Billy Graham Center
Collection 74 - Helen Stam Fesmire. T78 Transcript
Click here to listen to an audio file of of the unrestricted portion this interview (51 minutes)
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Helen Stam Fesmire (CN 74, T78) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English. Foreign terms or phrases which may be unfamiliar appear in italics.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Bob Shuster, Katherine Graber and Paul Bartow was completed in February 2014.
Collection 74, T78. Interview of Helen Stam Fesmire by Paul Ericksen on February 7, 2012.
ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview with Helen Stam Fesmire recorded by Paul Ericksen of the Billy Graham Center Archives on February 7th, 2012. Recorded in Mrs. Fesmire’s apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina. So just to get a few biographical details down, looking at question number one, could you just tell me when and where you were born?
FESMIRE: I was born November the 18th, 1921 in Patterson, New Jersey.
ERICKSEN: And the years that you came to Wheaton would have been...? You graduated in 1943.
FESMIRE: Yeah. ‘28...oh [laughs]. 1939...
FESMIRE: Through June 1943.
FESMIRE: That’s the years I was at Wheaton.
ERICKSEN: And how did you choose to come to Wheaton?
FESMIRE: Well, I had an uncle there. Uncle Peter. And it was the place to go. I mean, I didn’t even consider any other place really.
ERICKSEN: Were there other people in the family who had been to Wheaton?
FESMIRE: Yeah. Uh-huh. And I had an uncle who lived there.
FESMIRE: And the uncle was Peter Stam. And he was head of the conservatory of music there.
ERICKSEN: Okay. So he was on the faculty?
ERICKSEN: What was it like having an uncle on campus?
FESMIRE: [Laughs] It was okay. It didn’t, you know,...
FESMIRE: ...make that big a difference.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. Did you see him much?
FESMIRE: Not a lot.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, okay.
FESMIRE: I mean...I...I could stop by their house on my way to school. But I didn’t see a lot of him.
ERICKSEN: Sure. And where did you live while you were at Wheaton?
FESMIRE: I first lived in Williston Hall...
FESMIRE: ...and then I lived in homes after that. First one was the Scott House. [Clears throat] and the second one was...
CORWIN: It was the dentist. Yeah, it was...
FESMIRE: Oh, let’s see.
CORWIN: Oh what was their names?
ERICKSEN: The dentist. Well...
CORWIN: Well. it was a name I’ve heard all my life.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. I should say that for the recording, in addition to Mrs. Fesmire and I, we’re joined by the third voice on the tape [Fesmire laughs].
ERICKSEN: No that’s alright. Dotsie Corwin. And do you remember when you first met Billy Graham?
FESMIRE: First memory that comes to me is when I lived at Scott House, he must have wanted a date with one of the girls who lived in that place whose name was Ruth. And somebody got him a date with the wrong Ruth. There were two Ruths there. And I remember his coming to the door, and I don’t know why I was the one who came down the steps and answered the doorbell. But anyway, he said “That was the wrong Ruth!” [All laugh]. And I just said “Oh, I can fix that up. I’ll get you one with the right Ruth.” [All laugh].
ERICKSEN: And was it Ruth Bell that he was...
ERICKSEN: ...looking for?
FESMIRE: Right. [Laughs].
ERICKSEN: And what do you remember just about his appearance? How did he strike you when you saw him?
FESMIRE: Just very ordinary.
FESMIRE: I remember his high tie shoes, not you know like these....
ERICKSEN: Not low.
FESMIRE: Not low but high. Nothing particular about his appearance.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. And what about just his sort of way of interacting?
FESMIRE: [Laughs] I don’t know . It’s so long ago.
FESMIRE: I...probably just normal [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Were you in any classes with him?
FESMIRE: Probably, but I don’t remember much about...
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Sure. And of course he wasn’t a world figure at that point so...
FESMIRE: No, that’s right.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. What about Ruth?
FESMIRE: What about her [laughs]?
ERICKSEN: So did she live in the house with you?
FESMIRE: Yes, uh-huh.
ERICKSEN: How did you first meet her?
FESMIRE: When we lived in Williston Hall. I had a room with [clears throat] a girl who didn’t stay at Wheaton. But anyway, I didn’t like it that she read my diary [laughs].
