Former President and Mrs. Carter make impression


First Posted: 5/31/2013

The visit of former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter raised more than $46,000 for the Plains Georgia Better Hometown Program and the Carters were sure to thank all who donated.

After a moving speech at the Wyoming Monument and a “Meet and Greet” at the site, the Carters were featured at a special dinner at the Stegmaier Mansion in Wilkes-Barre. Tickets for the event were $575 each and an auction was held.

The featured item at the auction was a painting of the Wyoming Monument done by President Carter. It sold for $15,000 and it should be no surprise who the successful bidders were.

Larry and Diane Cook, owners of Cook & Cook Estate Liquidators, purchased the painting. The Cooks are friends of the Carters and they organized the visit.

“Diane and I really wanted the painting,” Larry Cook said. “We will add it to our collection and it represents how much we value our friendship.”

Cook said he and his wife would consider loaning the presidential artwork to museums or other secure places for the public to view. The Cooks will be traveling to Plains, Georgia, in July as part of the ongoing “Plains helping Plains” effort. The Cooks are having welcome signs made for the main entry roads to Plains, Ga. The signs are being donated by Voss Signs of Manilus, N.Y., a company owned by a high school friend of Cook’s.

“I spoke to President Carter after the events of Tuesday and he and Rosalynn were overwhelmed by the crowd that turned out for his speech and the dinner,” Cook said. “The Carters love coming to this area and they appreciate the warm reception they receive every time they are here.”

Cook said the Carters were impressed by the two Wyoming Borough residents who sang at the event: Jeanne Zano, who sang the national anthem, and Abby Barhight who sang “God Bless America.”

Wyoming Mayor Bob Boyer said he was proud to have the Carters in his town and declared Tuesday as “Jimmy Carter Day” in the borough.

The $46,000 raised for the Plains Georgia Better Hometown Program will be used to historically preserve the Carters’ hometown.

At the Stegmaier Mansion, Cook said 48 people were seated in three rooms — President Carter in one room, Mrs. Carter in another and then both joined the third dining room for dessert.

Wyoming Monument ceremony

Carter, the Plains, Ga., peanut farmer who became the 39th U.S. president, told more than 500 people at the site of the Wyoming Monument that the United States will stay strong, improve and grow as long as citizens retain high moral and ethical values and principles.

Carter, 88, and his wife, Rosalynn, 85, were in town to speak at the monument Tuesday afternoon.

“After leaving the White House, Rosalynn and I talked about what we would do with the rest of our lives,” Carter said. “We decided to help our hometown and to help where we can in the world.”

Carter, who forged lasting relationships with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev and the People’s Republic of China and helped broker peace between Egypt and Israel, said Pennsylvania “feels like home” to him. He said he particularly enjoys fishing in the State College area.

“Pennsylvanians are good people, very hospitable and friendly,” he said.

“When I was a toddler, I could peek out the window and see my future wife in her cradle — with no clothes on,” he said of his wife of 67 years during a light moment of his speech. The comment drew a huge laugh from the crowd.

Fighting disease around the world

Carter, a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, talked about The Carter Center and its worldwide mission of promoting peace and fighting disease in Third World countries.

“We deal with countries that aren’t all that friendly toward the United States,” he said. “We want to alleviate suffering in the world.”

The former president said The Carter Center has fought six preventable diseases — Guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria — by using health education and low-cost prevention methods.

Carter said trachoma is prevalent in poor, rural communities that lack the tools for basic hygiene — clean water and adequate sanittion. Infections are spread through contact with dirty clothes and hands, and flies attracted to people’s eyes.

“In the advanced stage of the disease, called trichiasis, a person’s eyelashes turn inward, scraping the cornea with every excruciating blink, causing scarring, diminished vision and, eventually, blindness,” Carter said.

He said the center has built nearly 3 million household latrines to reduce the breeding sites for the flies.

“I’m known as the No. 1 latrine builder in the entire world,” he said with a smile.

The center also has dramatically reduced the number of Guinea worm cases, from 3.5 million cases to under 500. Carter said the center takes on projects “nobody else will touch” and he said the results have had a dramatic impact worldwide.

Carter is the third U.S president to speak at the Wyoming Monument, a memorial to the lives lost in the Battle of Wyoming – the Revolutionary War-era battle of July 3, 1778, during which 277 area residents were killed. Remains of the dead are interred at the site.

