Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: Another Reason to Celebrate
The longest-married presidential couple (74 years and counting) had another reason to celebrate in April….
When former President Jimmy Carter planted 15 acres of Paulownia (Empress) trees 15 years ago, he probably never imagined the trees would one day give him the gift of music, and in the midst of a global pandemic at that.
Paulownia is the world’s fastest-growing hardwood. It reaches maturity in 8-12 years and, when harvested, regrows from the stump up to 7 times. Its fine-grained wood is extremely strong for its weight and is excellent for making furniture, musical instruments, and personal watercraft (such as kayaks, paddleboards, and surfboards).
As a keen carpenter, the former president enjoyed working with the wood; he just didn’t need 15 acres of it.
Unsure what to do, he contacted World Tree, the largest grower of Paulownia in North and Latin America. Together they came up with an idea: create a limited collection of guitars with the harvested timber and auction the instruments for charity.
With the depletion of old-growth mahogany and rosewood severely impacting the supply of traditional tonewood to the guitar industry, World Tree sent the timber to guitar makers to see if Paulownia could become a renewable alternative.
The first guitar made from the President’s lumber was built by West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran Jason Kostal. Having met every living president except Jimmy Carter, Jason jumped at the chance to be involved in the project with the hope he would get to play his guitar for a man he respects. With a nod to Carter’s distinguished naval career, Kostal inlaid the guitar’s rosette with the navy’s signature colors of blue and gold and then slyly added the army’s black and gold colors to the guitar’s neck; a reminder to President Carter of the age-old rivalry between the two branches of the armed forces.
Finally, the first guitar in the collection was ready. Then the pandemic hit and turned everything upside down.
Instead of flying to Georgia to play the guitar for the former president as planned, Jason had to watch via FaceTime as a friend of the Carters’ played the guitar at safe distance, in the garden of their home. He was nervous. The man who first put solar panels on the roof of the White House was finally going to hear what a renewable resource sounds like.
At 95, the 39th President of the United States is still investing in a sustainable future. As he once famously said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… “
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