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Couple's Plains trip was far from ordinary

March 23, 2005|by JANET HEIM

janeth@herald-mail.com

It was the first time Jane and Don Kriner of Clear Spring had ever passed through a metal detector to attend church, but the security precautions were worth it.

They were visiting Maranatha Baptist in Plains, Ga., home parish of Jimmy Carter.

As the Secret Service detail waved metal wands over each visitor before they entered the church, it became clear to the Kriners how being president of the United States forever changes daily life, even after leaving the White House.

"Their life as they knew it will never be the same," said Jane Kriner, 64, referring to Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. "It makes me a little sad that they can't have a normal life."

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The Kriners, who live on Cove Road, have long admired Jimmy Carter and talked about making the 800-mile trip to Plains.

"He's the biggest humanitarian president of my time," said Don Kriner, 71. "... I look at the complete man - what he's done for our country and for human rights."

When the couple celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary in October 2004, their two daughters wanted to send them to Plains as a gift.

Even though the Kriners discouraged the idea, one of their daughters put together a packet of brochures she'd requested from the Carter's church and from the tourism office in Plains.

Despite being retired, spending time with their five grandchildren and their community involvement made it difficult for the couple to get away in the fall. They scheduled their trip from Feb. 18 to 21, checking Carter's and the church's Web sites to make sure the former president would be in town and at church during that time period.

Traveling in the off season meant the crowds of tourists were smaller and there was only one busload of visitors for church the Sunday the Kriners were in town. While the church has a capacity for 350 worshipers, the crowd swells to 800 during the height of the tourist season, Don Kriner said.

They said that last year Jimmy Carter was at Maranatha Baptist for 37 of the 52 Sundays. When he's in town he teaches an adult Sunday school class, a class that draws many visitors, including the Kriners, who are members of St. John's United Church of Christ in Clear Spring.

The day before their church visit, Jimmy Carter was in Connecticut to christen the submarine that was named for him, but he was back in Plains that evening and prepared for the Sunday school lesson the next morning. Jane Kriner said Carter chose John 3:1-20 for his lesson.

"We've heard it preached and had lessons on it many times, but never heard it delivered like that," she said.

Following church, visitors have one opportunity to have their photo taken with their cameras with Carter.

After church, Carter usually goes to Mom's Kitchen for lunch, one of two restaurants in Plains. The Kriners chose to eat there as well, dining on down-home Southern cooking.

The Kriners described Plains, with a population of 637, as a "very special place" that reminded them of Clear Spring.

During their visit, the Kriners learned much about Jimmy Carter's life by touring the visitors' center and museum, housed in what used to be Plains High School. They also drove out to Jimmy Carter's boyhood home in Archery, Ga., two miles outside of town, and enjoyed learning about peanut farming.

Carter's 1976 Presidential Campaign Headquarters, in the railway depot in Plains, has been converted to a museum which the Kriners also took in. They added that the former president's late brother Billy Carter's gas station is being restored.

"They're just quality people," Jane Kriner said. "... They always want to give somebody else the credit. They're just humble - I admire that."

Carter's involvement with Habitat for Humanity led the couple to visit the organization's international headquarters in Americus, Ga., where they were able to see samples of the different styles of houses that are built around the world.

"He had quite the work ethic - still works," Don Kriner said. "Our generation - we're impressed."

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