Last updated: September 11, 2016
Living History with Doris Mack
September 11, 2016
Here at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, all of our interpreters are unique. We have skydivers and fly-fisherman, musicians and artists, but one of them, actually a VIP (Volunteer-In-Parks) is quite literally a part of the unique history here at the park. Doris Mack, 94, has a very special connection at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site because she sat at the dining table with Mrs. Roosevelt many years ago.
NPS Photo - Doris Mack
Growing up in Durham, North Carolina in the 1930s as a person of color was different from other parts of America, says Doris. There was segregation, but people of color in Durham had a university, a hospital, and even insurance. Her parents were well educated, her mother was a school teacher and her father worked for North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company. It was a comfortable life, but her family did their part to help others in more challenging situations. As a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Doris and her family attended meetings and played an active role in the Civil Rights Movement.
"My parents were in the NAACP when it first started. I joined when I was 18 because it seemed like the right thing to do."
In 1948, shortly after WWII Doris and her husband, Theodore Mack, moved to Hyde Park to build a new life. Theodore went for a degree at Bard College and Doris worked as a proofreader for Western Publishing. Doris and her family attended the St. James Episcopal Church where they met Mrs. Roosevelt, who, at the time, was becoming a prominent political voice for human rights.
"I remember she was quiet, but was a great listener and a caring person. She gave my daughter her first doll of color, which were very hard to find back then."
Doris became friends with Mrs. Roosevelt and her family, as well as her friends Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman. She went to dinner at her Val-Kill home several times and can remember Mrs. Roosevelt having a difficult time keeping a cook.
"She'd tell the cook to prepare a meal for eight people and would end up inviting fifteen… The cooks never stayed around very long."
In 1959, at the height of Mrs. Roosevelt's career in human rights, she spoke at an NAACP event in Poughkeepsie, where Doris was in attendance.
Doris Mack and Eleanor Roosevelt
On that day, Doris had her picture taken with Eleanor and now when she talks to visitors about the dining room says, "I ate here at this table with Mrs. Roosevelt as one of her guests."
"They are always so surprised when I tell them and suddenly are very interested in every word I say."
After Mrs. Roosevelt passed in 1962, the home went to her son who had plans to contract it out to a housing agency. Thanks to the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK), which was founded to help preserve the site, President Carter in 1977 designated Val-Kill a National Historic Site. The home was opened to the public in 1984 and Doris was at the grand unveiling. During that time she was also a part of the Friends of Eleanor Roosevelt organization and when they were looking for a volunteer to give tours, she signed up. She absolutely loves her job as volunteer and thinks of everyone in the National Park Service as family.
"Everyone at the park is so great, we are family. I'm always calling them my children and grandchildren."
NPS Photo - Doris with NPS Director Jarvis and Roosevelt-Vanderbilt NHS Staff
We here at the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site are grateful to have Doris greeting visitors. If you want to meet her, you can find her at Val-Kill on Monday's and Friday's, telling jokes and taking pictures with visitors.
Check back in next week on ParkChat for a story about lost artifacts at the Eleanor Roosevelt NHS and how we have spent decades searching for them.