a name like that. It he took my mother’s name officially and so my name became Robinson, and which is on the Robinsons who were on my mother’s side, material...mater...maternal part. So....

ERICKSEN: What was your dad’s first name?

ROBINSON: Fred, Frederick. F. E. Robinson. And he was also a musician. He was a very fine cellist, and he used that in his work coast to coast, the...the cello. And so there...that was the kind of family. It was a very warm fine relationship, although after a while when...when he got a little older, he decided he wasn’t going to stay on the road anymore. He’d...he’d just settled down in the pastorate, which he...which he did. [clears throat]

ERICKSEN: Now you referred to his churches. Were these independent churches?

ROBINSON: These were Baptist churches.


ROBINSON: He was ordained as a Baptist minister. [woman laughs in background]

ERICKSEN: And did you ever get to go along with him on his evangelistic tours?

ROBINSON: Yes. Not...not often at all, but I...I can think of one sp...particular time. He had...he was holding a meeting not too many miles (maybe a hundred miles) away from our home in New York state, in Sinclairville, New York. And the old Erie Railroad went from Buffalo to New York and this place...this town was right on the railroad. So at one time when I was about five or six years old, mother and he put me on the...I said, “I wanted to go....” He didn’t. mother did. I wanted to go to visit him and they wanted me to, so they put me on the train Hamburg, New York, where we were living at the time. And [man in background says “okay”] that...then...then the conductor took care of me all the way down to this...this town where my father was, who met me there. And then I can remember that in the meeting he...he picked up...picked the meeting that evening, the evangelistic meeting, he just picked me up and took me up on the platform and I can remember him setting me standing on the pulpit way...way up there, and to show...he was, of course, proud of his kid. [laughs] And he stood me up there and asked...asked me if I loved Jesus. And, of course, [laughs] I told...told him I did. And so that’s...yeah. And then we stayed at one of the parishioner’s homes. That’s where my father was staying. (And that parishioner incidentally...I should say that member of that congregation where he was, had a general store this town, an old-fashioned general store where they sold everything from soup to nuts.) And it was...he told me, “You go ahead and eat anything you can find. Go to the candy canes, help yourself.” Boy, nobody every challenged me that way before. [laughs] And so I ate until I was sick in the night. [laughs] I had so much candy. [Ericksen laughs] So there some experience with my father.

ERICKSEN: What about your...your mother? Would she every go along on the...on the tour?

ROBINSON: Well, she went along on quite a few tours when my aunt was able to take care of the kids, because she was a fine pianist, and she accompanied my dad wherever it was feasible. So she went out, but...but not as a tea...they...they weren’t a team that was organized that way. She...she just joined him once in a while for a meeting or two, and [pauses] so in that way she...she got to some of the closer meetings.

ERICKSEN: Now, you mentioned that at a certain point your father decided to cut back on his traveling.


ERICKSEN: When he was busy traveling, how much of the year would he be out doing evangelistic work?

ROBINSON: Well, I know...I know he was home all summer most always. So I suppose six or eight months he...he really was on the road. And he’d get home every chance he had. [clears throat]

ERICKSEN: Now how wide an area was he working in?

ROBINSON: Well, he had me go all the way from Seattle, Washington, to New Jersey. I mean, he...he...he went the...covered the whole country. He was in Colorado and he was...I’ve heard him tell many, many experiences there. In Colorado they bought a peach farm. And he and his...the man that was his song person, bought a peach farm and kept it a year and sold it again, and made...made quite a nice profit. [laughs] He didn’t really mean to, but he...he...he did. I’ve often heard him mention that. So he...he...that was in Colorado. So he...he got around the country for...not down south. He...he...he wasn’t one of the...the evangelists with a southern accent. I mean, [laughs] he was...he was...had brought more of his English [German?] accent, for he came over here with my grandmother, his mother, when he was seven years old. And he had five...four brothers and sisters and they all eventually wound up here in this country. Some of them went back.

ERICKSEN: What...what kind of a speaker was he?

ROBINSON: He was an excellent speaker, a good speaker, and had a very acceptable singing voice as well. He was a talented person. As I look back on it now, I didn’t appreciate it back then. But as I look back now and see the places he was and...and the work that he did and the personality that he brought to his...his contact with people was very fine, very good.

ERICKSEN: Do you remember any passages from the Bible that he particularly liked to use in his meetings?

