A delightful conversation with Bishop Billy McCool

This morning I remembered an oral family tradition passed down to me concerning my grandfather, L. D. [Lewis Dudley] Segraves. The story included my grandfather’s role in the life of Billy and Bobby McCool in 1948, when they were eleven year old twins in Southeast Missouri.

I had heard that grandpa baptized Billy and Bobby in Jesus’ name and that he personally picked them up for Sunday school when he was serving as pastor at what was then known as the Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ in Kennett, Missouri. Today, I had an impression that I needed to do what I could to verify this tradition, and I needed to do it now.

I know Pastor Mark McCool of the First Apostolic Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, a church planted in 1957 by his father, Billy. Mark is the First Assistant General Superintendent of the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ and a member of the board of directors of Urshan College and Urshan Graduate School of Theology, from which I recently retired. I was able to reach him as he was traveling, and he offered to ask his father to call me.

What a joy it was to hear Bishop McCool, now 82 years old, recount his history and my grandfather’s role in it! 

As young boys, Billy and Bobby lived with their family off of Missouri Route 84 between Haiti and Kennett. Their home was about fifteen miles east of Kennett. Their father was a sharecropper, and they were quite poor. They had no automobile, and the boys hitchhiked to church services. They had no “dress up” clothes, wearing overalls and inserting cardboard into their shoes to over up the holes in the soles. 

Their mother and grandmother had embraced Oneness Pentecostalism with its attendant practice of baptism in Jesus’ name, but they knew of no Oneness church near them. Billy was baptized with the Holy Spirit at a Trinitarian Pentecostal church in Pascola, a small village in Pemiscot County, Missouri. He felt God had called him to preach, and he delivered his first sermon at a Trinitarian Pentecostal church in Braggadocio, Missouri, also in Pemiscot County, dressed in his overalls, a red flannel shirt, and one of his father’s neckties.

In 1948, the church in Kennett pastored by my grandfather began a tent revival that lasted for nine weeks. C. R. Young was the evangelist. The tent was erected in the 1000 block of First Street, and attendance averaged from 500 to 2,000 people nightly, with the highest attendance for a single service at approximately 4,000. Word spread far and wide of this event as people were healed of deafness, blindness, cancer, and goiter, to mention but some of the miracles that occurred. About 223 people were baptized in water in the name of Jesus, and some 150 were baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Among the 223 baptized were Billy and Bobby McCool. They heard of the revival and wanted to go to be baptized. Their mother was reluctant to let them go, because she felt they did not have appropriate clothing. The boys responded, “Unless you forbid us, we want to go!” They hitchhiked to Kennett and were baptized on the same day as Norman Luna. C. R. Young personally baptized them, but Bishop McCool emphasized to me that this was under the pastoral direction of my grandfather Segraves.

My grandpa took a keen interest in Billy and Bobby, recognizing God’s call on their lives. Observing their dress, he collected an offering to buy new shoes for them. When the boys returned home that night, they learned that their parents had no money to buy fuel for their kerosene stove. They had not told their parents about the money for shoes, but they gave the funds to their mother and father for the purchase of the needed fuel.

The next night, when Billy and Bobby arrived for the tent meeting, wrapped packages were waiting for them on the platform. My grandfather called them up and presented the packages to them, which included new khaki pants and shirts to match. They were also given more money to buy the shoes they needed. Up until this point they had worn only overalls.

Others baptized during this remarkable revival included Billy’s and Bobby’s sister, Ola, and her husband, Carl Denny. My grandfather baptized Carl and Ola on the night of their wedding. Carl and Ola had been playing and singing in a bluegrass band called “Chuck Gray and the Mountaineers.” The band had a radio program on KBOA, a station located in Kennett. Mac and Norman Luna, a talented husband and wife team, also played guitar and mandolin and sang in the band. Chuck, who played the banjo,  was suffering from bleeding ulcers.  When his life was transformed during the revival, he renamed the band “Chuck Gray and the Sunnyside Gospel Singers.”

Bishop McCool has had a long and fruitful ministry. He has been preaching for seventy-one years and still believes as he did when he began proclaiming the gospel at the age of eleven. He credits my grandfather with giving him and his brother their first exposure as young preachers of the gospel. Remembering that grandpa drove a Studebaker and had a gold front tooth, he said grandpa was “like Moses” to them, and that he probably picked them up and brought them to Sunday school. He affectionately referred to grandpa as “Uncle Dudley, a dear patriarch and man of God in our lives.”

My heart rejoices to hear of grandpa’s role in helping two young preachers get their start in ministries that have positively influenced many thousands of people.[archive]