SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Sioux Falls couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary this summer with their thoughts on a guest who never made it to their wedding. Former President Jimmy Carter is living out the rest of his days in hospice. He was a political hero to an Augustana University professor who mailed a wedding invitation to Carter two decades ago.

This Jimmy Carter presidential campaign poster has been a living room conversation piece for years at the home of Augustana professors Daniel Gerling and Pilar Cabrera Fonte.

“People typically ask why I had a campaign poster in the house. I just let them know that Jimmy Carter was a hero of mine,” Gerling said.

Gerling has been a lifelong fan of the former president.

“Jimmy Carter won the presidency the year I was born, so in my mind, as a child, he was a bit of a caricature. He was a little bit goofy-looking and sort of the non-stereotypical politician,” Gerling said.

Part of Carter’s appeal to Gerling was in the company he kept.

“As a teenager, I thought he was pretty cool too, because he was the one president who was hanging out with Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers,” Gerling said.

Gerling was hoping Carter would hang-out at his wedding when he mailed an invitation to the former president in 2003.

“I thought why not reach out to him and see if we hear back,” Gerling said.

Gerling’s then-fiancee, now wife, was skeptical about the invitation.

“To be honest, I was way more concerned about my dress and my shoes and other stuff, so at the time, I don’t even remember. I’m sure that I said that it was great, but I guess I never thought he was going to come,” Cabrera Fonte said.

The couple never did hear back from Carter. The closest Gerling ever came to meeting Carter was from a distance, standing in line waiting for an autographed copy of one of his books.

“Then I got a call that my son was sick. Yeah, so I had to get out of line and have my best friend who was there and he got the book signed for me,” Gerling said.

Cabrera Fonte, who’s of Cuban descent, is an admirer of Carter’s foreign policy when he opened up relations with Cuba.

“He was someone who had way more intelligent policy regarding Cuba than other presidents because he really sought for things like civil-to-civil engagement, people to be allowed to visit, Americans to be allowed to visit Cuba,” Cabrera Fonte said.

Both Cabrera Fonte and Gerling incorporate Jimmy Carter into their courses at Augustana, so Augie students can learn more about the former president’s legacy.

“When I get the chance to teach an American studies class, I talk about Jimmy Carter as somebody who sort of thwarted the Southern Strategy, right in the middle of the conservative revolution that started with Goldwater in ’64,” Gerling said.

It takes real commitment to be a Jimmy Carter enthusiast in a red state.

“It is tough being a fan of Jimmy Carter in a conservative state like South Dakota, absolutely, yes,” Gerling said.

Gerling acknowledges that Carter’s presidency was mediocre at best, dogged by a bad economy and the Iran hostage crisis. But Gerling says Carter’s humanitarian efforts after leaving the White House make him the most significant former president in U.S. history.

“He was somebody who was in politics not to gain prestige or to gain wealth or accumulate wealth. It was to do the right thing and to engage in public service in a meaningful way and that meant a lot to me, that gives me hope for America,” Gerling said.

There’s a little-known political connection between Carter and South Dakota. According to the Associated Press, Carter, who was then an obscure Governor of Georgia, angled to be George McGovern’s running mate in the 1972 presidential race. The McGovern campaign never gave Carter any serious consideration. But Gerling says Carter, as president, carried on causes important to McGovern, including addressing global hunger.