ROBINSON: Well, there’s only one that flashes in my mind. He had a sermon, I know on ‘Darning the Doctrine’ [laughs], and there was...must have been something there that hit me, but I...I...I don’t remember the material. But I remember the...the [pauses]...that part of it. His father was a very interesting person. He was an arti...a portrait artist back before the days of photography, not that we know anything about it now. The people who advertised but mostly actors and actresses, they...they had...they’d have a portrait artist do a draw...a drawing of them on...on stone or something like that. And then they would make it...a process [?] that you could wife said they had a large portrait. And then from that...that they would make the prints for the...for the advertising or for...or for just...just...just needed the...the [pauses]...they...they needed...they had...they needed the portraits publicize there, so it was public re...public relations. But he was so good that he was...he did most...all of the...a lot of the European, middle Europe, (he was a middle European), and even...even the Kaiser. We’ve got a picture that he did of Kaiser Wilhelm [probably Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, 1797-1888], and that was, of course, many, many years ago. But [clears throat] he did actors and actresses. And then the...the Strobridge Lithographic Company from...of Cincinnati brought him over here to this country to Cincinnati to work for them to do their portraits. And so that’s how he got over...over into this country. But the portrait...the [unclear] of the country brought him over. And he youngsters, his...his kids (they had five of them) were...were raised here. My father was the youngest and....

ERICKSEN: Now did you ever meet your grandfather?

ROBINSON: He died a month before I was born, but we have some pictures and.... But I never met him personally, and I never met my maternal grandfather, the Ro...Grandfather Robinson. I never met him. But, of course, Grandfather Rimanoczy was not...not pleased with changing the Rimanoczy name. He [laughs]...he took him a long time to accept that. In fact, the...when...when he found what had happened, [pauses] mother.... Or now, let’s see. I should...I should...I should back up. When he [his father] married my mother, my grandfather was not happy at all. He wouldn’t...oh, and that’s ano...oh, this is another thing I should have said about my father. He came to New York [unclear], went to Cincinnati. Then...then he was living in Cincinnati and playing the cello as a a young person, and they sent him to the New York College of Music to study cello in New York. And when he was in New York studying music at New York College of Music, he got mixed up with the Salvation Army. He got saved back there in New York and started out with the...the Salvation Army New York. He didn’t pursue it very long, but he did pursue it long enough to play in their band and...and some of the things. And...and it was very interesting when...when my grandfather (that’s what I was coming to) heard of his...of his son, my dad, whom he had sent to New York to study music, and grandfather heard that he was playing a tin horn on a street corner [laughs] in New York [laughs]. He was so mad that he...he...he told my father never to darken his door again. When he...he married my mother right shortly after that, and even though my f...grandfather told him never to come back, he was an old German, [pauses] as German as they could be, in that sense of the word. So when...when he brought my mother to Cincinnati to meet Grandfather, who he [she?] never met, and evidently Grandfather was amenable to the idea. When he saw her, all was forgiven. She was a beautiful woman and a tremendous person. And she won him over so fast that he didn’t know what hit him [laughing]. So that was...that was kind of an interesting sidelight unto that part of the family. But you could go on and on with that sort of thing.

ERICKSEN: Do you remember any stories that your father or your mother told from the time when your dad was traveling as an evangelist, either stories of, you know, things that...where God really blessed or real calamities?

ROBINSON: Well, there was...there was...there was one time that...that my father developed an infection in his arm and...and in those days there was no antibiotics, and they just had to fill his arm full of drains and he was in the hospital for thirteen weeks. They never thought he’d live. And I...I know that when he did survive, they were very grateful. He never forgot that. And it was an answer to prayer that he ever...ever came out of it at all. And I can...I can remember my mother having pneumonia along about the same period; well, maybe a little before. And she almost died. [clears throat] But [pauses] nothing comes right to my mind of particular note, except the thousand things that would be [clears throat]....

ERICKSEN: Were there other...certain evangelists that your father would work with, cooperate with?