ERICKSEN: This other girl?
FESMIRE: This girl that left. Didn’t stay. So that’s why I moved from that room and got into a triple room. Ruth was part of that.
ERICKSEN: I see.
FESMIRE: But most of the time, she had her own room. Or you know an alcove off of...
CORWIN: This was at the Scott house.
FESMIRE: Yeah. And I can still remember thinking, “She’s a missionary’s kid! How can she afford this when the rest of us can’t?” [Laughs].
ERICKSEN: Interesting. So what was she like as a college student?
FESMIRE: Well...I don’t...boy it’s hard to say.
ERICKSEN: Did she strike you as outgoing or quiet?
FESMIRE: Just ordinary.
FESMIRE: Not especially outgoing.
CORWIN: Yeah, you said she was.
CORWIN: ...she was quiet and kept to herself a bit.
FESMIRE: Yeah, I would say so.
CORWIN: That’s what I remembered.
ERICKSEN: And what kind of students were Ruth and Billy?
FESMIRE: I think ordinary.
ERICKSEN: They did okay?
FESMIRE: Yeah, they did okay.
ERICKSEN: They weren’t real academics it sounds like?
FESMIRE: I don’t think so.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. And when they started dating, were they quite an item on campus?
FESMIRE: Boy, I don’t remember that. Whether they....
ERICKSEN: So maybe not.
CORWIN: Everybody dated back in those days at Wheaton right? Everybody was...dating someone all the time.
CORWIN: At least that’s what I’ve heard. People dated all the time at Wheaton. So...
FESMIRE: You mean other...you mean...?
CORWIN: Yeah. There was always couples.
ERICKSEN: So...yeah I’m...
CORWIN: Oh Dr. Welsh. That’s the other house.
ERICKSEN: Dr. Welsh was the dentist?
FESMIRE: Oh yeah. Uh-huh.
CORWIN: W-E-L-S-H. A french style house.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember what street it was on?
FESMIRE: Oh boy.
CORWIN: No idea.
FESMIRE: Yeah. I don’t think I do.
FESMIRE: I can find it for you.
ERICKSEN: Was it close to campus?
FESMIRE: Not far.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. A few minutes walk?
ERICKSEN: Yeah . [Pause] Looking down to question number eight, did you ever go to the Union Gospel Tabernacle that was held downtown in the Masonic building?
FESMIRE: Not often. Of course, I went to the Wheaton Bible Church.
ERICKSEN: I see.
FESMIRE: And I didn’t like...you know...going from one to the other.
FESMIRE: And I think my uncle was part of the Wheaton Bible Church. And so once I started going there, I stayed there.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. And were.... Did you...were you involved in any other way beyond Sunday morning activities?
FESMIRE: Sunday school, probably.
ERICKSEN: Would there have been Sunday evening activities?
FESMIRE: Yeah. Church.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. Like a service?
FESMIRE: Yeah. At that time, yeah.
ERICKSEN: And I don’t know where the Bible church was at that point. Could you walk there?
FESMIRE: Yeah, how else would I get there [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Nobody had cars I guess.
ERICKSEN: And now, everybody’s...
CORWIN: On campus?
ERICKSEN: Everybody’s got a car.
FESMIRE: That’s right [laughs].
CORWIN: Did you say that you went to prayer meetings too? I thought you were talking about midweek.
FESMIRE: I don’t think so.
CORWIN: Oh, okay.
ERICKSEN: That would have...prayer meetings at the Bible church?
FESMIRE: Yeah, I think that’s what you were talking about.
CORWIN: Yeah, you mentioned that but...
ERICKSEN: Do you recall students talking about going down to the Gospel Tabernacle?
ERICKSEN: I know that a lot of students went on Sunday nights.
FESMIRE: Yeah. I don’t remember.
CORWIN: Did you want to stop it for a minute? I mean I don’t know if you want me to interrupt but...
ERICKSEN: You can.
CORWIN: In the letter from my dad, it talked about how people wanted to go there because it got out earlier and they could...for one reason besides Billy’s preaching...they could sprint across the lawn and get to the dinner line faster than...
FESMIRE: The dinner line, yeah [laughs].
CORWIN: ...the other churches that were a little later at getting out.
