Joy Secuban Sets An Exhibit For Two at the Clinton Presidential Center

In 1919, a daughter was born in Chicago to a family of limited means. Her parents moved frequently, living as boarders in overcrowded houses. At age 8, she was sent to California to live with her grandparents. At age 14, she left home and was on her own at the height of the Great Depression.

In 1923, a family in rural Arkansas welcomed a baby girl. The girl was raised in Hope and studied  studied to be a nurse anesthetist in Shreveport. She later married and returned to Arkansas.

In 1976, a bouncing baby girl came into the world in Little Rock. The daughters of Philippine immigrants, she and her sister were the first children in the family to be born in the United States.

What do these three women have in common? More than you think. The first two—Dorothy Howell Rodham and Virginia Clinton Kelley—grew up to be the mothers of one of America’s top power couples and are now the focus of a new exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center. The third is Joy Secuban, the communications manager of the center, who conceptualized and curated the exhibit —no small task when you consider the volumes of books, letters, photographs and personal interviews that needed to be considered.

“There is a lot of research that must be done before you even start the storyline,” Joy says. “I read Virginia’s book. I relied on President Clinton and Secretary Clinton’s books, as well as interviews from their close friends. Collecting the artifacts and photographs also takes time, but it’s time very well spent because they add so much to the exhibit.”

Housed in a 1,700-square-foot exhibit hall, the exhibit showcases the tenacity and compassion of these two women through personal items, photographs and video interviews. It’s also an interesting study in the changing role of women during the 20th century.

On the outside, Virginia and Dorothy were very different people. Dorothy was very private and rarely gave interviews. Virginia was more like her son—outgoing and happy to be in the spotlight. But in one aspect, Joy maintains, they were exactly alike: their determination to provide better lives for their children.

“They had so many obstacles in their lives and could have easily chosen to be bitter based on what life had dealt them,” she explains. “But both of them chose to be positive—and they chose love. You can see the gift of love that they passed down to their children and grandchildren.”

One of Joy’s favorite stories from the exhibit is about the time Dorothy’s youngest son Tony told his mother he wanted to dig a hole to China. “She encouraged him to dig,” says Joy, “and at a night, she would put chopsticks or a fortune cookie in the hole so he would find it in the morning.”

Joy counts the opening of this exhibit, which runs through Nov. 25, as one of her greatest accomplishments since coming to the Clinton Center almost four years ago. It’s no wonder she’s so invested – the tale of these two women’s determination and devotion mirrors that of Joy’s own parents. “When [they] immigrated to Little Rock from the Philippines in the early ‘70s, they were faced with challenges—not only with the language barrier, but also in raising their three children in a culture so dissimilar from their own. Despite these challenges, they gave their children a better life than they had growing up.”

If the exhibit imparts nothing else (it does, of course, have much more to offer), Secuban hopes visitors come away with a clear sense of how these two women molded and nurtured the current Secretary of State and the former President. “Both mothers supported their children to the nth degree,” she says, “and family was their core—the true loves of their lives.”

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