ROBINSON: Yeah, he...he did his...played his cello. (And I’ve got a picture at home taken over a hundred years ago, I think; well, [laughs] maybe not that long either.) But he went out to {I wasn’t even born)...he went out to Winona Lake for the conference that they have out in Indiana, and he...I got this picture of the...the evangelist that was there. It must have been kind of a seminar or a...or a...because.... And...and he played his cello at these things and did some speaking. But this picture, I can remember, G. Campbell Morgan was there, Gipsy Smith was there, oh, several that I...that I don’t remember right now, but, I mean, people of that...of that caliber were.... And he...oh, of course, he was a very close friend [pauses] old Billy Sunday’s music man, Homer Rodeheaver. He stayed with him and...and [pauses]...and...and sort...and then as these evangelists went around...went out around the world, in especially this country (my dad didn’t go abroad in those days).... [William] Biederwolf was another one that comes to my mind. Some of these people that were the...the old, old-timers.

ERICKSEN: Would he ever tell stories about any of them from his meetings with them?

ROBINSON: Well...oh, well, the...the reason this picture was the picture of a baseball team made up of the evangelists that were attending the...the conference and the pastors. The pastors and the.... And my dad caught the game. I...I know that. He’s out there down in front with a catcher’s mitt and most of them had some kind of uniform. And they were [clears throat] was a fun thing, of course. But he got a kick out of that, out of [pauses] playing on a baseball team with [laughs] guys that didn’t know a ball from a football from a baseball [laughs]. They must have had fun.

ERICKSEN: How many brothers and sisters did you have?


ERICKSEN: Brother or...?

ROBINSON: Brother, brother, Richard. Yeah.

ERICKSEN: And you say...I think you said before you were the younger?

ROBINSON: He was seven years younger than I am.

ERICKSEN: Oh, okay. I guess it was your dad that was the youngest in his family.

ROBINSON: He was the youngest of the five in his family. And they were all artists and musicians on his...on his family. He sang grand opera in Europe, uncle did, my Uncle Harry. And I’ve...I’ve heard him tell that before he became a Christian, at one time he...he...he was singing Mestopheles [Mephistopheles] in Faust (he was an opera singer). And he said that he’d stand there under that curtain thing on...on stage and he’d become frightened that the thing would fall down and kill him. I mean, he knew he was...he knew he was not where he ought to be. And so he finally got out of the opera business, and [pauses]...and yet he spent a few years there, yeah.

ERICKSEN: Do you remember what you felt like as you were growing up being a...a pastor’s kid and an evangelist’s kid?

ROBINSON: Well, yeah, I didn’t like it very well, because I was...I was prone to be a [pauses]... well, kind of a [pauses]...I can’t think of the...a nice wor...a nice word for it, but it wasn’t very nice [laughs]. I...I was somewhat of a rascal. And the fact that I was a preacher’s kid church, I never heard...didn’t [pauses]...didn’t bless me at all. I mean, it didn’ didn’t.... I...I...I accepted the Lord as best I knew how, though, years before that with my mother when...when there was a big scare around the whole like we’ve recently had here [the Gulf War was launched by Allied forces into Iraq on January 17, 1991], that the world was coming to an end on December 17th [laughs] and everybody was getting ready. Well, I said, “I better...ought to get ready.” I was only ten years old then. Well, I accepted the Lord then, I...I think, and I never forgot the experience and...and [pauses] it was a long time before I.... Oh, I...I just wasn’t walking with the Lord. I was on a sort of a wilderness journey for...for a few years. And that’s another chapter, but it’s an interesting one. I...I...I guess I.... This is a terrible interview [laughs], I know. I...I...this isn’t I’d do it, like...because I can’t recall what...what...what I’d like to recall. But [pauses] my conversion, depending on what you call it is...back with my mother, I...I never let that one go. But there was a revival, rededication when...when I...when I went down to...went to LSU [Louisiana State University]. And that’s a rather interesting story.

ERICKSEN: How did that come about?

ROBINSON: Well, I [pauses] received an invitation to come to LSU on a football scholarship.

ERICKSEN: Did you play football in high school?


ERICKSEN: Must have.

