Paul Anderson was a strong man with a gentle heart. Once known as the world’s strongest man, Anderson performed strength exhibitions at FCA Conferences in the 1960s and 70s and shared that life in Christ was more important to him than lifting.
Anderson may be best known for his 1956 Olympic performance, where he competed while extremely ill with a 104-degree temperature. Between popping handfuls of Aspirin to break the fever so officials would let him compete, he prayed for God to pull him through his next lift, which was for not only gold, but for an Olympic record. In the middle of his third and final lift attempt, he recognized God’s involvement in his life, recommitted himself to the Kingdom, and completed the grueling lift. Paul got gold; God got Paul.
While his physical and faith feats may be his strong suit, what people may not know about Paul Anderson is the home for troubled boys he started with his wife Glenda. When they married in 1959, Paul was aspiring to use his talents and position wherever God wanted him, drawing closer to the needs of young men at risk.
Asked to speak at a reformed school in North Georgia where young men mixed with criminals, he began to develop a concern for these wayward youth. The Lord laid it upon his heart to give them hope in the form of what would become the Paul Anderson Youth Home.
Founded in 1961, the home provides rehabilitation for young men between the ages of 16-21 in need of complete restoration. The home’s verse is Luke 2:52, to develop each young man to wholly grow in stature, as Jesus did.
Young men in the home build character through rigorous physical exercise, daily Bible study and scripture memorization, school work and a strong work ethic. They become family, cared for with love and structure.
“The main reason we’re there is to teach them about Jesus Christ,” Glenda said. “The call on our lives has been to teach them, require them to do memory work. The Holy Spirit has to be the one that transfers that from their head to their heart.”
Anderson, the goodwill ambassador and gold medalist, used his position of celebrity to champion the cause of at-risk youth and did so with a relentless enthusiasm and effort, sometimes driving for days to various venues with very little sleep. He’d do an event, drive back home to Vidalia, get a quick 3-4 hours of sleep and then head back on the road for the next demonstration.
The Andersons’ course in life was not easy or glamourous, though it appeared so to the regular observer. Paul would be gone every day, at long and odd hours, driving and speaking to high schools, churches and banquets. They always worked hard, but God continued to provide, including a connection with FCA.
Next to his family and the youth home, he invested his heart and time into young athletes looking for influence in the face of their coach. He believed if kids could get active in the organization, they’d have a far greater chance of being successful and resisting temptation.
Young athletes flocked to his performances, waiting to see the wonders he’d do with weight. He would put on displays of his strength to awestruck athletes, only to admit that he “can’t get through a minute of the day without Jesus Christ.”
Glenda expressed a grateful heart to all who have partnered with them through the years, including Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and many old FCA friends.
“Oftentimes people want to pour out the kudos on how wonderful it’s been for Paul and me to do, but we’ve been the ones who have been blessed,” Glenda said of their life’s work. “That investment in his life has returned to us manifold.”
Paul Anderson passed away in 1994, but left a legacy that keeps going to this day. His service to God has been greater than all the feats of strength in this world.
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