In many ways, it was a single $10 bill that helped shape her views on how she could invest in furthering God’s Kingdom around the world.
In the late 1930s, as the United States was emerging from the throes of the Great Depression, Ethlene Priester was finishing up high school in rural South Carolina. One night, she attended a square dance in Allendale, a small town in the southwest corner of the state, across the border from Georgia. While there, she spotted W. Ray Hallman across the floor. Her heart beat a little faster. And when their eyes locked on each other, Ethlene thought, I’m going to marry him.
Their friendship progressed, and Ray soon had it in his mind to marry Ethlene once she turned 18. Ethlene had other ideas.
“I thought that every woman needed to know how to make a living, whether she had to or not,” Ethlene says now, all these decades later. “And so, I told him that I didn’t want to get married, but that I was going to go into training to become a nurse.”
However, one imposing roadblock stood in her way: money. Though her father, Henry Counts Priester, never lacked for work during those painful years, the family was poor. Ethlene’s mother, Carrie Deer Priester, borrowed $10 from a friend so her daughter could enroll. Ethlene had to pay for books and uniforms, but other expenses were covered.
Thirty-six months later–after two years at the state hospital in Columbia and one year at the Medical University in Charleston–Ethlene completed her schooling.
While in training, Ethlene was paid $20 per month. So one of the first things she did was pay back the $10 to the woman who graciously loaned it to her mother. “I’ll always be thankful for the generosity she showed to our family and me,” Ethlene says. “That kindness still means a lot to me today.”
On The Move
Upon graduation in 1943, Ethlene entered the U.S. Air Force as a nurse and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Nine months after being stationed at Coral Gables, Fla., she was promoted to First Lieutenant. She served for just over two years.Meanwhile, having enlisted in the U.S. Navy, Ray had not forgotten Ethlene. They reconnected after the war and married in 1946.
The couple first moved back to Charleston, then to Summerville, about 25 miles away. For the next 16 years Ethlene worked as a nurse in a local doctor’s office while Ray was an accountant with the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company.
Eventually, the two moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Ray oversaw the setup of records for the paper company after it purchased several thousand acres of woodlands outside Manteo. But when Hurricane Hilda blew through in October 1964, flooding their home up to Ethlene’s waist, they decided to move back to South Carolina. Ray continued with the paper company, while Ethlene joined a doctor’s clinic in Charleston.
After retirement, a condition with Ray’s heart prompted the couple to move closer to advanced heath care in West Columbia. Ray died on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2004. Ethlene celebrated her 90th birthday this past January.
Supporting Evangelistic Ministry
Ethlene invited Jesus Christ into her heart at the age of 12, but because of a deep-seated fear of being under water, she wasn’t baptized until much later.
“I was scared to death of water, but when we returned to South Carolina and moved to Leesville, we started attending First Calvary Baptist Church, where Ray went when he was growing up,” Ethlene explains.
“Pastor Johnny Muller helped me feel real comfortable about baptism and being in water, so he immersed me when I was 64 years old!” she says, breaking out in laughter and slapping her knees.
Ethlene can’t recall when she first started listening to Billy Graham on the radio and then watching him on TV. She was part of a church group from First Calvary that traveled by Greyhound Bus to the Billy Graham Crusade in Columbia in April 1987. She has attended several seminars at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville, N.C.–taking close relatives with her. And she’s been to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Over the years, Ethlene has donated to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and also to Samaritan’s Purse, designating most of her monthly gifts to the “Where Needed Most” fund. “I figure they know what they’re doing in terms of how my gifts should best be used,” she says.
Because Ray took care of his wife through a sizable inheritance, Ethlene sensed freedom from God to donate three significant contributions through BGEA’s gift annuity program. She also urged her older sister, Sally Smith, who lives around the corner, to invest in a gift annuity.
Through gift annuities, their donations support the Association and, in turn, Ethlene and Sally receive regular payments over their lifetime. “I told Sally not to buy stock but instead to invest in the Billy Graham Association because they spread God’s Word,” Ethlene says.
Growing up during the Great Depression–and being the recipient of someone else’s generosity–left an indelible mark on Ethlene and taught her to be open-handed with her money.
“God has blessed me financially,” she says. “I don’t want to bury it, but rather spread it. My prayer is to use my money for His benefit.”