ERICKSEN: What time was the service at the Gospel Tabernacle? It sounds like it would have been kind of late afternoon?
CORWIN: This wasn’t in the mornings?
FESMIRE: We’re talking now about the night time.
CORWIN: I was thinking about Sunday dinner....
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Okay.
CORWIN: ...Sundays they had the bigger meal, wouldn’t they? They used to.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Okay. What was the first occasion that you heard Billy Graham preach?
FESMIRE: Oh boy. It must have been in chapel.
FESMIRE: I would say.
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. What kind of a speaker was he then?
FESMIRE: Well, had a lot of energy and good. Very good. We did go with him when he spoke at Western Springs.
CORWIN: This is something that I’ve not heard before.
CORWIN: I hadn’t heard this before but that’s very interesting.
CORWIN: Because they both ended up being pastors there.
FESMIRE: Yeah, yeah.
ERICKSEN: That’s right. So we’ll get there [Fesmire laughs]. What kind of things did Billy preach about in chapel?
FESMIRE: Oh man! [Laughs] That’s a...I don’t know!
ERICKSEN: Okay. Good answer!
CORWIN: The Bible.
FESMIRE: Yeah, right [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Let’s see. Question eleven. Mr. Graham was the president of the Christian council during his senior year. Were...were you aware of him in that role and do you recall anything about what he did as...
FESMIRE: Well, I got an answer here [laughs].
FESMIRE: Number eleven: “He was president of the Christian Council in his senior year. Do you know anything about what he did as president or the kind of job he did?” And I have written here, nothing great. I was on the Christian Council when he...
ERICKSEN: You were?
FESMIRE: Yeah. Because I was vice president of my class, isn’t that right? Yeah.
ERICKSEN: So does.... When he was the president, does that mean that he was the president of his class?
FESMIRE: No. Of the Christian Council.
ERICKSEN: Of the council. Okay.
CORWIN: She was on the council, but you were also vice president. I don’t think that means that you had to be on the council. You were also vice president.
ERICKSEN: Does anything stick out from working on the council with him?
FESMIRE: Just that he sort of tried to keep tabs of spiritual goings-on. You know in the college.
ERICKSEN: Was he a good leader as the president?
FESMIRE: I’ve written down here “nothing great.”
ERICKSEN: [Laughs]. All right. Let’s...let’s jump a little bit. I want to spend time talking about Western Springs. So if we can...if you can go to the second page of the questions [paper rustling] and question number twenty two: “When did your husband, Lloyd first become involved in the Western Springs Church and the Songs in the Night radio program?”
ERICKSEN: Okay. And what year did you get married?
ERICKSEN: Okay, so right after graduating.
CORWIN: A month before the Grahams.
ERICKSEN: And I don’t know what month the Grahams were married in. So what month...when was the date of your wedding?
FESMIRE: July the 10th.
ERICKSEN: And how did...how did it come that...your husband became involved at Western Springs? What was the connection? How did that develop?
FESMIRE: Oh boy. I know we...went there before we were involved there with Billy and Ruth when Billy was going to preach there one Sunday night. We went with them. And I don’t know how we got involved with it really.
CORWIN: Well, Billy recommended him when he was ready to go. And he says there, I think, that my dad was associate.
ERICKSEN: Right. But he was on the pastoral staff.
CORWIN: Well, he was called as the pastor before he left but they had Billy named associate pastor. But he never did anything after that. I’ve set letters you can read that tells about that. In fact, there was an interim between Billy and my father, Peter Stam.
ERICKSEN: The uncle?
FESMIRE: The son. A cousin.
ERICKSEN: Okay. A cousin of yours. Okay.
CORWIN: Missionary to the Congo, head of AIM.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Do you remember anything about the broadcasts in the basement? The radio broadcasts while Billy was the pastor?
FESMIRE: Billy? Oh no.
ERICKSEN: What about later?
FESMIRE: You mean when my husband was a pastor? Well...
ERICKSEN: When he was the pastor.
FESMIRE: You know, I stayed home [laughs].
ERICKSEN: So you were....
FESMIRE: Most of the time. Once in a while, our next door neighbor would...or across the street would say “I’m coming over to babysit, and you can go to the broadcast.” But that was not often. Most of the time I stayed home.
CORWIN: They were 10:30 at night. Live. So she had babies.
