Happy Birthday, Cliff!

February 1, 2014

With Cliff and Phyllis at the KBM retreat, September 2013.

90 years is a long time to live.

To put it into perspective, when Cliff Raad was born in 1924, the Roaring Twenties were well underway, Calvin Coolidge was president, young adults were dancing the Charleston and the Lindy Hop, a gallon of milk cost 28 cents, and Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame) won a gold medal at the Paris Summer Olympics.

As a young man Cliff served under General George Patton in the Third Army march across Europe in World War II. After the war he returned to Chicago where he married Phyllis. At some point he opened a restaurant where he honed his cooking skills. Later he became the head of the Greater Chicago Sunday School Association, which put him in contact with every important Christian leader in the Midwest. The annual convention was his crowning glory because it allowed him to use his many skills as a planner, organizer, strategist, financial manager, publicist, negotiator, problem solver, and all-round man in charge. Thousands flocked to conventions that featured a vast exhibit area, workshops on the latest and greatest in Christian Education, gifted musicians, and notable speakers like W. A. Criswell, D. James Kennedy, Jack Wyrtzen and George Sweeting.

I met Cliff in 1989 when I came as pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park. For some reason (I believe it was a gift from God), Cliff befriended me from the very first day. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. He understood that I was somewhat intimidated moving to Chicago from the South where I had been raised.

Cliff explained it all to me. He took me around, introduced me to key leaders, told me stories from the old days, explained how the city worked, and mostly he reassured me whenever I felt like I was in over my head. «You’re doing fine, Pastor,” he would say.

If Cliff said so, it must be true.

Fast forward 17 years, to the spring of 2006 when a group of us met in an office in Oak Park. Marlene and I felt the Lord leading us to start Keep Believing Ministries. Would Cliff be willing to serve on the board? Oh yes, absolutely. He thought it was a wonderful idea. So he stood by us and helped us get started, serving on the board until the end of 2013, when he resigned (of his own accord) because he said he didn’t think a man who was about to turn 90 should be on a board. When I told him we had mandatory retirement at age 95 so he had five more years to go, he just chuckled and said it was time to step down.

So he did.

As we celebrate his 90th birthday, I think about how much I owe him. During my years at Calvary, he often helped me when I had hard decisions to make. He had been around so long that he had seen it all. Nothing seemed to faze him. He would say, «Watch out for the pebbles in the road,” which meant don’t get tripped up on something small.

He was always there, always cheering me on, always with an encouraging word, always with a plan to make things happen.

He is a great man to me.

A while back Cliff asked me to speak at his funeral service. I agreed, secure in the knowledge that he might very well outlive me. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if in ten years we’re meeting again to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Meanwhile, I don’t think a man should have to die to know how others feel about him.

I love this man and owe him so much.

Happy Birthday, Cliff. I am glad we could share this day with you.

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