LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings By Barbara La Valleur — Hillary & Bill Up-Close — Kinda

I flew from Winnipeg to England the day after President Richard Nixon resigned, Aug. 9, 1974. It seemed like a good time to leave. I was fulfilling a high school dream to live in Europe.

Despite leaving a terrific job as chief photographer of the Daily News in Wahpeton, N.D.-Breckenridge, Minn. and my bright red, new 1974 Plymouth Duster with very few miles on it, I was following my heart.

Fast forward 20 years. With a broken heart ― more stories for other blogs ― I landed back in Minnesota. It was July 3, 1994, just in time to celebrate Independence Day. How ironic, I thought at the time.

The first few weeks are a blur. Thankfully, my older sister took me and my two teenage daughters in so we had a roof over our heads. My Mom had bought me a big old used car that awaited me. God bless her ― and rest her soul!

Luckily, I was able to spend a few weeks “getting my act together” and “my head on straight.” Although I was becoming restless and wanted to do something to be useful, I was not quite ready for a full-time position. So, I decided to volunteer at the Ann Wynia campaign which, of course, ended up being a full-time commitment.

Ann was the endorsed DFL U.S. Senate candidate running against the late U.S. Rep. Rod Grams. I liked Ann personally as well as her campaign slogan, “Straight Talk. Real Solutions,” and still believe today’s politicians could take a page from her book.

Little did I know what I was in for! On my first visit to the Wynia campaign headquarters, I met the formidable Marlene Kayser, a longtime political activist, who was one of the people in charge.

She took one look at my journalism resume and promptly announced she had the perfect volunteer task for me: I would head up the White House press corp at the Hilton Hotel when President Bill Clinton came to town. That occurred twice during the weeks leading up to the November election. I was immensely honored and couldn’t believe my good fortune.

During the next two months, while immersing myself in other volunteer activities, I had the privilege of meeting many of the top movers and shakers in the local DFL party including Arvonne Fraser, Joan Growe, Judge Rosalie Wahl, Shirley Nelson, Ember Reichgott Junge, Dr. Jane Hodgson, Phyllis Kahn, Linda Berglin, Vivian Jenkins Nelson, Emily Anne Staples Tuttle, Bonnie Watkins, Heidi Schellhas, former Vice President Walter Mondale and even Garrison Keillor, who appeared at a Wynia fundraiser.

Without a doubt, it was the most extraordinary volunteer gig of my life!

Those experiences supported my committment to join the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus Board and volunteer at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, both of which I supported for a number of years.

The first time President Clinton came to town was exciting. The first lady didn’t join him that time. But I met his press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, and other Cabinet members who traveled with him. Since I had been out of the country for 20 years, I didn’t even know who they were. Yes, I know, hard to imagine! But keep in mind my main source of news for the previous 18 years was German newspapers and TV.

But it didn’t hold a candle to the extraordinary events of his second visit, right before the November election. This time, Hillary was along. Their itinerary included a motorcade to a local junior college where Bill would speak along with Ann Wynia. I was directed by two 20-something women from Washington, D.C., who were “in charge” of events at the Hilton.

I was invited to come down to the bowels of the Hilton Hotel to watch the president and first lady walk the secure area from an underground elevator to their limousine in the motorcade lining up inside the protected garage.

While standing with the two young women waiting to see the president and first lady walk by, I was surprised when they dashed off in response to a “walkie-talkie” command. Yes, it was way before cell phones. All of a sudden, I was left standing alone in the cold, dark hallway.

A man I later learned was with the Secret Service saw me from a distance standing on my own. He immediately rushed up to me and asked me what I was doing there. I didn’t have the prerequisite tiny pin that all volunteers received after being vetted. I never did get that pin for some reason. I innocently replied to Mr. Secret Service Man, “I don’t know!” which, while being accurate, was not the best explanation of my circumstances.

He immediately took me by the arm none too gently, apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I have to put you in this room. The president and first lady are about to pass by, and I can’t have you out here.”

With that, I was locked in a tiny bare room containing a small table and a chair underneath a window with drawn venetian blinds. Before he locked the door, I asked him if I could “peek” through the blinds to watch the president and first lady pass. He reluctantly agreed but warned not to open the blinds “too far.”

Moments later, after crawling up on the table on my hands and knees and pressing my nose against the small crack in the blinds, they walked by. If I had blinked, I would have missed them. They were within arm’s reach ― with a window and a wall in between.

I couldn’t help but laugh at my circumstances. Eventually after the motorcade was on its way, and none too quickly, the Secret Service man returned and unlocked the door.

I found the two young women, and we had a laugh. They had wanted to introduce me to Bill and Hillary Clinton as a thank-you for volunteering.

Instead, we returned to the Presidential Suite and watched President Clinton’s and Ann’s speeches on a huge TV. The suite where the first couple had stayed the night before was full of beautiful flowers and a huge fruit bowl as well as a couple of bottles of wine.

My “reward” was a Bill Clinton brass stick pin (see photo) in a red box with Bill Clinton on the top.

They also let me take some flowers and the fruit back to the Wynia campaign headquarters.

The two bottles of wine? I kept and shared with my sister later.

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