ERICKSEN: And what was the layout of the studio like?
FESMIRE: Studio? [Laughs].
ERICKSEN: Well where the recording happened.
FESMIRE: It was in the basement church.
FESMIRE: Just in the...where the meetings were. It was very ordinary. [Laughs]. I don’t know how to describe it. Just....
CORWIN: They would use the platform.
CORWIN: The platform. That’s where they set up.
ERICKSEN: And what was your...when you would come late at night, what was your impression of the whole thing?
FESMIRE: Well, it was quite exciting [laughs]. I thought. And it was always a big deal because my husband had to stay until the very end and close things up.
FESMIRE: And sometimes we would...he would go to a drug store with [George] Beverly Shea [the soloist on the program and music director at the church, later soloist for Billy Graham's evangelsitic meetings] for an ice cream soda or something like that.
FESMIRE: Afterwards. Yeah.
CORWIN: I ’ve never heard that before.
FESMIRE: Just for a treat.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Kind of wind down?
FESMIRE: Yeah, right.
ERICKSEN: And what was George Beverly Shea’s part in the whole program? I know he sang.
ERICKSEN: Did he do more than that?
FESMIRE: I don’t think so.
FESMIRE: I mean I wasn’t there, so...
ERICKSEN: Sure. Did you listen to the show much at home?
FESMIRE: Oh yeah. I did.
ERICKSEN: Even...did you listen when Mr. Graham was the pastor too?
FESMIRE: I don’t remember.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, okay.
CORWIN: We would have been at Point Pleasant.
FESMIRE: Oh. Oh. Boy . I don’t know.
FESMIRE: It’s a long time ago.
CORWIN: She can tell you about his long illness. He said we could do a tour, but when my dad had the student pastor at Point Pleasant, Billy came to see you?
FESMIRE: He did.
CORWIN: You were just telling me a little bit ago. And what happened?
FESMIRE: He was getting the mumps.
ERICKSEN: Billy was?
FESMIRE: Uh-huh. And he complained about his throat and Bill...let’s see. Ruth was...they must not have lived that far away.
CORWIN: No. This was when they were in Western Springs. And he said he had to get home because his throat hurt so bad. He thought something serious was happening. So he....
FESMIRE: Yeah, he...
CORWIN: ...took off that morning and drove home again . It talks about him having an extended illness during his pastorate and that...probably was that.
ERICKSEN: And where is Point Pleasant?
FESMIRE: It’s not...it’s almost on the Delaware River.
ERICKSEN: I see.
FESMIRE: But between the Delaware River and where we lived was like a canal. It was a nice place to live. Out in the country. I had a nice, big garden there. Grew all kinds of things.
ERICKSEN: So Billy came out to visit?
FESMIRE: Yeah, he had a speaking engagement at some other church and he stopped.
ERICKSEN: Oh, nice.
FESMIRE: Oh his way by. Stayed overnight. And...
ERICKSEN: And what year would that have been? Or what time?
CORWIN: Well, Dad was there from ‘43...well ‘44 I guess to ‘45. Until he came to Western Springs. He had gone to Eastern Baptist, would take the train every morning.
CORWIN: And come back and be a pastor.
ERICKSEN: And where was Billy living while he was the pastor in Western Springs?
FESMIRE: I think Hinsdale.
FESMIRE: I’m pretty sure that’s where they lived.
CORWIN: An apartment
ERICKSEN: And when you went to listen to the radio broadcast in the evening, were there other...was there an audience there to...
FESMIRE: Well, yeah.
ERICKSEN: So they did it live, in front of a live audience.
CORWIN: It’s really, when you read about it, I mean it was the date for Wheaton students to come.
FESMIRE: That’s right.
CORWIN: I mean can you imagine kids today?
CORWIN: Plus it was late at night, 10:30.
CORWIN: And I was reading somewhere it said that it was so full (this must have been when it was in the basement) that people stood outside on the lawn.
ERICKSEN: And would it have been like that when your husband was...
FESMIRE: The pastor?
ERICKSEN: The pastor there as well? I mean was it a big deal?
FESMIRE : Yeah . It was a big deal.
CORWIN: Yeah people...because it was got farther and farther around the country being broadcast [sic]. And most newspaper articles say that people came from all over. I don’t know whether it’s embellished or not but it would be a full...full church.
