Somewhere in our conversation, the town of Wheaton, Ill., came up.
I have a number of connections with Wheaton. My wife’s family hails from that area, and she still has two aunts and a cousin who live there. And besides that, I have an aunt and uncle that attended Wheaton College.
When I mentioned that to Irene, the 95-year-old quietly mentioned that she went to Wheaton, too.
“In fact,” she added, “Billy Graham was in my graduating class.”
“Wow!” I said, “that is really impressive! Tell me more.”
So she did. She mentioned that he was a very nice young man — and that even back in college, he had a church. I could tell from listening to Irene that it was obvious to all that Billy Graham was headed on to greater things.
Now, all that was impressive, but what struck me as even more impressive was Irene’s story.
“You know how I got to Wheaton College?” she asked.
I shook my head and smiled, and that was enough to urge her on.
“I always wanted to go to Wheaton,” she said. “But it was the Depression and we didn’t have any money. Everyone was out of work. My father, too, could not find a job in Muskegon.”
Indeed, those were hard times; and although Irene wanted to go to Wheaton College, it seemed like it would be impossible.
Then Irene smiled and her eyes twinkled as she continued. “You see, there was a man in my church. He was wealthy man. He owned a business of some kind and he saw to it that I could have a part-time job there. He had asked me if I wanted to go to college and I told him I did. But I knew I could never afford Wheaton. But the job made it possible for me to go to junior college.”
When Irene was finished with junior college, this man once again wanted to talk to her. Obviously, he had an interest in Irene and saw potential in her. So, one day, he said he wanted to come over to her house and talk with her and her parents.
Irene was a bit concerned about this because, as she shared with me, her father was a drinker. Every night he would go out with his buddies to the bar to drink his troubles away. But one of the stipulations for this man coming over was that Irene’s mother and father be there. So, lo and behold, her father stayed home for the first time Irene could remember.
Irene’s mother served a “little lunch,” as Irene described it, for the man and his wife that evening. As they conversed, the man winked at his wife and announced that they wanted to pay Irene’s way to college so that she could attend Wheaton.
“We would like to set up a revolving loan fund,” he said. It would be a loan and Irene was to pay it back eventually so that the money could be made available later for another student. That is exactly what she did while working at his company.
Of course, Irene was overjoyed because she knew that all this meant she could go to Wheaton College, the school of dreams, and she could go immediately that fall.
As Irene told me the story, she paused at this point and smiled. “And you know what?” she asked.
“What?” I responded.
“My dad never touched another drop of alcohol after that night,” she said.
I could tell that, for her, that was the best part of the story. One man’s kindness and generosity had affected her derelict father’s life so much that he became a changed man. He was so moved by this man’s gracious gesture to his daughter that he gave up the habit that had been destroying him and his family.
We never know how our actions and gestures of kindness might affect someone. But, here is a good example that indeed they do.
Indeed, what the Bible says is true: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
— By the Rev. John Koedyker, pastor of Word of Hope Church in Fruitport.