ROBINSON: And prep school. I had a [pauses]...both of those places. [clears throat] And I went down there and when I got there, I was...I was disappointed the situation. Back then there in those days you didn’t get paid unless you played. Well, I could see that I had a bad shoulder that...that could have easily knocked me out. And I thought, “Oh boy. I don’t know whether I smart in trying to risk the....” And...and then, and that was about 1931, survival...economic survival was the name of the game then. The Depress...right in the middle of the Depression! It couldn’t have gotten lower. And so I could tell. I...I had a couple of jobs with the athletic department in the school. I was a lifeguard and...and a few things like that, [clears throat] and was really active in the athletic department. But I...I decided when I heard...somebody just came up to...told me that the...there was an opening in the college band. And it was a better deal than the football, because the...the sponsor, the owner, the operator, the signal-caller was everything in those days was Huey P. Long. I don’t know if may have read something. He...there’s a book he’s...on him. [clears throat] And if you can make that, you’re all set. Well, I...I...and there was an opening. And I...I played trumpet along the way. And so I went and tried...tried...auditioned and...and made it! Well, that changed the course of...I mean, a little bit, because then...then I had to give up my football, which didn’t bother me. I mean, I...I...I wasn’t that...I was only in for the...for the money to try [pauses] stay alive. And so [pauses] I started playing in...playing in the band. Well, also at LSU, the Baptist Student Union, which is the campus organization of Southern Baptists around the world (you probably know something about it), got a hold of me and...and invited me to church. Well, I didn’t...wasn’t too thrilled, but I had no objection to going to church. But I...I wasn’t... I wasn’t hot after it by any means. And so a lot of the guys on the football squad, they all...they all...they [pauses] were just the same I was as far far as their ethical conduct or the conduct was, so their behavior was...was...was...I wasn’t doing much. But they had...they had some interesting programs. And one of them was that I...I went to church with some of the guys Sunday morning, and I guess I went Sunday night to a meeting. They got me over there. And I... I didn’t object but I was not really happy about it [clears throat]. Well, this Monday morning when I went to my mailbox at the university, [pauses] there was a note in there with a little something that they would...that the student union secretary asked me to read. ( She was a very fine person and I thought a lot of her. I had a...she had a...respected her greatly.) And this was request for me to read something in the Sunday night youth meeting, I think it was. Well I...I...I was on my way to class and I took the ticket and stuck it in my book or somewhere. And then when I sat down in class, I began to think, “Hey, I...I...what am I getting myself in for here? If I...if I.....” I...I knew the way. I knew what was right. I...I...I was...had been...been raised in an entirely atmosphere than the...the guys that I was running around with. They had no scruples about anything, but I had a few left. And when I saw that, I said, “Uh-oh.” I said, “I’m not going to get up in a young people’s meeting or any other kind of meeting in the condition I’m in spiritually and make as though I was quite a Christian.” I...I...I wasn’t in favor of that. So I decided there right there in that class. Well then...then the Lord really definitely spoke to me right...I think right in that class, and said that [laughs]...that “This is your...this might be your last [laughs] chance, and if you turn this down, don’t be surprised if whatever happens.” I just began...I began to get really convicted over this...over not...over...over returning this slip of paper that...that was...asked me to do this. I was starting for the student union office, but I didn’t get there. I went to my room instead and there I said, “Okay, Lord.” I said, “I won’t...I won’t...I won’t talk about...I won’t read this thing or be any part of it [pauses]...take any part of it, unless I’m ready to sign to the whole life and...and...and be a...somewhat of a separated Christian.” I just wasn’t going to run with this gang. And so instead of going to my room...or instead of going to the...the office with this thing to hand it back to tell them I wouldn’t do it, (‘cause that’s where I started. I was going to refuse it), I went to my room and I said, “Okay, Lord. I...I’ll...I surrender.” And I got down on my knees, and...and...and just had it out with the Lord. I knew the words. I knew all the verses. I knew all the...all the phraseology; and I knew the way because I had been taught that all my...that’s.... When the...when the home training begins to surface, it’s...sometimes it’s a little bit late, but it did. And so I said, “Okay.” And I spent some time there and said, “All right. I’m ready. I’m...I’m ready for the...for Sunday night.” So Sunday night came and instead of reading that thing, whatever it was (I don’t even know what it was; it was just something they...they handed it out.), I got up and gave my testimony and what the Lord had been doing for me this week. And so there was a bombshell the whole student union, because that [unclear] was somewhat cliquey. I mean they...they...there...they were fine kids there and...and.... But at any rate, I...I gave my testimony and I had quite a bit [laughs] of liberty in doing it, but.... And then...and then when....I don’t know what the...what...what the reason was. I think the secretary took over. She was thrilled to death. And she asked if maybe there were some other people would like to do the same thing. And a bunch of them got up. And...and actually a...a...a revival broke out among the students, maybe especially that gang, and many, many outside. And she rented the agricultural auditorium and...and brought in an evangelist. Of course, if it’s a Southern Baptist, it’s’ve got to have a meeting. [laughs] So she had...she had the meetings every night for a week, and I don’t know how many people...people came to...came to Christ that meeting. They...they had never thought of the matter of separated Christian living or anything close to it. So then I thought, “Boy, I’m...I.....” Oh, I give...I gave my testimony every night during the...during those five nights of...of meetings. And there was...I mean, a couple of...three, four hundred people up there. So a lot of people got to hear it, and it became...became quite a...quite a thing. Well then, I was sort of, I guess, recognized as some kind of a leader and something, because I started all this. And [laughs]... at least the Lord started it but I...I...I...I was carrying through. And then I realized how ignorant I was that I...oh, I didn’t know how to do that sort of thing. That wasn’t my line. I...I just hadn’t...I hadn’t done things like that, I...I mean spiritually. So I...the more I thought and prayed about it and had some Bible studies, the more I thought, “Oh boy. I don’t think this college what I need.” So back in those days (I was a little bit late), I...I...I decided after a great deal of...of thinking, I decided [pauses] to go to Moody Bible Institute. I had already been to Wheaton. Oh, that’s another story. [pauses] But [laughs] I had already been to Wheaton for a semester before I went to...