ERICKSEN: Were there ever guest speakers?
FESMIRE: Only when my husband wasn’t there.
ERICKSEN: I see. Yeah.
FESMIRE: And that would have been, you know, planned ahead of time. I’m trying to think of who some of them were.
CORWIN: Ironsides, we read that.
CORWIN: Ironsides, we read that in the newspaper.
FESMIRE: That’s right.
ERICKSEN: He would have come out from the city.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall who the engineer was that ran the equipment for the radio?
CORWIN: Jim Alsweet, but I don’t know if that was Billy’s time.
FESMIRE : Yeah, I don’t know. That name though is very much connected with the program.
ERICKSEN: And you mentioned people coming from elsewhere. Was there a way of measuring, other ways of measuring the response that the program was getting? Did people write letters?
FESMIRE: Oh yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah.
ERICKSEN: And what would you...what would your husband do with the letters?
CORWIN: I have a stack.
FESMIRE: He didn’t do anything with them. It would be his secretary or....
ERICKSEN: Okay. [Pause].
CORWIN: They had these...he probably had some of these.
ERICKSEN: We’re looking at the Songs in the Night newsletters from Village Church. So it’s a notebook of those.
CORWIN: They just have some printed so people could read some of the responses.
ERICKSEN: So when Mr. Graham left the church, left the program, what effect did that have on the program?
FESMIRE: I don’t think it had much effect really.
FESMIRE: I think it got bigger and better [laughs]. With somebody who was stable, and not that Billy was not stable, but...
FESMIRE: He was on to other things and wasn’t concentrating on that in particular.
ERICKSEN: So now looking at question number twenty three, let’s talk a little bit about the details of your husband becoming the associate pastor.
ERICKSEN: He never was the associate?
FESMIRE: I don’t think so.
ERICKSEN: You’ve said that once.
CORWIN: Billy . . . I’ve got letters for you to read.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, I’ll take your word for it.
CORWIN: Yeah, well you might as well have them for the....
ERICKSEN: So Mr. Graham...was there a recommendation from him?
CORWIN: Uh-huh. For Dad.
ERICKSEN: And when your husband became the pastor, Mr. Graham had sort of an associate pastor status even though he wasn’t at the church and contributing?
FESMIRE: I guess so. I can’t remember that really. But that’s possible. But he really was not around to have anything to do with it. He was doing other things.
ERICKSEN: Did he come back to the church from time to time?
FESMIRE: Not that I remember.
CORWIN: For the fiftieth he came back.
FESMIRE: Yeah. I do remember that [laughs].
ERICKSEN: What was that like?
FESMIRE: Well...he came to our house first. And then somebody came to get us to take us to church and where he was going to be preaching.
CORWIN: We went to the Spinning Wheel to eat.
FESMIRE: That’s right.
ERICKSEN: What was the...where was the Spinning Wheel?
FESMIRE: The Spinning Wheel was a very lovely restaurant on Ogden Avenue? Is that right?
ERICKSEN: In Western Springs?
FESMIRE: Yeah. It’s where...what was the men’s group that used to meet there?
CORWIN: West Suburban Men’s Fellowship...
CORWIN: ...that Billy Graham started.
FESMIRE: Yeah. They used to meet there.
FESMIRE: Like once a month or something like that. It was a popular restaurant. A nice one.
ERICKSEN: What was the size of the congregation when Mr. Graham was the pastor?
FESMIRE: Oh boy.
ERICKSEN: Just rough.
FESMIRE: I have no...I don’t know.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. How about when your husband was the pastor?
FESMIRE: I don’t know that either.
ERICKSEN: Did it seem like fifty or 100? Or...
FESMIRE: I would say 100.
ERICKSEN: And what was the...was the...the congregation made up of families? Older people, young people? Was it mixed? Or was it more...
FESMIRE: I would say it was mixed.
ERICKSEN: More one than another?
FESMIRE: [Clears throat] I don’t recall its being that way.
CORWIN: I think it was mostly families. And the young people coming from the families.
ERICKSEN: So there was a youth group? Were there youth groups back in the...?
CORWIN: Went to it.
ERICKSEN: And what was the spiritual life of the congregation like?
