William *McKinley "Uncle Will" Behel
The Preacher Who Gave His Train Fare On Behalf Of A Sick Boy
America's storied past is filled with true-to-life adventures of outlaws, cutthroats and legendary war heroes. But there is an important link in the fabulous past, which, for the most part, has been overlooked by noted historians.
I speak of none other than the dedicated circuit-riding preacher, he who braved all kinds of weather; and was sometimes shot at while performing the duties of his God. He was a man who let nothing keep him from delivering a fire and brimstone message.
Brother W.M. Behel was one of the best known and most respected of those old fashioned preachers. During his long and totally dedicated career, Behel encountered many problems . . . like baptizing a young lady while her father stood on a bluff with a shotgun, demanding that the girl not be baptized; like walking 35 miles to baptize a lady who was on her death bed, only to discover that her husband would not permit the dying woman to be baptized; like holding services in the middle of a public road when no building was available; like riding a train to preach a sermon, then walking home because the congregation had no money to pay his fare back home.
Birth, Marriage, BaptismW.M. Behel was born in Perry County, Pennsylvania, September 10, 1872, the son of William and E.T. Behel. At the tender age of four he began his education, attending the common county schools. In March of 1884 his family moved to Baily Springs, Alabama, near Florence. Like most kids of that era, young Behel did back-breaking work on his daddy's farm during all the days of his childhood. On February 21, 1892 he married Martha T. Clemmons, an orphan girl who had been reared by extremely strict people who demanded much of her. Before the couple exchanged vows they were baptized by T.B. Larimore at Mars Hill. Brother Larimore, one of the respected men of the country, encouraged young Behel to start preaching. The following night Larimore's words kept popping up in Behel's thoughts time and time again. Finally he made the decision. He would try to be one of the best informed and most knowledgeable preachers in the south. Since he had very little education, he would be forced to study long hours at night after most people retired. Behel advanced rapidly. Within a few years he was generally recognized as one of the most sought-after preachers in the neighborhood. People from all walks of life and from all denominations were eager to hear him preach the word of the Lord as only Behel could preach it. It was at this point, though, that frustrations began to creep into the picture.
A Difficult Situation
One of the first and most serious obstacles came on a warm Sunday morning at Tabernacle Methodist Church near Green Hill, Alabama, where he had been scheduled to conduct a meeting.
Brother Behel described the scene in his diary: "Upon arrival at Tabernacle I saw several little squads of folks here and there talking. It was evident they were not in the best humor.
"I hitched my horse and walked to where one of these squads was standing. Think of my surprise when I was told that the preacher in charge had forbidden my using either the building or the lot on which it stood."Surprised, and hurt, because several members of that place had repeatedly invited me to hold a meeting, I went to the preacher who was standing in the front door and asked him if we could use the building for this sermon only, since the crowd was already assembled. "He said, 'No, but don't feel hard at me about it. The decision was made by the General Conference.'
"I then realized that if something was not done, trouble would surely develop. As angry a set of folks as you would ever see at a religious meeting was determined to hear me preach.
"I saw that some fighting was likely to take place if something was not done quickly. I jumped upon a stump and announced that preaching would begin in thirty minutes in Mrs. Dial's front yard, a good Methodist who lived about a quarter of a mile away."
Brother Behel led the way. Everybody in the congregation except the preacher, who was left locking the door, followed.
After the services a young man offered brother Behel a place to build and arbor. The ground was located directly across the road from the forbidden grounds.
"I gracefully accepted," Behel said, "and requested the people to meet me Sunday morning for the purpose of building an arbor."
When Sunday morning came Behel arrived on the scene. A man was waiting with a sad message. He was instructed not to build an arbor because the man who offered the land had been told by his wife and daughter he must leave home if he permitted brother Behel to preach on their land.The hour and congregation arrived. Brother Behel tossed his hat to one side of the Andrew Jackson Highway and exclaimed: "My friend, I guess I own as much of this road as any man in the country.
"Now just make yourselves comfortable on the road bank." He then stepped a few feet forward and began one of his typical sermons. At the close of the road services, a young farmer offered brother Behel the use of a tool shed to conduct services. He happily accepted the offer, and immediately began a two-week meeting, during which time 62 persons obeyed the gospel.
Because of Behel's dedication and determination a new church building was constructed. He named it Shiloh. The building stands to this day as an everlasting monument to his memory.