ROBINSON: ...LSU. I don’t know how in the world I got into there...why I did, but I [pauses] did. I...I...I...I got in and...and....

ERICKSEN: Was that as a freshman?

ROBINSON: Yeah. Yeah, it was.... Yeah, because when I went down to...when I went down to LSU, when they registered the freshmen by shaving their heads (that’s...every...every freshman that came got his head shaved) they recognized me as from another school, and...and...and I...I didn’t...I...I didn’t get that. I eliminated all that because they.... I didn’t say anything. I just went out with the bunch, and “No. He’s...he’s a sophomore. He’s...he’s a....” And I didn’t say anything. I didn’t care about getting my head shaved either. But at any rate, there was...there was Wheaton, and that’s another story in its...that’s very interesting.

ERICKSEN: Now how did did you start out coming to Wheaton?

ROBINSON: Well, I just...I just...I don’t remember about that. Boy, if I...I...I don’t know. Maybe it was the year before I went to [pauses].... escapes me right now. But at any rate, I was here for a...I was here for a...a semester [1931]. And then a very peculiar thing happened. I became close friends with several people here at Wheaton, and I suppose the closest friend I had was...was Ken Strachan. I don’t know’ve heard his name around here, of course.

ERICKSEN: The Latin America Mission.

ROBINSON: His father [Harry Strachan] started it.


ROBINSON: Ken was a...was a junior, I think, or a senior. He was ahead of me. But we...we were very...we were very close, so close that we were too close, I guess. So we decided we would...we would [pauses]...that...that school wasn’t as important our going down to Costa Rica his parents’ hacienda down there and just spend a few months getting familiar with that sort of thing. He liked the idea, of course, because it was going home for him. And I liked the idea because...because he did, I guess. And we were that...we were...we were just that...that close. [laughs] So Ken and I packed up my old Essex [laughs] and...and started for Buffalo. Hamburg was just a suburb of Buffalo, where we...where my home was to get set to make the trip to Costa Rica. Well, we got to...we got to Hamburg in western New York all right, and he, Ken, re-equipped himself for that trip...for the trip to Costa Rica. And boy, and...but my folks, they said, “No, you don’t do that.” And so they...they shot that down. And so he went on to...down there, and...and I went on [pauses]...I forget what I did next. But...

ERICKSEN: Now what...?

ROBINSON: ...well, it was...what I did next was go Moody, I guess. Must have been.

ERICKSEN: Now you had said before you went to Moody from LSU.

ROBINSON: [pauses] Well, yeah.

ERICKSEN: Maybe the...I don’t think the...the order critical at this point. Now what year did you go to Wheaton?

ROBINSON: ‘30...’30...’31.


ROBINSON: Maybe it was ‘32. Well, I...they...they...they...I still get the...I’m still an alumnus, of course, on the mailing list. [laughs] For fifty years I’ve been on that.

ERICKSEN: Well, I can check the book. Yeah, that’s right.

ROBINSON: [laughs] I’’ class is...class is ‘35.


