Meet Tarona Armstrong: Superintendent at the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope

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Tarona Armstrong, Superintendent of the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope. Photo by Z. Clift

Tarona Armstrong’s passion for education has been a key asset throughout her 24 year career with the National Park Service, NPS. Since the fall of 2014 she has been the Superintendent of the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope. The home marks the place where Bill Clinton, the 42nd U.S. President, spent the first four years of his life with his mother and grandparents.

Armstrong’s career has taken her around the nation, including stints at various sites in Arkansas. She has been involved at the Hope home from the very beginning, when the property first became a NPS site in 2011. Armstrong, who is from Marianna, was vital in developing the interpretive and education programs there and preparing the property for a formal dedication ceremony attended by various dignitaries including former President Clinton.

“The most joy I get is being a native of Arkansas and getting to tell the story of a young man that I knew as the governor the majority of my life, who later became President of the United States,” she said. “President Clinton comes from a very small place in Hope and that alone will tell you it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you work hard it’s all about how you finish and continue your journey.  I love this quote from Bill Clinton where he says, ‘In many ways, I know that all I am or ever will be has come from here…a place and a time where kids like me could dream of being part of something bigger than themselves.’ I come from a very small place, Lee County, and he was very instrumental in a lot of great things that came out of there. So to have that connection and be able to tell his story is fantastic. Especially on this level. And as Superintendent I get an opportunity to work with other young rangers who started out like I did when I was in college. The opportunity to work at the park service is an opportunity to leave your stamp, and leave it a little bit better than you found it, that is the greatest thing. And the opportunity to help build a new NPS site has been awesome.”

Photo of a young Bill Clinton inside the Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site Visitor Center. Photo by Z. Clift

This year is the Centennial of the National Park Service. Below, Armstrong shares a bit about her journey within the service.

Getting started: I attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. My undergrad degree is in Parks and Recreation. My dream was always to return to Lee County and open up a fantastic recreation center there. But later I realized it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be and towards my last years of college I was unsure of my direction.  I was told about the park service. I didn’t have a clue what it was or how I could play a role there. Growing up, we did visit Hot Springs National Park a lot. My mother used to say it was her park. But I didn’t make the connection during that time. A young man named William Tate, who works for the park service now, asked my parents if it would be alright if I took a seasonal position at his park, which was all the way in New York. That was my first time being away from home, that far by myself. Even actually getting on a plane. They let me go and so in 1991 I started my career with the National Park Service at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York. I loved it. It is the greatest job on earth. We have the opportunity to preserve our natural and cultural resources and have big open classrooms, I call them outdoor classrooms, where teachers and students can learn. Working at Gateway opened my eyes to a whole different world. And I was hooked. When I finished school I received a permanent job at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, talking about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Liberty Bell. And from there it was on. My career started and here I am, 24 years later.

Working in the park service: My career has taken to many beautiful units within the National Park Service. My career started in 1991. But I have had the privilege to work at three units here in Arkansas over my career including Arkansas Post National Memorial (in Gillett in 2001) and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (2002). In 2009 I was offered a management position at Louisiana at Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, a beautiful park which consists of two plantations. At the same time, I knew that the Clinton Birthplace Foundation Inc. was in the process of working on purchasing Bill Clinton’s birthplace home and also had plans to open it up and later to work with the park service and get it transferred to the park service system. While at Natchitoches, Laura Miller, who I had worked with at Central, became the Superintendent for the Clinton Birthplace Home Historic Site. Laura contacted me saying they are starting a new park and if I’d like to move back to Arkansas to be a part of the operations. So that’s how I got back here, which is home. It’s a great opportunity to work here. I started my career at this site in 2011 as chief of interpretation. My duties were to develop interpretive and education programs that talked about the formative years of President Clinton. And then I stayed here until 2013. Then I transferred back to Philly. Once I finished that program (Management Assistant at the Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia) I had the opportunity to go into a Superintendent role or a project lead position. About that time, Laura received her current position as Deputy Superintendent at the Buffalo National River, so everything kind of fell into place. So it has come back full circle and what a great opportunity to give back to my home state.

Superintendent Tarona Armstrong. Photo by Z. Clift

The local impact: By the park service being here in Hope and preserving the historic site, it makes a connection on a national level. We get visitors from all around the world, and a lot of international visitors come and they make the connection of President Bill Clinton, but most don’t know about the foundation he received here from his grandparents and his mother, that all of those lessons he learned led him to be the man he is today. Once visitors arrive here we also educate them about the other six national park service units in the state. And how close we are to sites like Hot Springs National Park and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. And locally having the national park service site here boosts the economy.  A majority of the park rangers here are from Hope or Texarkana. So we try to hire within the local community.

Seeing the state: I love to travel. I’m beginning my international travels this year. But here in Arkansas I try to direct my family to all the local and state parks. A majority of them you can visit for free or for a very small fee if any. Visitors can also visit the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock and learn more about Bill Clinton. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to travel beyond Arkansas, you can have a very nice vacation right here. And it is in our own backyard.

Other places to visit in/near Hope: Historic Washington State Park in nearby Washington takes you back in time. You can join a tour or program and people dress in that time period. The Visitor Center here, which is in a railroad depot, is also doing a great job. It gives visitors an introduction to not only Bill Clinton but to the town. You can find history about Clinton and also about former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, [who also is from Hope].  A lot of great people came out of Hope. That is what we try to distill in our youth when they come. It doesn’t matter where you come from, your economic status, you just have to work hard. Education was distilled in Bill at a young age by his grandparents. That old saying education is the key, it really is.

The Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site is located at 117 South Hervey Street in Hope. For more details call 870- 777-4455.