He Got The FareBehel's work was just beginning. He was forever on the move. He once conducted a meeting where the meeting, a saw mill, and a brandy still were going on at the same time. Standing in the pulpit, Behel could see the men at work in both operations.
On another occasion he went to an isolated community to conduct a meeting. After two weeks with no funds in sight, he wrote his wife, asking her to send him money to pay his fare back home.
Then one Sunday he was enroute to Giles County, Tennessee to conduct a series of meetings. Upon arrival at the Tuscumbia depot, a woman who said she wanted to get to Decatur to visit a sick son, was trying to borrow money. A kind man passed the hat around and brother Behel tossed all his money into the had save one thin dime. Having already purchased a ticket to Decatur, he boarded the east-bound train, confident of being able to find some way to get from Decatur to Pulaski.
"I felt embarrassed," brother Behel penned in his diary, "not knowing how I could get money to pay my way further.
"At Decatur I paced the floor nervously. I was worried sick about being in such an uncomfortable position."Approximately 30 minutes before the train was due, I noticed a man eyeing me very carefully. After a few glances at me, he walked up to me saying, 'Did you ever hold a meeting at Rock Creek, Alabama?' I told him, 'Yes, two years ago.'
"A smile boarded the stranger's face. 'I thought I knew you. When you held that meeting I intended to give you a dollar, but found that I did not have it. Here it is. I'm glad I located you . . . . I really meant that you should have that dollar.'"
A grateful brother Behel told the man how nice the money came in, thanked him, then purchased a ticket to Pulaski. Both men went their separate ways, never to see on another again.
A Sad Experience
One of his saddest days came when he walked 35 miles through blistering heat to baptize a woman who was on her death bed. All during the long journey Behel kept thinking he might not arrive in time.When he arrived at the woman's house, neighbors helped to carry her to the water. But when they reached the creek bank, the lady's husband came to the scene, refusing to let the woman be baptized.
The poor woman died a few days later. She had not been baptized. It is said that her husband always regretted his extreme actions.
In another community, a young woman had tried to be baptized on three separate occasion. Each time, her husband refused to let her go to the water.
Finally the woman asked brother Behel to baptize her. He said, "Sure I'll be happy to baptize you."
A bystander interrupted: "Sir you are asking for trouble, for her husband is a mean customer. He will never stand for her being baptized."
Brother Behel, in his own quiet way, said: "Now, people, don't say a word, and you will see what happens. I will baptize her. The reason she has not been baptized is because you have been too overbearing about the matter. He probably said you can't baptize her. You probably said, 'We will baptize her,' and he was just bull-headed enough to have his way about it.
"Now, keep quiet, and watch me baptize her this afternoon." Behel then went to the water, where he found the lady waiting. He baptized her with her husband sitting on a log so close to the preacher that he could touch him . . . he never uttered a word in rebuttal.
Brother Behel once baptized a woman who weighed 364 pounds. People had been trying to persuade the lady to be sprinkled, explaining that no living man could baptize her.
Brother Behel baptized her without difficulty. Morrow Massey had gone to the water to help, but he was not needed.
Encounter With A Young Preacher
In 1925 and 1926, Behel enjoyed some of the most happy days of his life, while living in Rogersville and preaching to folks in Lauderdale and Limestone counties.
"I loved these people and the work there. They appreciated me, because I preached the word of the Lord, the truth with clearness, in a plain straight-forward manner."
Once during a meeting, brother Behel apparently stepped on some highly-educated young preacher's toes. After the sermon, the young approached Behel and said:
"Sir, I suppose you did not realize that you were speaking to a man who can speak seven different languages."
Seeing that the young man was bent on an argument, brother Behel said, "No, I did not, and furthermore, I don't care for I spoke nothing but the truth, which no man can truthfully deny."
"Yes sir," said the stranger, "I know that---it was the truth."I carry a diploma from a Bible college, but you have me skinned three city blocks when it comes to knowing and quoting scriptures. "I have attended a college, taking the course prescribed, but was so busy with church history, athletics, etc. that I had little or no time for Bible study.
Brother Behel told the youn man that he had been to school since he was 12 years old, where Christ was the principal.He learned his lesson well.
