by Clytie Hall Frink
[Editor's Note: In 1919 Billy Sunday conducted a revival at Pendleton, Oregon. A young cub reporter, Clytie Hall, now Mrs. H. W. Frink became acquainted with Mrs. Sunday. Memories of that single meeting are after 37 years very vivid. Impressed with Mrs. Sunday, her devotion to the great evangelist, her great faith, Mrs. Frink has submitted the following article, believing it will be of special interest to residents of this area where Mrs. Sunday is so well-known, loved and respected.]
The Roundup city of Pendleton, Oregon was having a roundup a little out of the ordinary along in the early summer of 1919 for Billy Sunday had rolled into town and set to work.
The Pendleton Tribune sent a girl reporter out to get a story.
I was accompanied by an awful fear of failure. I was scared by the huge tense crowd. It seemed like a good idea to try for an interview, but Billy Sunday was busy and couldn't be buttonholed.
Ma, however, was available. I sat with her on a bench up front in the huge temporary tabernacle. We had a good neighborly visit. There was a certain amount of confusion as new converts made their way forword, but I finally got a story. This is the way it appeared in next day's Tribune-first column, front page, banner head and everything!
"This is the best bunch I've faced in Oregon," yelled Billy Sunday, world famous evangelist, after he had twice tried to stop talking last night. Each time the immense crowd at Happy Canyon stadium shouted 'Go on! go on! lots of time; play ball!' And at side down front, sitting where she could hear every word Billy said, sat Ma.
"Ma really requires a whole chapter herself but since we were told to cover Billy Sunday we'd better include him in the story. He talked for nearly two hours, loud, fast and furiously, and he brought a message that 'got over.'
"Billy's talk was about Americanism, Christianity, the great war and baseball and sometimes he had them all in one sentence."
A Few Home Runs
"A few of the 'home runs' he got in were: "The Kaiser is so low down, he'd need an airship to get to hell." "You can't put it over on God, believe me; God can put the ball in center field any time He walks up to the plate." "We don't want a darned mark of German money; we don't want an acre of their land, and by gosh we wouldn't take it if they gave it to us! The only trouble with that bunch (the Germans) is that they got the tar knocked out of them. I'm against Bolshevism; I consider it's principles the most damnable that ever wiggled out of the heart of man. Bolshevism is another name for rotten, hellish and damnable. God is always on the side of freedom and thaat's the reason that bunch of Heinies had to take the count."
"Sunday told of his conversion 32 years ago, and also of the way in which he had seen some of his old pals die. He ended with 'All I'm trying to do is make it easier for people to do right and harder for them to do wrong.'
Tributes to the brave soldiers of all nations was a big feature of the evangelist's talk. He said 'Humanity has been saved for years to come because our boys have bared their breasts to the foe and done their duty. His own son, Captain George Sunday, has recently returned from six months' duty in France and is now in charge of Daddy's and Ma's ranch at Hood River, Oregon where they are spending a part of the summer.
"All during Billy's exhortations, Ma Sunday was in agony every time a baby cried and she was going 'sh,sh' half the time so that everything would be quiet for Daddy's talk. She was nice and courteous to this reporter, but she just hated to let even one person miss anything Billy said. Just as we were getting a little information about the 700 Leghorn chickens she has at the farm, and how an old shoemaker in Pittsburgh put those funny heels on her shoes, she'd break off and say something like 'Now listen, this is going to be a good story he's going to tell.' She knew just what her famous husband was going to say next and when he had worked up to one of his climaxes she exclaimed 'He could hardly wait until he got that out!'
It wasn't because she knew Billy's talk by heart, either, for Ma says he never gives the same talk twice. He's always studying and always getting some new ideas from every place he talks. 'He'll pick up something from this town, too,' she laughed.
" 'Why do they call you 'Ma'?" we asked. Mrs. Sunday laughted, slapped us on the back, saying 'That's just to fool you reporters.' She said a reporter at Pittsburgh started it several years ago because he couldn't find anything else to write about, she guessed. He heard Mr. Sunday call her 'Ma' and so he did, too and right in print and people have been doing it ever since.
"She doesn't care, she said, but sometimes their four children object to the whole country's calling her 'Ma.' Mrs. Sunday isn't only 'Ma,' she's 'Grandma,' too. She has three grandchildren. Captain George Sunday is married as is the daughter, Helen. Billy, Jr., and Paul, aged 18 and 12 respectively are still at 'home' which is Winona Lake, Ind. when the family is there.
"Billy Sunday is 56 years old. Ma didn't state her age. They were married 31 years ago and at that time Billy was playing ball with the Chicago Major league. Mrs. Sunday doesn't want people to think her husband was a drunkard and a tough. He never was, she said.
"This spring Billy Sunday preached for 10 weeks straight in Chicago and gave the entire proceeds, $66,000 to the Pacific Garden mission where he was converted, in recognition of his joy of being a Christian.
"Billy is booked for years ahead, Ma said. Just the other day a cablegram came from New Zealand asking him to come at once for a four months' campaign. A couple of years ago Honolulu tried hard to get him.
"Ma was asked if she ever got tired of listening to her husband. She shook her head emphatically. It's really no wonder that she doesn't; as one feminine admirer in the crowd remarked: "He's downright funny!"
"Billy waltzes from one end of the stage to the other while he lets loose some of the most refreshing slang and apt conclusions one ever heard, and all the time his right hand doesn't know what his left hand doeth.
But Ma knows all the time."
This was the only time I ever actually met Ma Sunday, but I have read evey scrap of news I could find about her and was delighted to discover that as recently as six years ago she was as vigorous and out-spoken as ever.
The fact that young Bily Graham out in California was beginning to follow in Billy Sunday's footsteps made Ma mighty happy, so much that she sent him her Billy's set of Bible references.
Writes Mrs. Sunday
I wrote to Mrs. Sunday telling her what I had in mind to do with my memories of her. Within a week her answer came from Winona Lake, gracious and kind, beautifully handwritten and showing no diminuition of the dauntless spirit which has always been hers.
An excerpt reads as follows: "It's nice to get your letter. Billy Sunday died in Chicago November 6, 1935. I sold the Hood River, Oregon ranch as I never wanted to go again. For 25 years we had made the trip and had worlds of fun out there with our family Helen, George, Billy, Jr., Paul - all gone. One of George's two sons was killed in 1934."
(Mrs. Sunday's family now consists of two grandsons, George Sunday, Jr., Chicago, and Paul Haines, Phoenix, Arizona)
When she was 86 years old, Mrs. Sunday sent me a picture taken in 1954 bearing a notation: Isaiah 41:10.
Upon looking up the passage we realized anew the source of this remarkable woman's vigor and strength, for she also, with the profet of old has made this assurance her own: "Fear thou not; for I am with thee, be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Warsaw Times Union Saturday June 23, 1956
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