ROBINSON: So you can figure out.... 19...yeah, class of 1935 [pauses] if I had graduated, if I had gone through. I...I...I just registered here and then I dropped it.

ERICKSEN: Now what did you think of Wheaton?

ROBINSON: Oh, I thought it was alright. I...I...I...I didn’t have any objection to Wheaton. It was just that I had my own thoughts about the whole thing. Then I must have come back to Moody because I went...when I graduated from Moody in the pastors...pastoral ministries, I went right to...right to a church and served there ten years, served in a church...three...two churches.

ERICKSEN: A Baptist Church?

ROBINSON: Baptist churches they were, yeah.

ERICKSEN: In Chicago?

ROBINSON: No, they were in New York state.

ERICKSEN: Oh, I see.

ROBINSON: Yeah, I...I went back out there. When I graduated from Moody, I went back to New York state [clears throat] to my folks’ house, for a few weeks we stayed there. Then I took this church in...had three fine churches. They weren’t awful big, two or three hundred people, but they were...that was in west...western New York.

ERICKSEN: Now when you...when you were at LSU (and I presume...did you graduate from LSU?)....

ROBINSON: No. No, no.

ERICKSEN: No. Then graduated from Moody?

ROBINSON: Oh yeah.

ERICKSEN: What...when you were at LSU, what were you studying?

ROBINSON: Physical Ed.

ERICKSEN: Okay. And you were on the scholarship [momentary electronic interference]...the football scholarship?

ROBINSON: Yeah, yeah. Of course, I gave that up.

ERICKSEN: Yeah. I’m curious. What did all your football buddies think about your...your decision?

ROBINSON: Well, they didn’t...they...they didn’t.... After this thing happened.... I mean there’s hundreds of students in the big university that didn’t even know me, never would. But they were...the guys on the football squad who knew of the stand I’d taken (some of them actually went...gone...would go to church and were church guys), they were quite sympathetic. And I never had any...and not from...from Huey Long [governor of Louisiana, 1928-1932; US senator from Louisiana, 1932-1935; know as the Kingfish] either. I think he knew I was going to.... Well, he knew I was coming into his band, and that’s...that’s what he wanted. That was a tremendously interesting thing. He had two cars on the back end of the Kingfish Special. And he was running for...he was the politician of the...of the politicians. And we went all over the country with him. That band marched on Broadway in New York, and just when he was living...playing on up there...playing West Point, he got them to [laughs]...LSU go down Broadway. And it was was a.... And, of course, we’d go to the West coast and to Texas football...all the football games, of course, we went to. And it was quite a...that was experience.

ERICKSEN: Now what kind of man was he?

ROBINSON: Who? Huey?


ROBINSON: Well, he was a typical [pauses].... Oh, I don’t know how to describe him. Words just don’t come to me. I...I....

ERICKSEN: Was he an easy fell...person to be around? Was he demanding?

ROBINSON: Oh, he...he called all the signals early. He didn’t activate it, did it. He... he...he made the piccolo player carry a saxophone in the band when we marched because he didn’t think a guy with nothing but a little dinky picc...piccolo was fair to [laughs] somebody carrying a big saxophone or something. So he made him put an instrument around his neck and carry that whether he played it or not, so it’d look as though he was [laughs] anyway. But, oh, he was...he was something else. Something else.

ERICKSEN: Now, when you decided to go to Moody, did you have any kind of vocational goal in mind? Were you thinking about being a pastor?

ROBINSON: Yeah, I was thinking about being a pastor. I don’t know how deeply committed I was to that, but that was my general...the general thought was...was the pastorate. And I got right into the pastorate and...and...and pursued that. And then, of course, having...having [pauses] taught...having taught and preached mission and was emphasizing mission and was very much interested in missions and the churches interested, I was...I was missionary-minded, there’s no doubt about it. Until the day...until the time when the Lord began to talk to me who...“You’re aren’t very much interested in it.” I got word of...of a...of a situation in South America where a missionary wife, a young missionary’s wife, died at child...childbirth because they couldn’t get her out of the jungle in time. It was a, you know, five or six day thing. That struck home to me. That...that...I was really concerned. I said, “There’s people...what they need transportation and communication. That’s of the things they need so that they could eliminate that sort of thing.” And at...and then that and...and other missionary oriented things, I [pauses]...I decided, “Well, I wonder if I should...what...what... what I...?” and then I thought, “I wonder why an airplane wouldn’t be...wouldn’t be a good deal?” If...the light plane was coming into its own. And I thought, “Boy, if somebody could just carve out a few airstrips and...and get those people some transportation and communication, that would be a wonderful thing. But who’s going to do it?” Well, there was a know, one or two missionaries in the world that I’d heard about. But I thought, “Well, now that’s great. But how...if you...if you do know, we thought we would do it.”