His MemoryIn the last few years of his life, friends would approach brother Behel and tell him what a wonderful memory he had. The dedicated preacher would always give the same answer:
"Your memory is as good as min. I simply trained my mind to contain scripture. I studied while others wasted time. The sweet now and now (not the sweet by and by) is all the time you can truly claim yours."We pass this way but once and soon our journey will be done: please don't waste your time. Use it profitably by studying, reading God's word daily, praying and with regularity."
In 1936 brother Behel's health began to fail. By early 1937 he was unable to work. One of his last official acts was preaching a dedication sermon at the new Lone Cedar church building near Florence, Alabama. Brother Behel had helped build the meeting house and he was determined to preach at the first services in it.
This he did, even though he had to be carried into the building on a stretcher. There were few dry eyes in the church when brother Behel finished his final sermon.He died in 1938.
(Editor's note: The bodies of brother and sister Behel are buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery about ten miles north of Florence, Alabama. Many of their relatives live in and around Florence, Alabama. Brother and sister Behel had six children. Two of them are living; Keifer Behel of Old Hickory, Tennessee, and Mrs. Edity Quillen near Florence, Alabama. Brother Behel has a sister who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is Beatrice Garner, and her husband Eugene Garner is an elder of Ridgedale Church of Christ in Chattanooga. The Garners are good friends of min. I cannot recall having met Price Parker, the writer of the foregoing story about Will Behel. He did a good job. Many are indebted to him for this interesting story. -Basil Overton)-Price Parker, World Evangelist, Vol. 9 No. 1, January, 1981, pages 10,11
W.M. (Will) Behel Scholarship FundIn 1984 a scholarship fund was established at Heritage Christian University for the training of gospel preacher. This scholarship was constituted by the son and granddaughter of Will and Martha Behel. K.L (Kieffer Larimore) Behel and his sister Martha Ruth Behel Ingram. A write up was produced in the World Evangelist. Note an excerpt as follows:
Brother K. L. Behel and his daughter, Martha Ruth Behel Ingram, desire to establish this scholarship because of the reason explained by brother Behel. He said: "My earliest memories of my father were seeing him as he would leave his mule tied in the hedge row to rest as he looked up Bible scriptures to be used in his next sermon." Will Behel established and encouraged churches in Lauderdale and surrounding counties in such places as Oak Hill, Mt. Zion, Jacksonburg, Stoney Point, Macedonia, Wright or Threet's Cross Roads, Lone Cedar, Shiloh, North Carolina, St. Joseph, Elgin Cross Roads or Center Star and Wisdom Chapel or Salem. A few years ago descendants of the Will Behel family met for a reunion at Lone Cedar, near Florence, Alabama. In that group there were 16 or 17 gospel preachers, 23 elders and 46 deacons represented." -Fuller Article In World Evangelist, by Basil Overton, November, 1984. page 2
Death Claims Mrs. Behel, 83
Services Conducted Today At Lone Cedar ChurchMrs. Martha Jeane Behel, aged 83, wife of the late W.M. Behel, Church of Christ evangelist, died Monday evening at 10 o'clock at her home, Florence, route 5, where she had lived for the past three years. She had been ill for two weeks.
Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. J. Chesley Quillen and Mrs. Hugh Richardson; foru sons, T.E., H.F., K.L. and J.S. Behel, all of Florence, route 5; 23 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.Services were conducted today at 12:30 p.m., at the Lone Cedar Church of Christ with interment in the Mt. Zion cemetery, Spry's in charge. N.E. Gibbs, Church of Christ minister, officiated at the services. Pallbearers were Andrew, Charlie, Pete, Al, Gran and Ed Behel.
