As he took a short break from helping build Habitat for Humanity houses in Tennessee, Jimmy Carter told PEOPLE that he never expected to live this long.
The former president said that he and his wife Rosalynn Carter have led an annual build for Habitat for more than three decades, constructing and fixing up over 4,000 homes.
When he recalled the beginning of what would become a decades-spanning volunteer project, Mr. Carter said he and his wife didn’t even think about longevity. They had already volunteered with Habitat in Georgia when he swung by a built site in NYC and said, “We need to bring some volunteers in to help.”
That’s how the Carter Work Project started.
He told PEOPLE: “We knew that we had undertaken a very enjoyable hobby on the side. We stayed busy doing other things” — including Nobel Peace Prize-winning diplomatic work — “but we devoted 36 years to Habitat.”
Just this year, the Carters helped build more than 20 homes in Tennessee, expanding a neighborhood the volunteer project first started about ten years ago.
Now 95, Mr. Carter said: “One of the things Jesus taught was: If you have any talents, try to utilize them for the benefit of others.
“That’s what Rose and I have both tried to do.”
The fight after he fell at his home that left him with a black eye and 14 stitches on the forehead, he said: “I had a No. 1 priority and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.”
Next to him was Mrs. Carter, 92, who said: “I look forward to this week all year long.”
Mr. Carter told PEOPLE: “It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old.
“I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life.”
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