Child Rapist Rev. Fights For Icons & Got $20,000 Grant From State

Restoration of Bald Knob Cross almost complete

Monday, September 26, 2011

By Patrick T. Sullivan

EXCERPT:

The 48-year-old cross had deteriorated over the decades due to aged materials and a lack of community support. After deciding to restore the cross in 2008, supporters have been faced with a federal lawsuit, sexual assault charges against a prominent cross fundraiser and a rough economy.

Despite those factors, the repaneling of the cross was completed in November and now the cross needs a new lighting system and landscaping for the restoration to be complete, said Jeff Lingle, president of Friends of the Cross, a group dedicated to raising funds to refurbish the 111-foot-high landmark.

“We’re getting close to the restoration being complete,” Lingle said. “The basic refurbishing is complete.”

Months before the last panel was put on the cross, the Rev. Bill Vandergraph, 73, was arrested on suspicion of predatory sexual assault of a child younger than 13 in June 2010. Vandergraph had been the president of Friends of the Cross but resigned when he was arrested, Lingle said.

He faces charges of predatory criminal sexual assault — a felony carrying a potential sentence of six to 60 years in prison — and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, each carrying potential sentences of 14 years.

Vandergraph will stand trial Dec. 12 in Jonesboro, Ill.

Vandergraph’s arrest did not hurt fundraising efforts, Lingle said.

The arrest “and the fundraising have been two different things,” Lingle said. “It didn’t have any effect on the restoration process.”

Two months after Vandergraph’s charges, prominent Illinois atheist Rob Sherman filed a federal lawsuit that requested the Friends of the Bald Knob Cross return a state grant given to the group to help with the restoration.

In his lawsuit, Sherman claimed that public funding shouldn’t be used for sectarian purposes. He had asked the organization in May to return a $20,000 grant the group received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the panels. When the group refused, he filed the lawsuit.

“It’s definitely a violation of the separation of church and state,” Sherman said recently.

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