In Plains, Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday celebrated with songs and peanut butter ice cream

A sign wishing Jimmy Carter a happy 99th birthday in downtown Plains, GA.
A sign wishing Jimmy Carter a happy 99th birthday in downtown Plains, GA.(WANF)
Published: Oct. 1, 2023 at 2:54 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2023 at 10:40 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia was relatively quiet on Sunday for the former president’s 99th birthday.

In all truth, that’s very likely how he wanted it.

Carter, who typically spends birthdays with his family in the privacy of their Plains home, did so again to mark his 99th.

Around town, some visitors popped in and out of shops and the many historic sites that are frozen in time: Carter’ boyhood home, now a museum; his old high school, also a museum to his younger years; and the block-long stretch of downtown Plains, overlooked by a red, white and blue sign that proclaims the small town the home of the 39th president.

Next to the Rosalynn Carter butterfly garden downtown, across from Bobby Salter’s General Store – home of the town’s famous peanut butter ice cream – April Kirkman breaks out a shining black guitar. She wrote a song for Carter, flying all the way from California on a red eye to be in Plains for his birthday.

“I knew his birthday was coming up on October 1st and I thought, ‘That’s a weekend. What if?’” she said. “So I took a red-eye last night from San Francisco to Atlanta and I slept a little bit in the car, and then I drove down here.”

Kirkman spent the day taking in the sites in Plains before making the trip back up to the Carter Center in Atlanta. She said she admired Carter’s devotion to his religion and to his humanitarianism over the years. Her song is titled “I Want to Be a Jimmy Carter Kind of Christian.”

“A person’s run as president is four years, eight years, that’s a segment of your life. His whole adult life, and probably as a kid, so we’re talking 80-plus years, he’s been a great person of service to others, nonstop,” she said. “I wish that he has a wonderful, spirit-filled day and he feels the love.”

At Maranatha Baptist Church down the road, where Carter attended for decades and taught his famous Sunday School lessons that drew people from all over the world, things proceeded as normal. Friends and parishioners shuffled in for the weekly worship services and made passing mentions of the big day.

Jan Williams, who has been with the church since it was erected in 1977 and is a close family friend of the Carter’s (she taught their daughter Amy when the family moved to Washington D.C. to inhabit the White House), wasn’t surprised by the birthday messages the former president received from Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Martin Sheen, Chelsea Handler and Katie Couric.

“The outpouring of love, to me, is just a part of his legacy, because he has done so much for the entire world, so much for common man,” she said. “Plains is Jimmy Carter, you can’t take him out of it. And he’ll be here forever.”

Of any U.S. president, Carter has lived the longest after his term. Seven months ago, he announced he would enter hospice care and spend his remaining days at his longtime Plains home with his family and wife Rosalynn.

“The Lord’s got something planned for him, to let him just go on and on and on,” said Williams. “If you want to go for 100, I’m here with you.”