By 1923 Kuhlman had completed the tenth grade, which was the extent of public education available in Concordia. Her sister, Myrtle, had married a traveling evangelist from Moody Bible Institute, Everette B. Parrott. She urged the Kuhlman parents to allow Kathryn to join them for the summer, which they reluctantly did. The Parrotts’ itinerary took them to Oregon that summer, and Kuhlman assisted in services by giving her testimony several times in the revival meetings. At the end of the summer, the Parrotts, intending to return Kuhlman to Concordia, allowed her to stay with them and Rev. Parrott promised that she could preach occasionally, a promise which he never fulfilled. Kuhlman remained with the Parrots for five years. During that time, the Parrotts were influenced by Dr. Price, a Canadian evangelist, who instructed Parrott on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they incorporated a healing ministry in their services.
It was Everette Parrott’s failure to join the team for a series of meetings in Boise, Idaho, in 1928 that gave Kuhlman her first opportunity to preach. The team at that time consisted of the Parrots, Kuhlman, and the pianist, Helen Gulliford. Mrs. Parrott covered for her husband by doing the preaching in Boise, but later rejoined her husband. Kuhlman and Gulliford decided, at the urging of the pastor of a small mission church in Boise, to stay and work on their own. Kuhlman handled the preaching and Gulliford the music. They toured Idaho and other parts of the country for the next five years.
In 1933, Kuhlman and Gulliford moved on to Pueblo, Colorado, where they held meetings in a Montgomery Ward warehouse for six months. At the urging of a businessman, Kuhlman moved to Denver, and began holding meetings in another Montgomery Ward warehouse in the downtown area of the city. Shortly afterward, the team moved to the warehouse of the Monitor Paper Company, which they named the Kuhlman Revival Tabernacle. Kuhlman enlisted the services of three sisters, Mildred, Lucille, and Biney Anderson, the “Anderson Trio”, to help with the musical portion of the ministry. In 1935, the team moved into an abandoned truck garage, which they named the Denver Revival Tabernacle. The programs attached to the Tabernacle grew along with Kuhlman’s ministry in Denver. These included a Sunday school program and a women’s society. She also began broadcasting a fifteen-minute radio program called Smiling Through on station KVOD.
Kuhlman shared her preaching ministry in Denver with many visiting evangelists. It was through one of these collaborations that Kuhlman met evangelist Phil Kerr, who among other topics preached on divine healing, and whose influence later became more significant.
In 1937, Kuhlman met evangelist Burroughs A. Waltrip, who had been invited to preach at the Denver tabernacle. Waltrip and Kuhlman formed a professional alliance which later led to their marriage. It also resulted in the deterioration of Kuhlman’s ministry in Denver and Waltrip’s in Mason City, Iowa. The central issue was the fact that Waltrip had left his children and wife in Texas and was shortly afterward divorced by her. Gulliford resigned her post over the issue, and Kuhlman’s business manager and substitute preacher, speaking on behalf of the congregation, informed her that she would no longer be welcome in Denver. Despite the urgings of friends and the congregation, Kuhlman and Waltrip married in 1938. Shortly afterward they established their base at the Radio Chapel in Mason City, where the news of Waltrip’s divorce had not spread. Waltrip’s supporters in Mason City eventually learned of his divorce and drifted away from his ministry as well. He and Kuhlman thereafter left Mason City and traveled throughout the country, although their ministry was held at a virtual standstill by the fact that they could not contain the news about their past. Having been married six years, Kuhlman finally left Waltrip in 1944 and in 1948 Waltrip divorced Kuhlman.
The first place Kuhlman went after her separation from Waltrip was Franklin, Pennsylvania, where she held a series of meetings. Rumors about Kuhlman and Waltrip continued to follow her, making it difficult for her to arrange and hold meetings. Following their separation, however, Kuhlman worked to reestablish her preaching ministry. The turning point came in 1946 when Kuhlman was invited by Matthew J. Maloney, the owner of the Gospel Tabernacle in Franklin to return there to conduct a series of meetings. Receiving a favorable response, Kuhlman began preaching on radio broadcasts on station WKRZ in nearby Oil City, Pennsylvania. Within a few months, her program had been added to the schedule of WPGH, a Pittsburgh station. By 1948, Kuhlman began holding meetings in neighboring cities, including Pittsburgh.
