Wineka column: Elizabeth Dole exhibit starts June 3 at Rowan Museum

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 24, 2012

SALISBURY — Near the elevator doors of the Rowan Museum, Terry Holt gingerly lifts a large framed portrait of Elizabeth Hanford Dole and gives it an admiring look.
“This portrait hung in her mother’s bedroom,” says Betty Dan Spencer, a lifelong friend of Dole’s.
Holt carries it down the hall and into the front exhibit room, where it finds a home on the west wall.
It was Dole’s official portrait during her stint as secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, Spencer explains.
Ann Kenerly Fryar, another childhood friend of Dole’s, is ironing fabric for various display cases. She stops for a moment to hold up a magnificent red gown Dole wore to a Cancer Ball in Washington, D.C.
“I can’t wait to see her,” Fryar says.
By now, Holt has retrieved another piece of Dole clothing — the pale blue gown she wore when she was presented to the Queen of England.
Rowan Museum volunteers, board members and staff are in overdrive these days preparing for a June 3-Sept. 16 exhibit that will tell the story of Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole.
As the photographs, political memorabilia, newspaper clippings, books, magazine articles, posters, clothing and artifacts in general will show — it has been an immensely rich life.
The journey took Dole from a idyllic childhood in Salisbury toward becoming one of the most influential women in the country.
Preparations for “Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Hometown Girl, Public Servant, World Citizen,” are extending from one end of town to the other.
On South Fulton Street, at the Dole homeplace. Amy Bauguess is managing and categorizing artifacts in what has become a staging area before things are trucked to the museum at 202 N. Main St.
Dole herself visited storage locations in Washington and Alexandria, Va., to assemble some of the things delivered to Salisbury in two different van trips.
“Liddy has been extremely helpful,” Spencer says. “She has personally chosen a lot of the artifacts we’re using.”
Just the “tens” of scrapbooks Dole’s late mother, Mary Hanford, compiled on her daughter seem to cover the whole living room, Spencer reports.
The movement of items from the Dole house to the museum started Wednesday morning. Executive Director Kaye Brown Hirst predicted her husband’s van would have to make at least 20 trips over the coming days.
Hirst and Holt — buttressed by all the help from Bauguess, Spencer and several volunteers — are working off color-coded diagrams, pictures and lists of notes in building the exhibit.
The ultimate goal: to walk visitors through the various stages of Dole’s life and career.
Dole, who spends most of her time in Washington, will be in Salisbury for the June 3 opening reception.
The reception and exhibit, which will last three-and-a-half months, are free and open to the public.
“She’s excited about the exhibit because she has looked at things she hasn’t seen for years,” Spencer says of Dole, now 75.
Class of her own
Few women, if any, have accomplished what Dole has, graduating from Harvard Law School, holding cabinet positions in two different administrations, heading the American Red Cross, serving as U.S. senator and running for president.
As some of the exhibit’s photographs will show, Dole stood with presidents and first ladies, worked with Princess Diana on relief for land-mine victims, led safety innovations at the U.S. Department of Transportation, confronted striking coal miners in Pennsylvania, prayed with Billy Graham, helped orphans in Africa and met with foreign dignitaries from Boris Yeltsin to Margaret Thatcher.
For much of that time, she also has been married to one of Washington’s most powerful men, former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee for president.
The exhibit’s curators are trying to find room for more than 200 items connected to Elizabeth Dole, not counting scores of photographs that visitors will be able to access and view through two touch screens.
“There are so many wonderful visuals that tell the story of her life and service,” Hirst says.
Spencer says many local people will see themselves in some of the photographs.
But Dole also is seen with celebrities such as Paul Newman, Jerry Lewis, Jay Leno, Garth Brooks, Mike Douglas and Willard Scott.
On the campaign trail
In political campaigning alone, Dole stomped the country for her husband when he was both the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1976 and the presidential nominee 20 years later.
That’s not to mention her two U.S. Senate campaigns — one successful, one not — and a brief presidential bid in 1999 that she suspended before reaching the caucuses and primaries.
Some of the political memorabilia that will be on display are things the museum already possessed, having the foresight to save the items years ago.
“We have too many banners to hang,” Hirst acknowledges.
Holt says the planning, measuring, building and arranging behind the exhibit have not been overwhelming.
“No,” he says, “it’s been fun to watch it come together. We’re doing it as professionally as we can get it done.”
It’s difficult to say what the most prized Dole artifact is, just because of the sheer quality and quantity of things.
How do you compare her trophy for winning a Daughters of the Confederacy essay contest with the black leather “Bikers for Bob” jacket she wore on the “Tonight Show”?
Spencer says one of her favorite things is a Margaret Bost portrait of Dole that hung over the mantle in Mary Hanford’s living room.
Hirst resists naming her favorite Dole artifact until the whole exhibit is up.
“I have a feeling it will be her early years,” Hirst says.
Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Hometown Girl, Public Servant, World Citizen
Where: Rowan Museum, 202 N. Main St., Salisbury
When: June 3-Sept. 16
What: An exhibit honoring the life and service of Salisbury native Dole, a former U.S. senator, twice a Cabinet secretary and one-time director of the American Red Cross
Times: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Note: Dole will attend the opening reception at 1 p.m. June 3 in the Messinger Room (second floor of the museum)
For more information or to schedule group tours: Contact the museum at or by calling 704-633-5946.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@