By the Editor
When I was the pastor of a church in Alabama a family from Michigan moved to our little community and united with our church. The mother and dad were fine people and they had two wonderful boys, Curt and Wray. The mother, Ellen Anderson (Her husband (Danny), too) was an active church member. Ellen was a stay at home mom and wife who had a good bit of time to help out at our church and Christian school.
Any pastor would be delighted to have a person so caring and concerned about the local church. During one of her visits she told me about a relative who was famous. “Famous?,” I asked. She was delighted to share the story. Her famous relative was Rev. George Bennard, the hymn writer (1873-1958). He wrote a number of songs, but his most famous was The Old Rugged Cross. I was impressed, but over the many years that story faded in my memory. This past week her son, Curt Anderson, was a guest in our home along with his wife, Bonita and their three children, Ty, Jon and Drew. The Andersons home school their kids. So, mostly, the whole family travels with Curt. Curt is an evangelist who uses magic as a tool to win souls and encourage Christians to live for God. His wife is his stage assistant. While seated around our table we were talking about his mom and dad and our church. I remembered to him that his mother had shared a story about a famous relative who had written a song.
Curt immediately said, “George Bennard and The Old Rugged Cross.” We talked about Mr. Bennard for a bit and Curt told me he now owned the international rights to that wonderful song of our Christian faith. Later, I looked up the song and Mr. Bennard. I found that Billy Sunday learned of the song after if was first published. He used it on his radio program and I suppose in some of his evangelistic meetings. The song became an instant hit with the faithful. It sold some 15,000,000 copies. Wow!
George Bennard knew he wanted to be a preacher from a young age. Economics hindered him at the beginning after his father died. But he would later work with The Salvation Army where he served, I believe, as an evangelist. Later after leaving that good ministry, he did the work of an evangelist on his own. I was proud of the Anderson family and the dedication of Ellen to Christian work. Her relative, George Bennard, would have been proud of her dedication. He would also be very proud of her son, Curt, who is earning a good reputation with his Curt Anderson Magic. I am happy to report this story here on our blog and hope you will pray for Curt Anderson. If your church or ministry would like to consider his ministry of magic I hope you will contact him. His website is: http://www.magicurt.com/ Click on that link and read his story and see samples of his work. He has a lovely Christian family and is worthy of your consideration. Can you see a likeness in Curt to the Rev. George Bennard?
The Rev. George Bennard, who grew up poor in Iowa, wrote what many consider to be the most beloved hymn of all time, “The Old Rugged Cross.” “I seemed to have a vision . . . I saw the Christ and the cross inseparable,” he wrote in his memoirs. He wrote the song over a month as he traveled to revival meetings. The melody came easily, but he labored over the words in the four verses and refrain. The hymn, published in 1913, was immediately successful. Bennard (pronounced Benn-ARD), who was born in Youngstown, Ohio, was the son of George and Margaret Russell Bennard, of Scottish descent. The couple, who had five other children, moved their family to Albia, where the senior Bennard ran a tavern, and later to Lucas. When the Albia tavern burned, the father of the house turned to mining coal, and an accident led to his death at 49, forcing young George, at 16, to support his mother and sisters as a miner. BECOMES MINISTER: In 1895, across the state in Canton, Bennard attended Salvation Army meetings, and at 24 became a minister when he enlisted in the Salvation Army at Rock Island, Ill. By 1898, he was conducting revival meetings throughout the Midwest, later transferring to New York, where he resigned in 1910 to go out on his own as an evangelist. It was at that time that he began composing hymns. Bennard settled at Albion, Mich., and opened his own hymn publishing company. It was at Albion that he likely began — and later finished — “The Old Rugged Cross.” The hymn was first sung formally at a revival meeting at Pokagon, Mich. Noted evangelist Billy Sunday, an Iowa native, popularized the hymn with his nationally broadcast radio show. By 1939, more than 15 million copies of the hymn had been sold and numerous recordings made. OTHER HYMNS: Bennard eventually composed about 350 hymns, such as “Speak, My Lord,” “Oh, Make Me Clean” and “Have Thy Way, Lord” but none was as successful as “Rugged Cross.” Bennard, who played a guitar but not piano, was known as a persuasive speaker and sharp dresser, yet humble and sincere. Bennard’s first wife, Willaminta, died, and in July 1944 he married Hannah Dahlstrom, who was his accompanist. The couple eventually retired to Ashton, Mich. Bennard died of asthma in Reed City, Mich., on Oct. 10, 1958, and services there were attended by 400 people, including 25 area ministers. As could be expected, the rites included an organ rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross.” Today, Reed City is home to the Old Rugged Cross Historical Museum, which is visited by thousands of people every year.
There is a nice website featuring details of Mr. George Bennard’s minitry: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/99999999/FAMOUSIOWANS/41011002