BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – President Jimmy Carter announced on Feb. 18 he is entering hospice care, choosing to forgo medical intervention that might help him prolong his life beyond his 98 years.

The opportunity for an extended goodbye of indeterminate length gives the former president the chance to be with family and close friends – and it gives the country a chance to recognize his remarkable life of service while he’s here.

And as the nation’s 39th president lives out his days at home in Plains, Georgia, comforted by family and hospice care, an outpouring of respect and gratitude for his service to the country comes his way, not only for his often difficult time as president but for the remarkable contributions of his life post-presidency.

Almost a half-century after his election, few may remember  – if they ever knew  – the tumultuous circumstances of his rise to power – from Georgia peanut farmer to governor of a state deeply divided by racial segregation, to healer-in-chief of a nation riven by Watergate and Vietnam.

Carter stunned the political world in 1976, seeking the presidency with virtually no prior name recognition and defeating Republican Gerald Ford.

“The Georgia press corps, we didn’t give him a prayer,” said Georgia native Richard Beene, the retired longtime publisher of the Bakersfield Californian and former radio talk show host who covered Carter’s years as governor as an Atlanta-based reporter for United Press International. “We thought, ‘Nobody knows who this guy is.’”

Looking back, however, Beene understands what transpired.

“I think the country – at least my perception was — the country was ready for a change,” he said.

Carter’s single four-year term was hurt by economic challenges, an energy crisis and difficulties with his own Democratic congress, and then a charismatic challenger – Ronald Reagan.

But Carter went on to have one of the most dynamic post-presidencies in the nation’s history.

“He created the Carter Center, which goes around the world funding disease eradication efforts, and making sure elections are fair,” Beene said. “He wanted to help the world solve problems and part of that was Habitat.”

As in Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit that has built homes in 39 countries.

Ron White, the executive director of Kern County Habitat for Humanity, said Carter was not just a figurehead.

“Sure, he was a huge advocate for affordable housing,” White said. “(He) raised millions of dollars. But where I would say he is separate from other comparable presidents is boots on the ground. It’s great to do those things but, can you imagine? You come on to a home site for Habitat for Humanity and you look to your left and you’re building your home with the help of President Carter.”

Now Jimmy Carter is receiving hospice care, a service that helps patients die with dignity, immersed in compassion. It allows those entering the final stage of life to be remembered while they’re still here to appreciate it. Beth Hoffman, who runs Bakersfield’s Hoffman Hospice, said Carter’s hospice care raises the profile of an important service.

“He’s got a big footprint,” Hoffman said. “In the next few weeks, months, days, whatever, his little world is going to find his family gathered round. He’s gonna get notes and cards and (friends) talking about old times and the contributions he’s made.”

Beene said one contribution stands out.

“I think you will remember him as a man who loved his God, loved his family, and loved his country,” Beene said. “And those used to be the three pillars. … That’s no longer the case. But now, looking at today’s politics, looking back, sounds pretty good to me.”