A Birthday to Remember

How do you plan to celebrate your 101st birthday? For Donald Aycock, the choice was easy: visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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But although the Billy Graham Library is a nice place to celebrate a birthday, there were deeper reasons for Donald’s visit. His association with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association goes back to the 1950s, and his family’s history of Christian ministry stretches back even further.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side, they moved from Tennessee to the Newcastle and Breckenridge area of Texas,” Donald recalled. “He had a peg leg. I don’t know how he lost his leg, but that didn’t stop him from being a minister.” 

He was a circuit riding preacher, added Donald’s daughter, Nancy Shaffer.

Donald was born in a sod house in Colorado but grew up mostly on a farm in Oklahoma. “My father made his living by raising farm vegetables and milk and selling it at the farmer’s market in Oklahoma City,” he said. 

A star athlete in high school, Donald played left halfback on the football team. “I played basketball, baseball, everything. I was the catcher on the baseball team and I played forward-guard on the basketball team.”

Don Aycock at the Billy Graham Library. Photo by Logan Ryan/©2022 BGEA

In fact, Donald attributes his lifelong good health to the fact that his family lived eight miles from the school, but the school bus only traveled as far as five miles from the school. So, after staying for sports practice when school dismissed, Donald would run the remaining three miles home.

Back at home, he and his brothers made a basketball hoop out of an old barrel and put it up behind the barn. If anyone wanted to find him, they knew that’s where he’d likely be.

Donald received football scholarship offers from two different colleges, but because he was the youngest son, his dad needed him to stay home and help run the family farm. He never did attend college. 

Although the family had faithfully attended church throughout his life—two services on Sundays and one on Wednesday—Jesus Christ changed Donald’s life one Sunday at a Pentecostal Holiness church when he was in his late teens and already married to his childhood sweetheart, Marguerite.

“My wife and I gave our hearts to the Lord at the same time,” he recalled, “and we were baptized in the creek at one of the elders’ farms.” 

They had been married for just nine months when Donald was drafted into the Army.

World War II put Donald’s athleticism to good use—he was a survey runner,  identifying the positions his battery in the 18th Field Artillery would fire upon. The war also showed him God’s protection and the power of prayer.

“My family prayed for me every day,” he said. “The Lord took care of me through the whole war, from the time I got there 13 days after it began, until it was over. Marguerite wrote me a letter every day. On D-Day, she wrote that the Oklahoma City newspaper had announced the invasion. I still have it on the wall in my room.”

After his discharge from the Army in December 1945, he and Marguerite lived in California for a few years before moving to Lawton, Oklahoma, where the pastor of a local church recommended that Donald become the local coordinator for Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures films. Donald coordinated showings in Lawton from the ministry’s earliest films in the 1950s through “Joni,” the 1979 movie that told the story of the 1967 diving accident that paralyzed Joni Eareckson Tada and how God had used her since then.  

“I don’t know how they came to choose me,” Donald said, “but I was honored and blessed by being affiliated with the Billy Graham films. I never planned any of this. It’s been a joy of my life to be so honored by Billy Graham.”

The family’s visit to the Billy Graham Library brought back treasured memories for Donald. “There’s never been another one like Billy Graham,” he said. “I so appreciate what he did, and it’s hard to imagine the impact that he made in the world.”

Donald now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a house with his daughter, Nancy, and her family, including her daughter, son-in-law and their three kids—four generations in one house. Donald’s son, Bobby, still lives in Lawton, but he was at the Library with the rest of the family to celebrate his dad’s birthday. 

“What he’s experienced during his lifetime,” Bobby said, “goes from horse and carriage to the stock market crash, the dust bowl years, World War II, the Korean War, the industrial boom after World War II, the invention of the television, space travel and cell phones.”

Bobby has just one issue with celebrating his dad’s 101st birthday at the Billy Graham Library: “The problem with all this is that I don’t know what we’re going to do for his next birthday to top this.” ©2023 BGEA

Photo: Logan Ryan/©2022 BGEA