Late last year, before former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made the decision to enter hospice care, he and his wife Rosalynn were joined on their daily walk by the Scouts of Troop 101 in Atlanta — their grandson’s troop.
The Scouts spent the weekend visiting and camping at Jimmy Carter National Historic Park in Plains, Georgia. They visited his boyhood farm and his boyhood school, both of which are open to the public.
They performed a service project, painting one of the fences on National Park Service property, and they helped collect pecans that would be distributed to the local food insecure population.
Due to their connection to the former president, they also got to go to some places that very few people get to go. They visited the Carter residence, where Mr. and Mrs. Carter still live.
And, late one afternoon, they went for a walk around the family grounds with the former president and former first lady.
Mr. Carter’s youngest child, Amy, is the mother of Errol Carter Kelly, a 12-year-old First Class Scout in Troop 101. Mr. Carter himself was the Scoutmaster for his son Chip and later was presented with the BSA’s Silver Buffalo Award.
Mrs. Carter was able to walk with the aid of a rollator. The former president used a wheelchair.
“He was very conversational,” says Troop 101 Scoutmaster Tom Rosenberg. “He seemed strong.
“You could tell he was very proud of Plains and of the National Park Service.”
When Errol first joined Troop 101, his mother introduced herself to everyone as simply “Amy.” Rosenberg knew who she was, but very few other families made the connection.
Then, Amy approached the troop leadership and offered up her family’s homestead for a weekend campout. That meant the secret would soon be out: One of their youth members is the grandson of the former leader of the free world.
“It’s been fantastic,” says Amy. “I wanted Errol to have a civics education. Of course, he loves the camping. But the civics education is what really resonates with me.
“He loves the adventures. Our troop is great about doing outings we probably would never have experienced with just us as a family.”
Both Amy and her husband, Jay Kelly, are heavily involved with Troop 101, helping out whenever they can with whatever needs to be done.
For one weekend late last year, the Scouts got to learn all about the accomplishments of the Carter presidency, and Mr. and Mrs. Carter’s continued impact on their community.
Touring through history
After camping on the property Friday night, the troop headed to the farm first thing Saturday morning. The farm is where Jimmy Carter lived until he left for college in 1941.
The Scouts painted one of the fences a color called “national park brown.”
“After painting and fixing things up, we got to hear about the history of the farm and the history of the people who lived there,” says 12-year-old Nico Maximuk.
Then they visited the school that President Carter attended from grades 1-11.
“We saw the classroom where he started out,” says 15-year-old Eagle Scout Grant Stearsman.
Then, they visited the Carters’ home and worked on the Fingerprinting merit badge with a Secret Service agent who happened to be an Eagle Scout. The agent also took the time to talk a little about his job, and others whose jobs are to protect the president and his wife.
“It was really interesting to learn about all of the first aid and other measures in place to keep the Carters safe and healthy,” says 13-year-old Zachary Hebeler. “The Secret Service agents showed us what equipment they have in the trauma bags and what each piece of equipment could be used for.”
Shortly after 4 p.m. local time, Mr. and Mrs. Carter emerged from their home, ready for their afternoon walk.
On this day, they were going to have some company.
A walk in the park
The former president and first lady spent about 15 minutes walking with the Scouts and, as you’d expect, were gracious and kind the entire time.
“I could not believe I was meeting a former president of the United States,” says Katie Byrd, a visitor from Troop 29. “I was very fascinated by Mrs. Carter’s shoes. She had very bright rainbow shoes, which were neat. And I thought that it was funny that he was wearing an Atlanta Braves shirt.”
Errol spent a good portion of the walk making sure his grandmother was able to walk steadily down the paved trail. Jimmy Carter was tended to by a nurse.
When the walk was over, the Scouts lined up and saluted as the Carters returned to their home. Mrs. Carter told them how much she enjoyed spending time with them, and proudly returned their salute.
“Usually when I go there, it’s just me and my family,” says Errol. “It was really interesting to have other people there. It was fun.”
National Park Service sites are great for Scout outings
National Parks and historic sites like the Jimmy Carter National Historic Park remain some of the best places for Scouts to visit, even if you don’t happen to have a relative who spent four or more years in the Oval Office.
“We work a lot with a lot of Scouting groups and other youth groups,” says Jill Stuckey, superintendent of the Jimmy Carter site. “Any group that wants to come in and learn and help out with projects.
“It’s a great way to learn your history. Learning about people like Jimmy Carter, who started out in a very small, rural community, worked really hard, then became president of the United States. It’s a very inspiring story — that hard work will go a very long way in this world.”