MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Before Reverend Billy Graham earned international fame, he served as president of Northwestern Bible College in Roseville from 1948 to 1952.
It is now called the University of Northwestern, and the newest building on campus is named after Rev. Graham.
He last brought one of his famous “crusades” to Minnesota in 1996, when his appearance at the Metrodome drew hundreds of thousands of people to see and hear the legendary preacher.
Read More: Evangelist Billy Graham Dies At 99
“We come to a city to present the Gospel so the individual can have peace and joy and forgiveness and assurance that when he dies, he is going to heaven,” Graham said.
He spoke about faith and hope in a way that people found easy to understand.
“He was a man of character and a man of God, first and foremost. But he had a unique way of taking the word of God and making it approachable for people,” said Cayla Blucker of the University of Northwestern.
The building where Northwestern’s cafeteria is located is called the Billy Graham Community Life Commons.
Rev. Graham was just 28 years old when he became the school’s president.
“Sure enough, during his years here, enrollment grew drastically and he was still doing his crusades,” said school president Dr. Alan Cureton.
At Northwestern, Graham launched the Christian radio station KTIS, which has grown and thrived.
As his crusades grew in popularity, he traveled the world with cameras and microphones, capturing his words of comfort. He is remembered as charismatic, but humble.
“That helped the foundation of his leadership and become what was known as ‘America’s Pastor.’ Can you imagine that? To be known as America’s pastor?” Cureton said.
With his death comes sadness, but also some peace.
“To hear those words, “Welcome home, good and faithful servant,’ I think that’s what he wanted in the end,” Blucker said.
The university plans to honor Rev. Graham’s achievements this fall during its homecoming celebration in September.
Stephanie Williams O’Brien is the lead pastor at Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis.
Her dad worked for Reverend Graham for 30 years, and their families became close friends.
“It was a blessing to know him and someone he prayed for since I was a little girl,” said O’Brien. “That’s why my family is here in Minnesota. Because we moved here for my parents to take that role with the Graham’s.”
O’Brien, said both of her parents began working for Billy and Ruth Graham when they were just 21-years-old. Reverend Graham became a significant part of her childhood.
“He did the baby dedication and blessing for both me and my little brother when we were babies. He was a part of so many significant moments. I can’t remember my first Billy Graham crusade because I was so little,” said O’Brien.
And he was there when O’Brien’s dad died in 2000.
“Which was very significant and meaningful to us because he and Mr. Graham were very close,” said O’Brien.
The Graham’s influenced O’Brien enough that 10 years ago she started the Mill City Church in Minneapolis. There are now more than 400 people in her congregation and she’s hoping to touch their lives like Reverend Graham touched hers.
“He was a very authentic and genuine man. He really tried to be the same person in front of people that he was behind the scenes and that’s what I saw. He was never too important for anybody,” said O’Brien.
Rev. Graham’s ministry was headquartered in Minneapolis for more than 50 years before it moved to his home state of North Carolina.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence paid their respects Wednesday, saying Graham will be missed by Christians and people of all religions.