Religion

Billy Graham to mark 97th birthday Saturday with family, friends and cake

In 2013, Billy Graham arrives in the ballroom at the Grove Park Inn for a celebration of his 95th birthday.
In 2013, Billy Graham arrives in the ballroom at the Grove Park Inn for a celebration of his 95th birthday. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

On Saturday, Billy Graham turns 97.

When he was born in 1918, on a dairy farm near what is now the Park Road Shopping Center, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was America’s president and World War I was just days away from ending.

The Charlotte-born evangelist now lives in Montreat, in a mountaintop home where he’s expected to spend a quiet birthday with family and friends.

Other than that, son Franklin Graham told reporters Thursday, “I’m not quite sure what his plans are. I think he’ll just be happy to wake up.”

On his birthday last year, his son said, Graham got 15 birthday cakes from family, friends and well-wishers. “And I can tell you this: He took one bite out of every one of those cakes.”

Franklin Graham reported that his father’s mind is still sharp, but he does have physical challenges with failing eyesight and poor hearing. “We got some new devices that can help him understand,” the younger Graham said. “We’re just so grateful that he’s still with us.”

Billy Graham’s biggest issue as he marks another year is that he misses his late wife, Ruth, who died in 2007.

“He just loved my mother very deeply,” his son said. “Her not being with him is something that is just a hole in his heart.”

Two other veterans of the famous Billy Graham Crusades have also lived long lives. Cliff Barrows, Graham’s longtime music and program director, is 92. And George Beverly Shea, the gospel soloist in the crusades, died two years ago at age 104.

On Saturday, Charlotte’s Billy Graham Library, 4330 Westmont Drive, will celebrate his birthday by offering visitors complimentary cake (while slices last), starting at 9:30 a.m. Patrons will also be able to sign a birthday banner for Charlotte’s most famous son.

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