-Obituary taken from a newpaper article - Source and date unknown
William M. Behel, Beloved Mister, Is Laid To Rest
William M. Behel was born September 10, 1872 and departed this life December 26, 1938. Bro. Behel was baptized about the year 1888 at Mars Hill, Alabama, by Bro. T.B. Larimore. Bro. Behel had been a minister of the Gospel of jesus Christ about 39 years. He was married to Martha Jane Clemons, Feb. 21, 1892, and to this union were born nine children, six now living and three dead. Bro. Behel has also five brothers living and one dead, and one sister living and one dead. He had also 22 grandchildren and 2 great grand-children.The funeral was held at his home church, where he had preached so much. Bro. Behel had planned the entire service, having selected his undertaker, and some years ago planned to have his life long friend, the writer to conduct his funeral. The song service was conducted by Bro. Quillen and his sons, singing the songs that Bro. Behel had already selected for the occasion. Also Bro. Quillen read a poem that Bro. Behel had been saving for the occasion. The prayer was led by Bro. J.M. Gainer, a close friend of Bro. Behel's. I used the following scriptures in the service, those Bro. Behel and I so often discussed, and agreed upon as full of hope for a Christian servant of the Master. Psalms 23; Job 14:1,2; Rev. 22:4; Rev. 14:13; Jno. 14:1,5; 2 Tim. 4:7; The last one I pointed out as particularly applicable to Bro. Behel's life, and its closing. The burial was at Mt. Zion Cemetery, where Bro. A.D. Behel, a nephew led the closing prayer. The great floral tribute was touching and a manifestation of the esteem Bro. Behel was held in by many friends. There were flowers from the Rogersville, St. Joseph, Mt. Zion and Lone Cedar congregations; and many individual ones from relatives and friends. The great throng of people both at the funeral service and at the interment showed how much the entire section had appreciated his labor throughout the many years. Mrs. Behel's labor covered almost the entire north part of Ala., some sections of Miss., parts of Florida, and in Giles, Wayne and Lawrence Counties in Tennessee. Bro. Behel unhesitatingly went to any section where he found an opening for preaching the gospel much of it being done in destitute places. His preaching was fearless, positive, and true to the book; yet with all kindness, meekness and love. His condemnation of sin was plain, yet no sinner could feel that he was not interested in his soul, and that all his teaching was for the purpose of leading him to Christ. He never courted popular favor; And his behavior was such that the visit in any home always brought him invitations to return. Bro. Behel was a constant student of the Bible, his memory most excellent, and he was always careful to be giving the exact teaching of God's word without any opinions of his mixed in. He was a faithful friend to all preachers, especially young ones, encouraging them in every way, making appointments for them in such places as would develop them, and often giving up work that he had started so that he might get some one else farther along. Bro. Behel did much to stop false teaching in various communities, opposing it in kindness; yet definitely with the Bible; and if he felt that some other brother could do more than he could, off he went for that man to come and take up the labor. He rejoiced in the victories for the truth, regardless of who did the work.
-M.E. Gibbs, Leoma, Tenn.
-Obituary taken from a newpaper article - Source and date unknown
Lone Cedar Church Of
Located In N.E. Lauderdale County
Planted By Will Behel In 1898
Church of Christ
Christians first met here in a log building which
also served as a schoolhouse. In 1909 a frame
building was constructed. Because of a single
cedar tree in prominent view, it was given the
name Lone Cedar by Wilbert* M. (Will) Behel.
an early dedicated gospel preacher. In 1938 a
more modern stone building was completed by
these diligent Christians. A larger auditorium
was added in 1977. This early Christian meeting
place soon became a landmark and a vital part
of the Greenhill Community.
Note: *"Wilbert" is a mistake, it should be "William."
Location Of The Grave Of W.M. Behel
William Behel is buried near Florence, Alabama. From Hwy 72 turn right on Cox Creek Parkway (Hwy 133). Go a couple miles and turn right on Old Jackson Hwy (County Rd. 47). Go about two miles and you will come into St. Florien community. In St. Florien bear left on County Road 61 (Butler Creek Rd.) toward Mt. Zion Church of Christ. The church is on the right. Behel is buried in the cemetery behind. The main part of the cemetery is behind and to the right of the church building. Head to the back of the cemetery on the little road. Near to the rear and get out of the car and go into the right (south) and the Behel plot should be easily found. While visiting the cemetery be sure to visit the graves of Charles Coil and Jack Hazelbaker, two other gospel preachers, located over behind the church building, mostly by themselves, and next to one another.
Grave Facing East
Accuracy to 19ft
"Blessed Are The Dead Which Die In The Lord"
William M. 1873-1938
Martha J. 1868-1948
*Note: There is a discrepancy among some concerning the middle name of William Behel. Some have reported his middle initial "M" as short for "Milton." Others support the name, "McKinley." For a long time this site recorded his name as Milton. In June, 2016, the correction was made at "McKinley," due to information provided by a great grandson of Uncle Will Behel, Scott White, of Snellville, Georgia. Apparently, an early photo of brother Behel renders the middle name, "McKinley," on the back of the photo. It is highly improbably that he was named for the president of the US, who came to serve as president (March, 1897-September, 1901, )long after Behel's birth.