In the previous phase of her career, Kuhlman was strictly an evangelist and limited her preaching to a salvation message. While in Franklin, she occasionally preached on healing, and would call people to the front not only to indicate their commitment to Christ but also to be healed. Being puzzled by the occasional healings, Kuhlman began investigating these manifestations of God’s power more thoroughly. In 1947, she preached her first series on the Holy Spirit. During the first meeting a woman was healed of a tumor while listening to Kuhlman preach. Later during the series a man was also healed. These events marked the beginning of Kuhlman’s healing ministry.
Kuhlman was forced to leave the Gospel Tabernacle due to a contract dispute and temporarily used an old roller skating rink, which became the Faith Temple at nearby Sugar Creek. Kuhlman maintained her loyalty to Franklin, ignored offers to move her ministry to Pittsburgh, and continued to hold meetings at Faith Temple until a heavy snowstorm brought about the collapse of the roof. Kuhlman then transferred her headquarters to Pittsburgh. She first visited Pittsburgh for a six-week preaching series in 1943. At that time, she met Maggie Hartner, who later became her secretary and close friend. It was through Hartner’s influence in 1948 that Kuhlman decided to hold a series of meetings in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Hall. The services were very successful and, upon returning to Franklin, Kuhlman expanded her ministry further. Her radio programs were distributed to other areas, and she began holding services in nearby cities and Youngstown, Ohio. Hartner continued to urge Kuhlman to move her ministry to Pittsburgh, which she finally did in late 1950 following the disaster at Faith Temple. She set up her office in the Carlton House, and began holding regular meetings at the Carnegie, where she continued until 1971.
Although she had been strongly urged to move to Pittsburgh, had received favorable press coverage, and had a successful ministry there, she was not unanimously welcomed by the city. Local pastors charged that she was drawing members away from their congregations. She survived the charges, partly through the support of the city’s mayor. However, other conflicts occurred. Kuhlman was invited by Rex Humbard to join his family for a series of meetings in Akron, Ohio. Kuhlman did so and unknowingly entered the territory of the fundamentalist preacher, Dallas Billington, who engaged Kuhlman in a prolonged fight over the validity of the healings at her services and the impropriety of a woman being a minister. (Kuhlman was later ordained in 1968 by the Evangelical Church Alliance.) The fight included a $5000 offer to anyone who could prove they could heal through prayer, and the public release of information on Kuhlman’s marriage to a divorced evangelist.
In 1965, Kuhlman extended her ministry to California with a meeting in Pasadena. Soon after she began holding meetings in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, which she continued until 1975.
In 1973, Kuhlman held her first Canadian service in Ottawa. The arrangement were made by Maudie Phillips, who had traveled to Pittsburgh for Kuhlman services since early 1969. In 1970, Phillips helped set up the Canadian office of the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. The office was established to accommodate Kuhlman’s growing Canadian constituency. Following the 1973 meeting Phillips’ organizational skills were utilized to coordinate Kuhlman’s services in a number of cities around the United States.
Kuhlman gradually built a staff around her. Jimmy Miller, her accompanist and pianist, and Charles Beebee, her organist, had been with her since her early Pittsburgh days. Arthur Metcalfe became her choir director in 1952 and continued to lead the choir until his death in 1975. Jimmie McDonald, a vocalist, and Dino Kartsonakis, a young keyboard artist, were also added to her musical team and both performed for television broadcasts and services. For the administration of the ministry, Walter Adamack was appointed her accountant; he was instrumental in the formation of the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. Gene Martin was given responsibility for the missions outreach of the Foundation. Jamie Buckingham oversaw the book publishing. Kuhlman also included Paul Bartholomew, Kartsonakis’s brother-in-law, on her staff as distributor of her television broadcasts and her personal administrator. Steve Zelenko became her radio sound engineer, and Bill Martin was her announcer. Kuhlman’s services were characterized by congregational and choir singing, a message on the need to be “born again,” the power of the Holy Spirit, or on healing, and a time when individuals could come forward to describe their own healing or ask for Kuhlman to pray for them. As Kuhlman prayed for and laid hands on individuals, they would be “slain in the Spirit” or “come under the power”, an experience Kuhlman likened to Paul’s Damascus road experience. One of Kuhlman’s associates would catch them as they fell to the floor, and the service would continue around them. Kuhlman avoided claiming that she did the healing, and attributed the healing to God alone. Kuhlman’s healing ministry and association with leading charismatics made her one of the leaders in the charismatic movement. Her activities included being a regular speaker at Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship meetings and conducting a charismatic clinic at Melodyland, a charismatic center in California. While she encouraged individuals to seek the Holy Spirit’s blessing and speak in tongues, she remained silent throughout her career on her personal experience.
