The Reverend Billy Graham, worldwide evangelist and “Pastor to the Presidents”, had a humble beginning here in Tampa, specifically in Temple Terrace. Billy Graham attended Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace along the Hillsborough River from 1937 through 1940. Graham, who felt his calling here in Temple Terrace, would practice preaching on a little island in the middle of the Hillsborough River. The place where the future reverend would launch a canoe into the river to paddle over to the small island, where plants and animals were presumably captivated by his nascent preaching skills, is now occupied by Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace.
The park has a playground for children and is frequented by families looking for an enjoyable afternoon playing in a safe environment. Riverhills Park also has a boardwalk that wanders along the Hillsborough River providing gorgeous views of the scenery and wildlife in and around the river. The boardwalk, a place where couples pose for engagement photos, gender reveals and birth announcements, as well as a shady place to cast out a line and catch a fish, was recently refurbished in November of 2018, restoring the boardwalk for generations to come. Families who come allowing their children to frolic about the playground spilling out their youthful energy, younger couples who are announcing the arrival of future patrons of the park, or the fisherman who is enjoying the access to the river the boardwalk provides, are often unaware of a secret hidden in the park.
There is a plaque in Riverhills Park commemorating Graham’s acknowledgement of his call into the ministry. The plaque which now present in the park presently is the second version of the official commemoration the reverend. The original plaque, which stated Florida Bible Institute became Florida College, was historically inaccurate and was updated in 2011 by Temple Terrace to correct the inaccuracies. Florida Bible Institute moved to Pasco County in Florida, eventually changing the name to Trinity College of Florida. Florida College, while a Christian college, occupies the former campus home of Graham’s college in Temple Terrace.
The new plaque relates how the Reverend Billy Graham felt his call to preach the Gospel here in Tampa, specifically Temple Terrace, which ended with him being “one of the best-known spiritual leaders of the twentieth century” having preached to thousands world-wide and acting as an adviser to ten presidents. His journey began on a little island in the Hillsborough River, preaching to birds and alligators. The plaque is placed where it is believed he would launch his canoe, which is launching point for his lifetime in the ministry.