FESMIRE: Oh boy [laughs]. These questions are quite something. I think it was growing. And encouraging. But it was always more, you know [laughs].
FESMIRE: More to do. To do, to grow.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. And how much of that fell on you?
FESMIRE: On me?
ERICKSEN: On you as the wife of the pastor?
FESMIRE: [Laughs] Oh, I know I tried.... In those days, you know a pastor and his wife would stand at the door and say goodbye [laughs].
FESMIRE: And I...there was another lady who was used to doing that. Hacquebord was her name. So I decided I was not going to stand next to my husband. I was just going to walk around in the back of the church and talk to everybody...anybody who was there. Just...so that’s what I did mostly. I did not stand with him. And this other lady stood [laughs]...
CORWIN: An older lady.
FESMIRE: ...stood outside the front door down below. And...did her thing.
ERICKSEN: And what was her name?
FESMIRE: Hacquebord. H-A-C-Q-U-E-B-O-R-D. She was a nice lady [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Do you recall her first name?
FESMIRE: Anne Hacquebord.
CORWIN: She was probably there when Billy Graham was there.
CORWIN: She was probably there when Billy Graham was there, don’t you think? One of the early members.
ERICKSEN: Do you have any recollection of how the church reacted when Mr. Graham was away on other speaking arrangements as much as he was?
FESMIRE: I don’t...
CORWIN: Well he...want me to keep talking? Because we talked about it and we were reading in the letters that they...they called Dad [they] wanted a pastor that would be there...
FESMIRE: Oh yeah.
CORWIN: ...because they were getting tired of him. Because he got more and more speaking engagements and was gone more than he was there.
CORWIN: So they told Dad he could not do that. Although, I found a lot of documents of places that he had spoken, but not to the extent. I guess because of Songs in the Night that people wanted.... And of course Billy Graham was Youth for Christ.
ERICKSEN: Right. And was there some...when Billy left the pastorate at Western Springs...what was he going to next?
FESMIRE: I don’t know. What?
CORWIN: Youth for Christ, right?
FESMIRE: Oh. Yeah, that’s probably right.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall much about Youth for Christ activities in that period?
FESMIRE: No, I don’t.
ERICKSEN: Did you go to any of them?
FESMIRE: Probably not. I had children [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Yeah, that’s true.
FESMIRE: And I stayed home. A lot of the time.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Do you remember anything about the big rally down at Soldier Field?
FESMIRE: Yeah, I did go to that.
ERICKSEN: What was that like?
FESMIRE: Oh, it was quite exciting [laughs]. And I...
ERICKSEN: We have movie footage of that online.
ERICKSEN: So when your daughter shows you the footage from the attic...
ERICKSEN: ...at Wheaton, you can also see...
FESMIRE: Oh yeah.
ERICKSEN: ...the footage from that rally in Chicago.
FESMIRE: That would be nice.
ERICKSEN: How did you hear that it was going to happen?
FESMIRE: The rally?
ERICKSEN: The rally, yeah.
FESMIRE: I think that somebody came and talked to Lloyd about it. And that was like sort of the beginning.
ERICKSEN: Was he involved much in Youth for Christ while he was....?
FESMIRE: Not really.
FESMIRE: I mean he was pretty much faithful to the church and preaching regularly and didn’t run around like other people might have.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. So then...was your cousin, Peter Stam, the next pastor or was there an interim after your husband...?
CORWIN: Well, there was the interim when Peter was...
CORWIN: Peter was the interim. I think that Billy was officially still the pastor, but...
ERICKSEN: Oh this was between Billy and...
CORWIN: Until Dad could get there.
ERICKSEN: Your husband. Okay.
CORWIN: What happened was they were expecting a baby in September. I think the church wanted Dad to come in June. And...
FESMIRE: He came back to get me.
CORWIN: That was...
CORWIN: This for me is hard to believe, but my sister was born on a Saturday morning and afternoon and Dad got on a train, overnighted, picked up in Chicago, and preached his first sermon as a new pastor. From New Jersey to Chicago overnight and then preached.
CORWIN: And went back for her a month later.
ERICKSEN: Wow. And then you came out?
FESMIRE: Yeah. A month later, right? With a baby in a basket.
ERICKSEN: And how...wow.
CORWIN: On the train, yeah.
