It took Katie Schuon 11-and-a-half hours to cover the 730 miles between her home town in Michigan and the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., but every minute and turn in the road was worth it.
“I love President Bush. We share the same faith. He is a great man of God and I really respect that about him,” says Schuon. “To see him here at the Billy Graham Library—I know Billy Graham has had such a huge influence on his faith walk—it will be a really neat experience to see the two of them together. I am excited to see his wife, also, and tell them how much I appreciate their work for our country.”
Schuon was among the 1,000 people who secured wristbands that will allow them a place in line Monday when former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will appear at the Billy Graham Library. The couple will sign copies of their respective memoirs, Decision Points and Spoken from the Heart. Billy Graham is expected to join them at the book signing.
And that, says Shuon, will be a moment to cherish. “Billy Graham has been a spiritual leader for President Bush as well as for millions of other people. He is one of the greatest evangelists of all time. I think coming here for the signing shows the significance of Dr. Graham’s role in Bush’s life.”
Although she spent the night in her car, Schuon describes the experience in the Library parking lot as fun. “I brought a sleeping bag and a couple of blankets, so I was fairly warm. Then someone knocked on my window at 5:30 a.m. with coffee and donuts. There were a lot of friendly people in line. Everyone was in high spirits, patient, and excited for the opportunity.”
Kathy Hardison, on the other hand, arrived at 9:30 a.m., thinking it was the proper time, but found the event was already sold out. She decided to press the gate button anyway and the security guard let her through “for some reason.” He told her there weren’t tickets left but she decided to stay.
“I got in the back of the line and it seemed like there were thousands of people here,” says Hardison. “Then, all of a sudden, a different security guard came by with tickets and he gave me one! I think it was divine intervention.”
Hardison has just endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for invasive ductal cancer.
“The Lord Jesus allowed me this miracle—to have this desire of my heart,” she says. “The two biggest desires that I have, beside my family, are to meet Dr. Billy Graham and President Bush.”
Hardison, who is a flight attendant, says she will wear her uniform on Monday. “I don’t know if I will even get to speak with him, but if I do, I want to tell him I am so grateful for grounding the planes and protecting us. I think he is one of the greatest presidents we have had.”
Pat Viser, who came to get Christmas presents for family, says she enjoyed reading Laura Bush’s book, Spoken from the Heart. “I was just very impressed with her home life when they were a young married couple, then the way they raised the girls—the simplicity of it.
“A lot of people have the impression that they are very wealthy, but they started out simply like most young couples with very little and worked very hard,” Viser adds. “They were family centered. And I love Barbara Bush—his mom was a big influence on both of them.”
Scott Clontz got in line at 7:30 a.m. because the Bushes shaped his life as a young adult. “I just want to thank them for their service. For them to stay together as a family and face trials and tribulations that we all go through, and still be able to give all they could give as leaders, was important.”
Erik Davies, who says he doesn’t agree with some of Bush’s decisions, waited for three-and-a-half hours, even in the sleet, “because I am very interested in some of the decisions that were made during the Bush administration. The second copy is kind of a gag gift for my grandfather.”
Also braving the cold and sleet to secure a wristband, Lori Tartaglia says she just had to take advantage of the opportunity to meet a former president. “It will be an experience I will remember the rest of my life.”
Robert Hodge, who says Billy Graham played an important role in his life, enjoyed the winter weather. “I think it’s amazing that we have the snow and sleet. It’s beautiful.”
For Pastor David Grinnel of Hickory, N.C., the chance to attend Monday’s event will be historic and personal at the same time. “It will be an opportunity to meet two men who have changed history. I have great respect for the Bush family and great respect for Dr. Graham. I have never met him before and I hope I’ll get the chance to at least see him. I would like to thank Billy Graham for the influence he has had on my life. His ministry had a great impact on my calling into the ministry.”
Grinnel hopes he has the chance to say a word to former president Bush, too. “He led during one of the greatest crises our country has faced and I would like to say thank you.”
Today marked Grinnel’s third visit to the Library and he never grows tired of walking under the giant cross. “Every Christian needs to see the Billy Graham Library,” he adds. “It’s a great source of inspiration.”
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