Ray Moore of Garner had heard “the piano story” as part of his family lore for years, but the facts were always hazy until he visited the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.
Moore was part of a drama-music mission team from Aversboro Road Baptist Church in Garner to the Appalachian region of North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Story of family’s piano tracked to The Cove.
The team was presenting a play about famed hymn writer Fanny Crosby and between shows made a quick trip to The Cove, a retreat established by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association near Asheville.
The tour of the facility included a visit to the chapel, which was originally used for the seminars offered at the retreat.
The guide explained the background of the podium, the pews, the chandeliers, the massive doors, the wrought iron sconces and the organ (one of a half dozen once owned and played daily by famed Graham soloist George Beverly Shea).
But Moore’s attention picked up when the guide told the story of the five-foot grand piano. Suddenly childhood stories had a new meaning.
“I had heard the stories, but I didn’t know the full story,” Moore said.
In 1989, The Cove received a designated gift to purchase a piano for the chapel. Executive director Jerry Miller spotted a classified ad for a piano in Hendersonville. He didn’t know much about pianos and asked Shea to go with him to check it out.
“Imagine the surprise of the owner when she opened the door and saw George Beverly Shea standing there,” the guide said.
Shea, who was then 80 years old, played the piano, looked it over and even crawled underneath it. He also fulfilled a request from the owner to sing a song.
The association paid the full asking price for the piano, but Shea liked to say the piano, made of oak with a spruce sound board and maple hammers, was of such great quality that it had been purchased for a song.
Moore wasn’t sure the two stories meshed, but when he approached the piano he saw a small plaque dated 1964, “To Velma from Mother and Daddy.”
Velma Huggins Ramsey Thelen was Moore’s distant relative. Moore’s mother was the sister of Thelen’s father, Roy A. Huggins.
“I remember seeing the piano many times when we visited her in Hendersonville,” Moore said.
To confirm the link, Moore called a cousin and told her that he was visiting The Cove. His cousin’s first words were asking if he had seen Aunt Velma’s piano.
“I had heard the story, but I never knew where the piano was,” Moore said. “It was quite a surprise.”
The Cove’s Jill Gottenstrater said the piano is maintained in playing condition, although the chapel isn’t used for worship services on a regular basis anymore. Designed by Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, the chapel is open as a retreat, a place of quiet and peace and of prayer.
“People sometimes come in and play,” Gottenstrater said. “That piano has brought a lot of joy into the world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Stevens was a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer for more than 40 years. Used by permission.)