ERICKSEN: And how long was your husband the pastor at Western Springs?
FESMIRE: Oh man. Is that written down here? Let’s see...this says that he was...let’s see. He started in 1945...oh man.
CORWIN: We moved to Clifton in 1965.
CORWIN: Twenty years.
FESMIRE: It was twenty years?
FESMIRE: Oh. They were good years [laughs].
CORWIN: They were.
ERICKSEN: What were the highlights for you?
FESMIRE: Oh man. Just taking care of things [laughs].
CORWIN: Good friends.
FESMIRE: And being there for my husband. My children.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, they all grew up there, didn’t they?
FESMIRE: Yeah. Right. We had a nice home there.
CORWIN: My dad built our house.
ERICKSEN: Was it near the church?
FESMIRE: Yeah, it was like two and a half blocks. Isn’t that right?
CORWIN: One block.
FESMIRE: One block?
CORWIN: On 46th Street. The church was on 45th. So it was....
FESMIRE: It was one...?
CORWIN: Yeah, maybe. You could consider it a half a block. Yeah. Dad would always walk over for lunch and...
FESMIRE: Oh yeah. It was an easy walk. Very nice setup.
CORWIN: Right past Mrs. Hacquebord’s house.
ERICKSEN: Was she waiting to say hello?
CORWIN: She made him coffee cake.
ERICKSEN: And what about your husband’s sermons? Did you...did you and he talk about them afterward or before he preached them?
FESMIRE: No, not really. No. He was...very good at doing his own work.
ERICKSEN: Did he want to know what you thought afterward?
FESMIRE: No, not really [laughs]. I think we tried not to have that overshadow life in general.
ERICKSEN: At home.
FESMIRE: Yeah. Uh-huh.
ERICKSEN: Is there anything else about Village Church or the radio show that you want to make sure we talk about before we...? I don’t know if you have any notes about something else about the church?
FESMIRE: Do I?
ERICKSEN: That you want to make sure we cover?
CORWIN: Well, we’re not really talking about my dad, but two years after he left, they dubbed his sermons in and continued Songs in the Night. Until they got a new pastor at Western Springs who then decided that wasn’t...for them anymore. So then the Moody Church took it on.
ERICKSEN: So two years? So ‘65 to ‘67?
CORWIN: Uh-huh. And Dad was still on it.
ERICKSEN: I see. And then it moved to Moody?
CORWIN: Right. And Fred Hensel was the chairman of the radio committee from the very beginning when Billy started...or took it over from Torrey Johnson until it moved to Moody Church. Same man. Which is kind of interesting.
ERICKSEN: [Pause] Were you able to stay in contact with the Grahams over the years?
FESMIRE: I think we met them a couple of times, like at a restaurant when we were both not too far from each other. In other words, we must have been traveling or something like that. But that’s as much as we did.
CORWIN: I think the last time you saw them was when you lived in Charlotte, and you went up and stayed at Bev Shea’s...
FESMIRE: Oh, that’s right, yeah.
CORWIN: And Diane Sawyer was coming the next day. So you were telling me you were up sitting on the front of the Grahams’ porch and her truck came up that driveway for prep work. She was going to interview him.
CORWIN: You probably saw more of Bev Shea through the years than...of course he lived in Western Springs until ...
ERICKSEN: Right, until he moved out here.
ERICKSEN: What kind of man was he?
FESMIRE: He was a very comfortable man. Is that...? Does that make sense?
ERICKSEN: Sure. Easy to be with?
FESMIRE: Yeah, I think so. Uh-huh. And often times...there was a drug store called Schlueter’s drug store [actually Schlueter Pharmacy] that stayed open Sunday nights. Partly, I think because there might be people from the broadcast...
ERICKSEN: Interesting. [chuckles]
FESMIRE: ...would stop there.
CORWIN: And business.
FESMIRE: Yeah. And I remember Dad and B. Shea would every so often stop there after the broadcast and enjoy an ice cream soda or something like that.
ERICKSEN: And was Mr. Shea serious?
FESMIRE: Yeah. I would say so.
CORWIN: Very cordial.
CORWIN: Very cordial, very warm.
FESMIRE: Oh yeah.
