Billy Graham attended the Florida Bible Institute located along the Hillsborough River in Temple Terrace. Originally, he attended Bob Jones College located in Cleveland, Tennessee, which has since relocated and is now known as Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. Graham found Bob Jones College too legalistic and inundated with rules, however. After dropping out of Bob Jones, he found Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida, near Tampa. The institute purchased the property from Temple Terrace after the Florida economy collapsed in 1926. The campus was surrounded by the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club, with one of its most famous buildings, Sutton Hall, originally serving as the clubhouse for the country club. While the institute relocated and changed names, the campus still exists today. Presently, Florida College, another Christian college affiliated with the Church of Christ, occupies the campus formerly belonging to the Florida Bible Institute. Nestled comfortably along the banks of the Hillsborough River, Florida College’s campus is quaint and intimate, which nurtured one of the twentieth century’s greatest evangelist.
Billy Graham threw himself into his studies at Florida Bible Institute and became a leader on the campus serving as the student body president his senior year. He also served as an associate Pastor at Peniel Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida. It was there he was ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention, an event like a dissertation defense, where the person defends theological questions pertaining to the tenants of their faith. He then began street preaching in downtown Tampa, ministering to the homeless who were looking for work near the end of the Great Depression. Eventually the reverend would preach to millions around the world.
Although the original school relocated, Florida College purchased the land from Florida Bible Institute and is still preparing young adults for their future, especially in Christian service. There is a plaque in nearby Riverhills Park which tells of the change in institutions, which needed updating in 2011 for historical inaccuracies. The new plaque accurately informs us of Florida College’s connection to Reverend Graham, distinguishing between the two colleges while acknowledging Graham’s call at the location.
Florida College opened in 1946 with 100 students in its first class. Originally chartered as Florida Christian College, the school voted to change the name to Florida College in 1963 as it began branching out and receiving students outside the focus of ministry preparation. For years Florida College offered an Associate of Arts in Biblical Studies degree, receiving accreditation in 1996 for a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. Now the college offers bachelor’s degrees in business, communication, elementary education, history, liberal studies and music. The school is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The college, whose mascot is the Falcon, also participates in intercollegiate athletics in basketball, volleyball, soccer and cross country on the NAIA level. The college also administers Florida College Academy, a K-8 private school also located on the campus, sharing the athletic facilities with the college.