Former president uses lectern made by students in DeFuniak Springs

Special to The Sun
Students and instructor have a rare opportunity to be photographed with both President and Mrs. Carter at their church in Plains the evening before the Depot Rededication ceremony.

Plains, Ga. - Former President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter made an historic presentation at the rededication of the Plains Depot Wednesday, March 13, and the lectern at which they addressed a crowd of approximately 800 was made by high school students of the Walton Career Development Center in DeFuniak Springs.

The lectern is a replica of the one used by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in Plains, Ga., during their campaign for the White House and the one they used when they learned they won their bid for the White House in 1976. Christopher Mitchell, president of the Florida Chautauqua Center, commissioned two reproductions of the original for the 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly when Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter served as featured keynote speaker on Jan. 25 in DeFuniak Springs. The first lectern at which she spoke during the 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly will be used for future famous speakers at Florida’s historic Chautauqua. Mitchell gave Mrs. Carter a second reproduction as a personal gift during her visit to Walton County in January.

Three students, under the direction of Construction Technology Class instructor Thomas Martin, made the lecterns using photographs of Carter’s media conferences in Plains during the original campaign days and interviews with Steve Theus of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains.  Following the Chautauqua Assembly, Superintendent Carlene Anderson gave permission for the students and their instructor to deliver Mrs. Carter’s lectern to Plains in time for the rededication of the Plains Depot on March 13.

“I’m standing at the original desk I used … what, this is not the original desk?” former President Carter asked when standing at the lectern while addressing the large crowd that gathered for the ceremony. “Well, who made it? Stand up!” Students Tristan Merchant, Celby Leach and Dylan Shaw stood up to be recognized during the ceremony. “This is very nice, and thank you all for that.” 

He continued the conversation with the students asking where they were from and giving them a history lesson about his campaign and how Floridians supported him in the ’76 presidential election. Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter also spoke at the lectern during the Depot Rededication Ceremony and welcomed the students and other members of the Florida Chautauqua delegation which attended the ceremonies.

“It was great! It was pretty good,” said the students in unison when asked what they thought about President Carter recognizing them. “They’re great people. Very kind and loving people,” said Tristan Merchant when asked what he thought of the Carters whom he met throughout the project.

Following the ceremony, the students and Florida delegation were shown around Plains, including the Carter Boyhood Farm, by Christopher Mitchell, president of the Florida Chautauqua who worked for the Carters from 1985 to 1995.  Carter was also Mitchell’s Sunday school teacher at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains when he was in college. 

“I can see that the gift of the lecterns became a gift to so many others in such special ways,” said Mitchell. “This was intended to be another Florida Chautauqua Assembly project-based learning opportunity with students of the Walton County School District, but it became so much more. Wow! This is what the Chautauqua learning experience for all ages is all about.”

The lectern Mitchell gave to Mrs. Carter will remain in Plains and will be used in the auditorium of Plains High School Museum for the newly revived Plains Chautauqua (which will be held again in May) and other historical events. 

“We’re replacing our store-bought lectern and will put this one in its place,” said Gary Ingram, superintendent of the National Park Service’s Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  “The National Park Service and Gary Ingram personally, are very thankful.”

To see the video presentations of the lecterns and President and Mrs. Carter’s remarks at the Plains Depot Rededication Ceremony, visit the video page at