ERICKSEN: As a church you mean?

ROBINSON: Well, not as a church, but as an individual...


ROBINSON: ...wouldn’t be cooperation in the church and other churches or anybody else that was interested. We...we wondered how the Lord would ever make it possible for us to do anything about it...about the avia...about missionary aviation least. Well, in the town where...Northville, New York, where I lived...where we lived and where I had my church (I had a nice church there)...when I...when we were there, there was a manu...glove manufacturer in town and I...he was a Presbyterian...belonged to the Presbyterian church in the little town. It was a small town. I was talking with him and he heard about what we were trying to do (and I don’t know whether I knew this or not but maybe...maybe I did), but he had purchased three Piper Cruiser airplanes for his kids, one for each of them for Christmas [laughs], so he bought three airplanes. Well, he...he...then the course of our relationship, he said, “Well, why don’t you use one of my airplanes and learn to fly.” There was an instructor over at Perth Airport, and, of course, nothing could speak to me any more...any louder much than that, because, boy, I was in an open door. So we got together and I used his airplane and the instructor over there and got started. That’s where we started.

ERICKSEN: So you took lessons?

ROBINSON: From this...yeah, uh-huh, yeah, yeah. And then three...three or four days after...after I made my first solo flight, which meant that I was coming along pretty well, three or four days after that, Pearl Harbor hit. Well, then...then everything was grounded, the civilian personnel and...and...and all civilian aircraft, until they got things squared around, it was a little bit more sudden than this...this Gulf business [the first Gulf War, 1991]. [laughs] We didn’t know it. We woke up in the morning and here we were at war. We hadn’t heard that the Japanese were coming over and dropped the bombs. I stayed with that [clears throat]...I...I used his airplane to [pauses] that I could learn to fly. And then these...then shortly after that (I remember now), the old Army Air Corps, which was later into the US Air Force, was reactivated immediately. And that...and then...then and out of the Ar...Army Air Corps grew...or there was an organization called the Civil Air Patrol. Well, that was the utilization of civilian equipment and personnel to assist the war effort, as we used to it in those days, in any way we could. And there were dozens of jobs that could...where an airplane could be used and where a this country, of course: border patrol and target towing and...and all sorts of...all sorts of things. And they also had a training command, and I worked with that and by the time.... This was done along while I was the churches, [clears throat] but I had a thorough understanding with the congregation and with the people. They encouraged me do...make this contribution, the effort toward the war effort. It really was very pa...patriotic in those days. And so the time the war was over, I was a commercial pilot flight instructor. I...I [laughs] had several...well, I only had several hundred hours of experience, but I had enough so I could...could do the training far as we envisioned it to that point. Now it’s gone way beyond that point, but.... So I...I was in the the Civil Air Patrol, and that’s where I did...did my flying. And then I got to thinking, “Well, now how are we going to get some pilots? Well, of course, if we...if we can’t go ourselves and...and....” Well, after the war was over, that...that was the way it was. When...when the war was over and...and civilian aviation became legal again, then it was a matter of finding other pilots do the job. So I...and...and we were too old and...really (we weren’t awful old, maybe thirty), but to start in a several-year program didn’t seem.... And the family was growing by then, (we had three youngsters), just wasn’t possible for us to go...get away. So we thought, “Well, if we can’t do it, maybe we can train somebody else.” And....

ERICKSEN: Now addition to yourself, who else...who were you doing this thinking with?

