Small crowd gathers to celebrate President Carter’s 99th birthday

Published 9:28 pm Saturday, September 30, 2023

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PLAINS – On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, a small crowd of locals, acquaintances and reporters gathered outside the Jimmy Carter National Museum (formerly Plains High School) to celebrate former President Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday.

Led by some of the museum staff, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday “ to Mr. Carter and was treated to chocolate and vanilla cup cakes.

For Pat Berkmeyer, who worked in the White House Communications and Computer centers during both the Carter and Regan administrations, this was a pleasant surprise to be in Plains on the former president’s 99th birthday. “I came down here to join the reunion of the White House people who worked for him and around him and before him and after him,” Berkmeyer said. “I just found out that it was his birthday so I’m happy to help celebrate.” Berkmeyer went on to say that Carter is a very nice guy and that he liked to travel and go fishing. “He’s from Plains, which is known for peanuts and I’m allergic to fish and peanuts, so I don’t know why I’m here,” Berkmeyer said jokingly.

While he enjoyed his time working in the Carter administration, Berkmeyer realizes that unfortunately, not everyone views Carter’s presidency as a positive one.

“He was maligned as a president, but he really tried. He was a great man,” Berkmeyer said. “We worked for him and we enjoyed working for him. We really, really did.”

Laura Kuyat is the Visual Information Specialist for the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park. For her, it is an amazing thing that Carter has been able to see his 99th birthday. “Not everybody sees 99,” Kuyat said. “He’s the oldest living president to date now. It’s fantastic and he’s still doing well and everything is great.”

Richard Stephens also worked as the Director of Audio Productions in the communication center of the White House during the Carter Administration.

For him, it is simply amazing that President Carter has been able to live as long as he has. “It’s amazing, the oldest one that we have,” Stephens said. “Can you imagine? No other president has lived this long.”

As far as Elizabeth Jackson was concerned, Jimmy Carter is an absolute hero to her.

“I feel like he was vastly underrated,” Jackson said. “He served during a time that was incredibly difficult and yet he persevered. My Dad is also a Naval Academy graduate and was in submarines, so I know the significance of his service life, even then what he went through in his military life. There will never, ever, ever be another president like Jimmy Carter.”

Jackson went on to say that she was about six or seven when Carter was President, but does have very vivid memories of him when she was a child, as well as of his service after his presidency. “I’ve followed him my entire life,” Jackson said.

Jill Stuckey also works for the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park. For her, the significance of Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday is that he is and always will be a beloved institution to the city of Plains. “This town has seen President Carter walk these streets for nearly 100 years now,” Stuckey said. “He’s just an institution in our community and in our country and in our world. We’re so honored to have him right here just down the street celebrating his 99th birthday.”

Outside the museum, there was a banner with green balloons on each side that read “Happy Birthday President Carter”, but also on the banner were several signatures. According to Stuckey, these signatures are from people around the country and around the world who wanted to wish the former president a happy 99th birthday.

“Tomorrow (Sunday, October 1), we’re going to take it up to the Carters’ house and he’s having a private birthday party with his family members, so he will get to enjoy the banner and see all the folks from all over that signed it,” Stuckey said.

For the former president, his 99th birthday can be seen as a tribute to a life well lived and lived to the fullest.