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1905) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1878) also spoke at the monument.

Advocates peace

Carter, a Baptist who teaches Bible stories every Sunday in his hometown, advocates peace.

“Our country should be the champion of justice and for equality of opportunity,” he said. “America should always promote human rights and freedom around the world.”

Carter talked about a recent gathering of five U.S. presidents at the dedication of the George W. Bush Library in Texas. He said the former chief executives are members of the same fraternity — to ensure that the United States remains the greatest nation on Earth.

“To be here today at this historic monument is truly an honor,” he said. “This is one country — America. It’s not about blue states or red states, or Democrats or Republicans. We all share the same values and principles.”

Carter took the stage shortly after 3 p.m. and ended his speech at 3:27. Before he began to talk, he stepped off the stage and removed barricades to allow more people to get under the cover of the tent as rain fell the entire time.

“This is a perfect day for a farmer,” he said. “This is my 37th visit to Pennsylvania. When I ran for president, I carried every county in Pennsylvania except one — Bucks County. I haven’t been back there since.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, didn’t attend the speech, but he issued a welcoming statement to the Carters.

“He is the third president of the United States to visit the Wyoming Monument — a tribute to those who lost their lives in the pursuit of freedom,” Casey said. “President Carter is a living testament to public service, and we are honored by his visit.

Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. He and his wife were in the area in 2011 with the Cooks, owners of Cook & Cook Estate Liquidators in Plains Township.

“Today we all witnessed history,” said Larry Cook. “We asked for an historic speech and we got one today.”

Offered political advice

Victoria Smulowitz has thought of running for president for five years. A 9-year-old student at the Wycallis Elementary School in the Dallas School District, she got to meet one person who held the job she wants more than anything.

“How do you become president?” Victoria asked former President Jimmy Carter after his speech at the Wyoming Monument on Tuesday afternoon.

Carter hugged the girl, offered her advice and then told her he would vote for her “if I’m still around, unless my grandson runs against you.”

Victoria, accompanied by her mother, Stacy, said she might be ready for a run for the White House in 2044 or 2048 and she said Carter gave her a plan to get herself ready.

“He told me I have to be nice to people,” she said. “He said I can’t act like I’m better than anybody else. He told me to go out and meet people in the community.”

Stacy Smulowitz said that when Victoria learned Carter was coming to the Wyoming Valley, she went on the Internet to research him.

Betsy Condron, 85, of Kingston, said she was impressed with Carter’s accomplishments and his sense of humor. She said the historical value of his visit got her “teary about it all.” Condron is known for her devotion to preserving the region’s history.

“This is truly a celebration of what those early pioneers did to preserve this land — this country,” she said. “And this monument that stands in honor for all of those who sacrificed their lives. How grateful we all must be.”

Condron said to have a former president — the third to speak at the monument — is a “well-deserved tribute.”

Jack Meyer, 14, of Susquehanna County, and Elisabeth Johnson, 12, of Scranton, sat patiently waiting for Carter to arrive. They were their with their teacher, Marianne Meyer, as part of their civics class.

“It’s not often a former U.S. president visits so close to home,” Meyer said. “We felt this would be a good experience for some of our students.”

Living a dream

Marcella Starr, president of the Wyoming Monument Association, said she felt like she was living a dream.

Starr has seen the monument restored through the generosity of several donors — the largest gift coming from the late Dr. Joseph Mattioli and his wife, Rose, of $100,000. And Tuesday the 39th president spoke at the site and he even painted a picture of the monument that was to be auctioned off last night at a dinner at the Stegmaier Mansion in Wilkes-Barre.

“The monument has been restored for future generations,” Starr said. “I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. And I am very proud to have President and Mrs. Carter here to speak. They could have chosen from many other historical sites.”

Wyoming Borough Mayor Bob Boyer said he was honored to have the Carters in his town.

“An event like this renews interest in history,” he said. “And it feels good to see the community come out to support us.”

In his introduction of the Carters, Larry Cook of Cook & Cook Estate Liquidators in Plains Township, said the former president and first lady are “true champions of human rights, peace and freedom.” He said he was proud to call them friends.

Boyer acknowledged Wyoming resident Florence Jumper who will turn 100 years old on Thursday.

Yeah, I’m here,” Jumper yelled from the crowd. Asked what was her secret to longevity, she said, “My mother raised me right.”

The Carters and the other 500 attendees laughed and wished Jumper a happy birthday.

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