Kuhlman’s celebrity grew along with her ministry, due both to the healings occurring in her meetings and the visibility afforded by the mass media. To extend the scope of her ministry, she began broadcasting television programs sometime in the 1950s after her move to Pittsburgh. This program was called Your Faith and Mine and was filmed in Pittsburgh by Warren R. Smith, Inc. and produced by Kuhlman. The weekly programs, of which there were at least 22, appear to have been filmed during her evangelistic services. Later, in 1965, she began another program, I Believe in Miracles. This program was shot at CBS Studios in California, with Dick Ross working as her producer. Other media exposure included articles in People, Christianity Today, and Time, and interviews on the talk shows of Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dinah Shore. She also had occasion to meet other well known figures, both among entertainers and religious leaders, such as Pope Paul VI in 1972. As in the past, Kuhlman’s coverage in the media was not always favorable. In 1974, for example, William Nolen, a medical doctor, wrote a book in which he questioned the healings in her services and described Kuhlman as being medically ignorant. She was not without her supporters in that debate, as H. Richard Casdorph, another medical doctor favorably disposed to Kuhlman and her ministry, met with Nolen on the Mike Douglas Show to refute his charges. While Kuhlman expanded her visibility through television, she was hesitant to allow the filming of any of her healing services, and only did so on four occasions: at the Melodyland Charismatic Convention, the 1974 and 1975 World Conferences on the Holy Spirit, and a Las Vegas service.
While principally recognized for her healing ministry, she was also honored at a 25th anniversary celebration of her work in Pittsburgh, at which a commemorative medallion designed by Evangelos Frudakis, was presented. She was granted an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Oral Roberts University in 1972, given city keys to both Pittsburgh and St. Louis, made an honorary member in the New York chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, given an award by the City of Los Angeles, and included in the Who’s Who of California, and the Who’s Who in America.
Kuhlman’s health problems, related to her enlarged heart, were originally diagnosed in 1955, but became far more severe in the last several years of her life. Contributing to the ailment was the strain of a heavy schedule, particularly in the 1970’s, when her itinerary expanded from conducting services in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles to visiting many other cities as well. She also continued her television ministry and visited the mission institutions supported by the Foundation. She had the additional strain of personnel problems with Kartsonakis and Bartholomew, which grew out of contract disputes. Suits were filed but the matter was settled out of court; both men were fired in early 1975. Kuhlman’s health declined dramatically in 1975. She was hospitalized in Tulsa during the summer, and in Los Angeles near the end of the year. Kuhlman died on February 20, 1976, in Tulsa, following open-heart surgery.
Her death was not uneventful, for in addition to being well known, it revealed a recently rewritten will, which restructured the disposition of her estate and left much of it to Dana Barton “Tink” and Sue Wilkerson. The Wilkersons had known Kuhlman since 1972, but became her constant companions from early 1975 until her death.
Following a number of years of Kathryn Kuhlman’s active ministry, the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation was established in 1957, with the Carlton House in Pittsburgh as its headquarters. A Canadian branch of the Foundation was set up in 1970. The Foundation was the organizational administrator of Kuhlman’s ministry. In addition to co-ordinating her meetings and her broadcast ministry, the Foundation also provided financial support for a variety of missionary projects throughout the world. The Foundation continued its operation after Kuhlman’s death, co-ordinating messages and responding to inquiries from devoted followers. In 1982, the Foundation terminated its nation-wide radio broadcasting.
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