Politically, Nevada was never particularly kind to Jimmy Carter, the nation’s 39th president.
In 1976, the former Georgia governor lost the state’s Democratic primary to California’s Jerry Brown, and the general-election vote to incumbent President Gerald Ford—the first time since 1908 that bellwether Nevada was carried by the losing candidate.
But if Carter ever held a grudge, it never showed in his associations. In his post-presidential years, he developed deep and enduring friendships, philanthropic partnerships and artistic opportunities in the Silver State.
“The connection between Reno and Plains, Ga., is really strong,” said Jack Bacon, whose Reno-based appraisal business specializes in art, rare books, antiques, historical autographs and collectibles.
Carter—who at 98 is the longest-living president in American history—on Feb. 18 opted to forgo further medical treatment and entered hospice care at his home in Georgia.
Bacon met the former president at a Carter Center weekend in Crested Butte, Colo., in the early 1990s. So, too, did Incline Village resident Dan Ostrander, a longtime professor of American history at Butte College and a presidential historian.
Both men—lifelong Republicans—have spent much of the past 30 years helping raise millions of dollars for the Carter Center, a foundation that works to ensure human rights, freedom and democracy, and improve health worldwide. Their families have become close over the years. That includes trips to Carter’s hometown of Plains on multiple occasions, including birthday, anniversary and other milestone events.
Both men have a deep respect for Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
“Whatever cause he supports, he gets his hands dirty,” Ostrander said. “He and Rosalynn, they go out there and are in the field with the people, whether it’s building houses for Habitat for Humanity or digging latrines in Africa. He has this commitment.”
In 2017, the Carter Center weekend was held at the Resort at Squaw Creek. Bacon helped coordinate logistics on the Reno end, including side activities for the conference attendees and the “welcome” when the charter jet from Atlanta, carrying the Carters and other attendees, arrived at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Then-Gov. Brian Sandoval was on the tarmac to greet the couple. Tucked under his arm was a peanut bank he’d purchased as a youngster in Washington, D.C., when Carter was president. Carter signed it for him. “The governor wanted me to ask him to sign it, but I told him you’ll have to ask him yourself,” Bacon said with a chuckle. “I didn’t want to get in trouble with Jimmy.” From experience at multiple book and document signings, Bacon knew Carter didn’t like signing odd-shaped objects, but he was accommodating for the governor.
Bacon also helped arrange a trip to the University of Nevada, Reno, campus and its Earthquake Engineering Laboratory for a demonstration of the shaker tables, which replicate earthquakes. Carter, a civil engineer, was fascinated by the demonstrations and how some of the technology could be used in developing countries, Bacon said.
“It was a highlight for all of us,” Dr. Ahmad Itani, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said at the time. “To be able to show off our facility and the world-improving research we conduct was the highest honor.”
Ostrander, who purchased a second home in Plains, helped lead a fundraising effort to create an endowment for the Boys and Girls Club there. He and his wife, Dawn, pledged $500,000 to the effort, and more than $2 million was raised overall.
In 2022, Jack Bacon and his wife, Kim, spearheaded an effort to commission a sculpture by Reno artist Peter Hazel for permanent display in Plains.
The 3,000-pound, 15-by-15-foot sculpture, titled “Monarch Tree,” is the focal point of the Rosalynn Carter Childhood Garden and part of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, a nationwide network of public and private gardens dedicated to protecting and preserving butterfly habitat. The “tree” features eight stems and 18 glass monarch butterflies, in honor of Mrs. Carter’s birthday, Aug. 18.
Hazel, an artist best known for his Burning Man artwork, and his colleague, Cody Munson, made two trips to Plains: One in May to survey the site, and another in August for the installation and dedication. He said they were treated with great hospitality, even receiving a key to the city from the mayor of Plains.
During the dedication ceremony, they sat at a table with the Carters, Bacon and Ostrander. “It was kind of surreal,” Hazel said, adding that meeting the former president was an honor of a lifetime.
“Until you experience it, it’s impossible to put into words,” he said. “It’s emotional to be a part of a great humanitarian like him. He is someone I admire. He’s an amazing human.”
Ostrander and Bacon said the August event was poignant, as they were able to have final face-to-face conversations with their friend, who has since entered hospice care. “I got a chance to tell him how much I care about the two of them,” Ostrander said. “I felt good after I left that I got to say a final goodbye.”
Bacon, too, said he will cherish his last exchange with Carter.
“President Carter isn’t someone you walk up to and give a big hug or anything like that,” Bacon said. “He’s just not that way. But I just thought with this being the last time I was probably going to see him, and those of us at the table and in the crowd from Nevada, I just said, ‘I’m speaking for the people of Reno and Nevada that I know. We all love you very much.’”
Carter replied, “I know it.”
“I’m so glad I said it, because that response was great,” Bacon said.