COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Rosalynn Carter’s life of service and friendship touched thousands of people over her 96 years.
Carter passed away Sunday in her Plains, Ga., home.
One of those people Rosalynn Carter touched was a Columbus man who established a special relationship with the Carters through Maranatha Baptist Church.
In the 1980s, Michael Ankerich was a college student searching for direction. He wrote dozens of famous people asking for advice on life. About a hundred of them responded.
One of those was Rosalynn Carter – not long removed from the White House.
And she wrote back.
“Set your goals high and work to achieve them and never be afraid of failure. For the tragedy comes not in failing, but in never having tried to excel. You know, pretty profound words.”
Fast forward to 2016, Ankerich was in his 50s and looking for hope in the great political divide.
“There was hatred going on in the world and I needed someone to assure me that, you know, we were going to be OK as a country,” he told WRBL. “And so here, you know, just down the road was President Carter teaching his Sunday school classes about every Sunday or every so every, you know, two or three times a month. And I thought I wanted to be one of his pupils.”
Ankerich began to make the drive from Columbus to Plains – and Maranatha Baptist Church.
“I found a warm and welcoming congregation in Maranatha,” Ankerich said. “They opened their arms to me. But no more so than Jimmy and Rosalynn. They really opened their arms and hearts to me and made me feel welcome.”
At times, the former First Lady would ask Ankerich to share a pew during the service.
“At first, I couldn’t believe I was sitting beside a First Lady and a former president,” Ankerich said. “But as I set there and we sang the hymns and I held the Bible while we read, then they were just like sitting beside my grandparents at the Baptist Church back home when I was in the Baptist church.”
Mrs. Carter would share mints. And after months of making the Sunday trip to Plains, Ankerich was the one offering gifts.
“It started I would make her pepper sauce for her collard greens because they loved collard greens,” he said. “And I said, ‘Would you like some pepper sauce? I got a new batch at home. She said I would love some. Bring me some. So, I would bring her pepper sauce, then I began to bring her soup. You know, for them to eat during the week. And they would go home pretty much after church and pretty much have that soup that day.”
Now that she’s gone, Ankerich has a pretty good idea of how he believes history should and will remember Rosalynn Carter.
“You could see who she was,” he said. “She was our First Lady in Georgia. And she was in the United States. … The optimum word there is lady. She was a lady. And a Southern lady. She was the epitome of a Southern lady. She was gracious. Welcoming. But made out of steel.”