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Prominent pastor charged with sex crime

A prominent Southern Illinois pastor and community leader has been charged with a child-sex crime and is jailed.

The Rev. Bill Vandergraph, pastor of Full Gospel Pentecostal Church and president of the Friends of the Cross fundraising organization, was taken into custody Wednesday night after an investigation by the Illinois State Police and Union County Sheriff's Office, according Union County State's Attorney Tyler Edmonds.

Vandergraph, who was arrested Wednesday evening, is charged with predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, a Class X felony. He remained jailed Thursday afternoon in lieu of $500,000 bond. He is to appear in Union County Court this morning before Judge Mark Boie.

Vandergraph, 72, of rural Alto Pass has retained or is retaining an attorney, Edmonds said, although he did not know the defense attorney's name late Thursday afternoon.

Steve McKeown, president of Bald Knob Cross of Peace Inc., a separate entity from Friends of the Cross, issued a statement Thursday.

"I learned of the arrest of Mr. Vandergraph at approximately noon today and am saddened and shocked by the allegations. If the allegations are true, my prayers of comfort go first towards the victim and his or her family and then to those in his church and community. If the allegations prove false, my concerns for well-being would extend to all those aforementioned individuals minus the accuser."

McKeown, also a clergyman, said, "We will allow the courts to focus on the tragic allegations against Mr. Vandergraph. On behalf of the Bald Knob Cross Board of Directors, we will continue to serve in our court mandated mission to see the Bald Knob Cross of Peace monument restored and the organization itself placed on a firm foundation for the future."

Vandergraph has had a notable career as a pastor and community leader.

He was honored in August at the Illinois State Fair as Illinoisan of the day. The honor was part of a new effort by the Illinois State Fair Museum Foundation to recognize people around the state for their volunteer efforts.

bald knob crossBald Knob Cross of Peace at Alto Pass. Image by hammer_4_u_68 via Flickr
Vandergraph founded and has led Friends of the Cross, a group dedicated to the restoration of the Bald Knob Cross of Peace at Alto Pass.

At the time, he called the honor "overwhelming to me" and said, "I'm just a country boy."

The pastor also honored with a selection as a "Leader Among Us" in April by the Southern Illinois Business Journal, which is published by The Southern Illinoisan.

At the time, he said he had always wanted to be a preacher. After working for Caterpillar in Peoria for about five years, he became a pastor. For nearly 50 years, he had been in ministry with his wife, Shelba, whom he married months after graduating from high school.

As missionary pastors, mostly in Missouri, they started daycares and preschools in churches throughout the state. The couple returned to Southern Illinois in the early 1990s.