ROBINSON: Well, right up to this point, MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship] had started and they only had about one [unclear] airplanes. [laughs] know, it was just a very meager beginning. But after we thought, “Well, if we can’t do it, then we can help somebody else.” So then there was another fellow out in the Midwest Winona Lake, Paul Hartford. He started a little airport, which he couldn’t make go. didn’t...that didn’t work. So...but argument or my dissent with...with...with him, I didn’t non-agreement with his...he wanted to set... set up a little airport, just for missionary fly...missionary training. And he was a pilot, too. But I wouldn’t disa...I disagreed with that. I thought that it would be better if [pauses] ...if this training program we got...we...we would...we would organize, if that could be [pauses]... if we could...oh, if we could do that in connection with some school. Because if it...if it wasn’t needed...we certainly weren’t going to continue through all this if it wasn’t needed. So we thought a school who was interested in missions should sponsor a thing like that. That was my thinking. Well, I...I knew something about Moody’s interest, especially Mr. Crowell. I knew that he had an interest in it.

ERICKSEN: Now that was Henry...?

ROBINSON: No, that was...that was Coleman Crowell.


ROBINSON: H. Coleman Co...Crowell. That’s...that was H.P. Crowell’s son. He was the executive vice president at Moody for a number...many years. Well, I talked to Coleman and...and others there, but especially...particularly with him. And they...and Dr. Will H. Houghton was the president of Moody then, and [pauses] I was not interested in Hartford’s approach, and so Coleman said, “Why don’t you set up a prospectus of some...a little prospectus and see what you have in mind,” because he seemed to be interested. [clears throat] And I said, “Well, I can gladly do that.” So I spent a few weeks doing...well, I didn’t...I don’t know how long it was to get this thing organized and before the board of...of trustees.

ERICKSEN: What year was this?

ROBINSON: This was 194...that I was doing this in 1945.

ERICKSEN: Okay. So right after the war.

ROBINSON: Then, the next year...yeah, right after the war. Then...then after that, the next year in 1946, I was pretty well along, and they asked...and they asked me to come out to...Coleman did, to do a survey of the Chicago area as to the possible feasibility of a flight training program in the Chicago area. Well, I came out and did that.

ERICKSEN: You still had your pastorate in New York.

ROBINSON: And...yep, yeah, yeah. And then...and then [pauses] I submitted this to Coleman and he said, “I’d like to take this to the cabinet.” So he did. And the next thing I heard (this is all within the matter of a few weeks in 1946...1946; it was February, Founder’s Week, when I came in to see Coleman), and [pauses].... Let’s see, where was I?

ERICKSEN: You’d brought the proposal to Coleman.

ROBINSON: Okay. I’m...yeah, and he wanted a survey done, which I did the best I could. It was a pretty size survey...survey, [laughs] if you could compare it with what actually...what the reality was. But anyway, it was a survey. And then, they read...they...he...they asked me, after reviewing that [clears throat], if I would come back out to Moody and [pauses]...let’s see, oh...if I would come back out there [pauses] and set the...and...and...oh, and present the...present the idea to the board of directors. And I said, “Sure.” So I was out there at the annual meeting. (They wanted it done at the annual meeting of the board of trustees. They came in from all over the country for...the trustees, you know, a dozen of them maybe.) So I was there in April for the meeting and that was probably the most dramatic happening my life: to be, you know, a country preacher out there being brought in the speak to some of the biggest businessmen and preachers (not many preachers), but, you know, Dave Weyerhauser and a lot of the...a lot of the...a lot of people were on the board at that time. And [laughs, pauses] I...I think...I...I...I [unclear] little country boy approach, country preacher, coming into the board meeting of those people and making a presentation. I was scared so [laughs] anyways, that I was worse than I am today. No, I wasn’t that bad. I was...I was...I was alright. But I presented my findings and so forth, and they discussed it very intelligently. I was surprised how much they caught on to what I had in mind. And then after there wasn’t any more discussion, one of the trustees got up and said, “Well, now I don’t know how the rest of you gentlemen feel, but,” he said, “if...if this young man will come and help us,” he said, “I’m...I’m in favor of going ahead, and I’d like to buy the first two airplanes for the program.” [laughs] Oh boy, oh boy. I just about flipped right there. [clears throat] I guess they got me out all right. But that was a...that was a dramatic thing.

ERICKSEN: What...what was the proposal that brought to them?

ROBINSON: Well, that we...that we lease, or whatever the arrangement might be, space on a local airport where we were compatible with the management and with the whole thing, and with hang...and build hangars and whatever we needed, and then set up the ground school, which is class work, book work. And I...I did all that then, all the...all the book work, all the class work. Ground school it’s called, ground school. And I had to go and buy airplanes and get a hangar going. That was a lot to do. But that’s...that’s how I came away from that, not a very clear presentation.


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© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2005