CORWIN: I remember when he brought Elaine (he adopted...they adopted their daughter Elaine when she was in third grade and he brought her to Sunday school the first time and introduced me and asked me to take her on). You know as a friend. And...Dad was there when Marla was born and my sister, when she was born, we don’t have a lot of pictures of us, but there was one of her in the nursery at the hospital which was from Bev Shea’s camera. So I guess he must have had one ....
FESMIRE: That’s right, yeah.
CORWIN: ...he went there.
FESMIRE : He gave my husband his camera and said “Take a picture when you go!”
CORWIN: So one baby picture.
ERICKSEN: [Pause] Well, we’ve covered Wheaton. And we’ve covered...your husband’s pastorate. And we’ve talked about Mr. Graham and Mrs. Graham.
CORWIN: I have a couple more things from my dad. Do you want that or is that not...?
ERICKSEN: Oh certainly.
ERICKSEN: Is that something I can take with...
CORWIN: Yeah. Uh-huh..
CORWIN: About like when they would eat dinner at Wheaton and someone told them they should spread themselves around and not be a clique.
ERICKSEN: And who was the they?
FESMIRE: And I didn’t think we were a clique. That’s the strange thing.
ERICKSEN: Who were the “they?”
FESMIRE: It must have been myself and my husband and Ruth and Billy.
ERICKSEN: I see.
CORWIN: “A Bible professor approached them and challenged them that they were leaders on campus and should not be together like a clique but spread themselves around. Apparently they laughed and paid no attention.” [All laugh]. “And Billy got a...” (this is my sister writing down my dad’s talking to her). “Dad remembers Billy Graham getting a new black car. Dad saw a black car driving down the road and he held out his umbrella to make him stop.”
FESMIRE: Yes [laughs].
CORWIN: A closer inspection revealed a stranger at the wheel. So Dad just pretended he was directing traffic. I guess my dad carried an umbrella a lot. They called him Churchill sometimes.
ERICKSEN: It sounds like he was quick thinking.
FESMIRE: Oh yeah.
ERICKSEN: He went from thinking it was Mr. Graham to moving the car right along.
FESMIRE: Yeah, right!
CORWIN: And then about Ruth wearing black a lot. And her one string of pearls. She had a going out dress. And she didn’t have a lot of clothes.
CORWIN: You know she took the middle year of her Wheaton days...her college off...to take care of her sister Rosa who had TB.
FESMIRE: And she always had her own room.
CORWIN: Right. And that was adjacent. Yeah.
FESMIRE: I kept thinking “How can this be? This is a missionary’s kid. How can she afford to have her own room?”
CORWIN: And you borrowed each others’ clothes and sometimes forgot to return them.
ERICKSEN: This was with Ruth?
CORWIN: Uh-huh. There’s another woman, Mary Spencer, do you know her?
CORWIN : I’ve heard that name. She also was one of the roommates. And she and Mom would get together. Her son lives here in Charlotte.
ERICKSEN: So what was Mary like?
CORWIN: Mary Spencer?
FESMIRE: Mary Spencer?
ERICKSEN: Mary Spencer. Yep.
FESMIRE: She was very outgoing. Very cordial. Boy, I don’t know.
CORWIN: President of her class.
CORWIN: Wasn’t she president of her class? Mary? Or something. Or the alumni for the class? Maybe that’s it.
FESMIRE: Boy, I don’t know. I forget probably. [Laughs].
ERICKSEN: A lot to remember.
FESMIRE: Yeah [laughs]. Also a lot to forget [all laugh].
ERICKSEN: I don’t have any more questions. Is there anything more you’d like to say?
FESMIRE: I don’t...know of anything.
FESMIRE: Except they were good years. I enjoyed them. And probably learned a lot.
FESMIRE: Made friends. I have happy memories.
ERICKSEN: That’s great. How would you say that God worked through that part of your life when you were a student?
FESMIRE: Oh boy. In every day happenings. And in my quiet time.
FESMIRE: And in the people that he brought into my life. He worked [laughs]. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on it, but I’m thankful.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. Amen. Thanks for...and we’re thankful to you for recording your...
FESMIRE: Oh boy.
ERICKSEN: ...your memories for us. Thank you.
FESMIRE: You’re welcome.
END OF TAPE
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Last Revised: 09/17/13
© 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.2013