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Retracing Where Hillary Clinton Grew Up, 1950s Park Ridge, Ill.


Let's take a moment now to run home - to be precise, Hillary Clinton's home. It's the place where the Democratic presidential candidate grew up. Our colleague Tamara Keith traveled there as part of our series on the places that candidates call home. And this morning, we have an encore presentation of her report.


TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hillary Rodham's family moved to Park Ridge, Ill., in 1950, when she was a toddler. It's a quiet, upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago - quiet, except for all the airplanes. Ernie Rickets grew up with Hillary Rodham.

ERNIE RICKETS: Park Ridge is right under O'Hare.

KEITH: It is in the flight path.

RICKETS: It's in the - it's in the final approach.

KEITH: Like so many families moving out of cities at that time, the Rodhams were looking for security, good schools and space for a growing family. Rodham's childhood friends, including Betsy Ebeling and Rickets, took me to the old neighborhood.

RICKETS: The Mohills (ph) lived two doors down. Laurel Burns lived over there...

BETSY EBELING: Laurel Burns lived over - that house that always had that round...

RICKETS: It's gone.

EBELING: It's gone.

KEITH: Hugh Rodham paid for his family's home outright with money he had saved as the owner of a drapery business. The house is on the corner. It's brick, two stories tall, under big shade trees.

RICKETS: And we'd walk home from school, and my house was down there. And we'd sit on the fence, and we had a lot of fun.

KEITH: There were games of baseball played in the middle of the street - the sewer covers served as bases. Kids would ride off on their bikes, and no one started worrying until after dark. Think growing up in a Norman Rockwell painting. Here's how Cheryl Acton Harbour describes their childhood in Park Ridge.

CHERYLE ACTON HARBOUR: It was kind of like Americana. It was sort of a coming together of circumstances of parents who wanted to start a good life. And they wanted grass, and they wanted safety, and they wanted good schools, and they kind of came here and created that. And we were kind of lucky, I think, to be at the right age, the right place.

KEITH: No doubt, there were many communities like Park Ridge in the 1950s. It was after World War II but before Vietnam - a time of innocence in America, especially in an affluent Midwestern suburb. Six of Rodham's old classmates agreed to meet me at the high school they all graduated from, Maine South High. And for more than an hour, they sat in the school's broadcast studio, reflecting on their coming-of-age in Park Ridge, when anything seemed possible - well, almost anything. Judy Price, who met Rodham freshman year, points to the student council.

JUDY PRICE: There were still differences. The president was always a boy, and the secretary was always a girl.

KEITH: Young Hillary Rodham tried to change that, her friends say, not to make some big political or feminist statement but because she thought she could. Her good friend Betsy Ebeling says Rodham ran for student council president and lost.

EBELING: I was her campaign manager, so I advised her. That probably - that one didn't turn out so well.

KEITH: Hillary Rodham also sent a letter to NASA hoping to become an astronaut and got a letter back saying girls need not apply. But the fact that she even tried says something about the Park Ridge state of mind and the way Rodham was raised. Girls assumed they would go to college, and everyone was encouraged by teachers and pastors to look outside the cocoon of the suburbs, says Price.

PRICE: Park Ridge helped to make us care about the world. And I think what made her extraordinary was that she realized that a whole lot earlier on than certainly I did, or anybody else I know.

KEITH: After graduation, there were a lot of places Hillary Rodham called home - Wellesley College, where she shed her Republican upbringing and became a Democrat; then law school at Yale. Then it was on to Arkansas - to follow Bill Clinton, who would become her husband and the state's governor - and eventually, the White House. But when it came time to choose a place to put down roots, Bill and Hillary Clinton found a sheltered suburb much like Park Ridge - Chappaqua, N.Y., an affluent enclave an hour on commuter rail from Manhattan.

GRACE BENNET: Hi, I'm Grace Bennet. I'm the publisher of Inside Chappaqua magazine, now in its 12th year.

KEITH: OK, and where are we?

BENNET: We are on King Street in Chappaqua, N.Y., suburb of Westchester County.

KEITH: The striking thing about downtown Chappaqua is just how similar it is to Park Ridge - the little shops and restaurants, the straight-out-of-another-era-town-square feel.

BENNET: It still has a little bit of that mom-and-pop shop thing going on, which I think is a great thing.

KEITH: And the way people describe Chappaqua today is a lot like Hillary Clinton's friends describe Park Ridge of the 1950s. Virginia Shasha works at ICD Contemporary Jewelry, where the former president sometimes buys jewelry for his wife.

VIRGINIA SHASHA: It's a nice, low-key town. It's a small, little town, and it's a fun town to be in. And we love our neighbors, and we love our town.

KEITH: The Clintons live on a quiet street about a mile up the road from downtown Chappaqua. Bennet drives me up to see it in her Subaru.

BENNET: This is Old House Lane.

KEITH: Clinton's home is a white farmhouse near where the street dead ends at a cul-de-sac.

BENNET: It's the one in here, that's where they live.

KEITH: The one in there.


KEITH: Oh, and there's a trash can that says U.S.S. - U.S. Secret Service.

She's come a long way, but as one friend put it, you can take the girl out of Park Ridge, but you can't take Park Ridge out of the girl. Back at the high school, her old friends Betsy Ebeling and Mike Andrews reflect on how growing up there affected their world view.

EBELING: Those opportunities and that kind of glance into the outside world was available to us, yet we were still protected.

MIKE ANDREWS: Sheltered...


ANDREWS: ...Is the better word.

EBELING: But in a good way, you know what I mean? It was - what, truthfully, we would like for our kids today and our grandchildren is that you can live. You can have a breathing space.

KEITH: Hillary Clinton never moved back to Park Ridge. And in the 1980s, her parents sold their house on Wisner Street. But when she talks on the campaign trail about the America she wants to build, you can hear hints of Park Ridge in the 1950s. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.