CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Eyewitness News Anchor Blair Miller was in Asheville Thursday night for the Rev. Billy Graham’s 95th birthday celebration.
In a ballroom packed with nearly 900 people, Graham and his best friend of nearly 70 years shared a moment that was just about them.
"Cliff and I want to thank you," Graham said. "This celebration is partly for you as well. And I want to thank you for all you have meant to me."
Cliff Barrows was musical director for all of Graham's crusades.
"That was 68 years ago and I thank God for you, my dear friend," Barrows said.
And all night, people said how grateful they were for the evangelist and his ministry.
From singers Ricky Skaggs and Michael W. Smith to Donald Trump, who said his own father was a fan.
"Billy Graham is special," Trump said.
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin spoke at Thursday night's celebration at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. She said Graham has always been bold and spoken the truth.
"So appreciative of what he's done in impacting our world," Palin said.
The reverend delivered a message that's been on his heart for the past three years.
His son, Franklin Graham, said Billy Graham originally wanted to preach in a stadium, but didn't have the strength.
Instead, he recorded the message from his living room, and turned those recordings into a series of videos called "My Hope America."
They include powerful messages from the reverend and testimonies.
IMAGES: Scenes from Billy Graham's birthday celebration in Asheville
IMAGES: Scenes from the Billy Graham Library
Local attendees touched by Graham's message
Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty was also in Asheville to hear what tonight's celebration meant to the people who have followed his teachings
For nearly a century, Graham's message has inspired believers.
Channel 9 talked with a number of people from the Charlotte area who made the trip to Asheville Thursday night.
One woman described how she was brought to tears as close friends of the Graham spoke.
Some of the people from Charlotte chose to come over together in buses.
Many of the attendees described how Graham impacted their lives or the lives of loves ones.
Strong security presence at celebration
The Grove Park Inn was very careful not to give details of all the security, but security personnel are visible.
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Faherty saw several off-duty Buncombe County sheriff deputies posted at the entrances.
The hotel has its own security team, and Channel 9 learned Graham has his own security personnel as well.
A Grove Park Inn representative said it is not unheard of for it to host large events and the hotel has dealt with security of high-profile people in the past, with several presidents staying there.
“We’ve had 10 presidents stay with us over the years including our sitting president. President Obama has been here twice. He just enjoys the golf course. We’ve had several high-profile people come in. I wouldn’t say we are used to these events, but we know how to handle them,” said Grove Park Inn representative Tracey Johnston–Crum.
Many attendees are planning on staying at the hotel overnight.
Visit "My Hope America online" here.
Celebration at the Billy Graham Library
There was a large crowd at the Billy Graham Library on Thursday, and visitors got some special treats as they took a tour.
People signed a birthday card on the wall. It was already the third one they've had to put up, because the birthday wishes are filling them up so fast.
Visitors also get a piece of birthday cake to celebrate Graham's 95 years, and get a free copy of a book about his life, called "God's Ambassador" to take home with them.
"This is my fourth visit to this library, and I'm coming back again in December, but today is so special. I just wanted to come and sign his birthday card, and let him know we love him," said visitor Jeanette Henley.
Read more on the celebration from the Billy Graham Libarary here.
- For more information on the life and legacy of Billy Graham, visit our special section here.
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