Doris Beal-Harmon-Simmons is a self-labeled "Obama fanatic."
To all who know her, the longtime retired educator is an unabashed fan of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Talk to her for any length of time, and you will quickly learn that she is a devotee of black history, and can trace family back to a pre-emancipated South. The history of black Americans in this country is part of her own history, she explains.
"That's why Obama's story is so important to me as a black person. His election is historic. It was a first, and the first time of anything is historic," said the softspoken 73-year-old.
Over the years, Beal-Harmon-Simmons has collected more Obama-related memorabilia than anybody else she knows of, and proudly offers her collection for a monthlong exhibit in honor of Black History Month at Mount Zion Baptist Church on South New Road in Pleasantville.
Arranged in a museum-quality display in one of the downstairs Sunday school classrooms, the "Obama Exhibit" features hundreds of items, from "Obama bubble gum" to a gold watch bearing the president's likeness. The collection takes up the entire room, including the walls. Visitors are asked to sign in, and can take as long as they want to peruse the items.
It takes an entire day for Beal-Harmon-Simmons and her husband, Bill Simmons, to transport the collection from their home in Egg Harbor Township to the church and set it up.
"We used to only offer the display for a day or two, but as the collection grew, it got to be too much, so we expanded it for the entire month," she said. "It takes a lot of work, but it's a labor of love and pride."
She has been a member of Mount Zion for 46 years and considers the church her "home." She is a deaconess of the church and teaches Sunday school. Her husband is a church trustee. She was a Pleasantville resident for 40 years and says she is proud to have been the first black art teacher hired for the Pleasantville School District back in 1981.
Beal-Harmon-Simmons said she started collecting everything pertaining to Obama when he first started his presidential campaign in 2008. She has campaign buttons, bumper stickers, pennants, pins, hats, T-shirts, and magazines and newspapers from all over the country.
The items commemorating his 2009 inauguration and the 2012 inauguration for his second term are expansive.
Among the more quirky items on display are a bobblehead doll, a pack of "Obama mints" and a sealed "Obama air freshener" packet.
"I found everything I could. If it was sold, I got it," she said. "And people know that I collect items and bring me things all the time."
There is framed artwork, collector dolls and figurines of both the President and first lady Michelle Obama, quilts, a stamp collection, mugs, plates, books, calendars, jewelry, a water globe with photos of the him inside, hats, medallions, plaques, coins, key chains, a set of lighthouse statues with his image and campaign slogans and a "Yes We Can" slogan train set.
Beal-Harmon-Simmons has collected local and national newspapers, magazines and periodicals from all over the country, and even one from Hawaii, covering every aspect of Obama's two elections and inaugurations.
"I started this collection not for me, but for my children and grandchildren so they could see history as it happened," said Beal-Harmon-Simmons, who has three children, two stepchildren, and a total of 27 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
One item of which she is particularly fond is a 12-inch tall doll of the president issued for his second term that recites part of his inauguration speech. There is also a matching first lady doll.
She had the opportunity to attend the second inauguration in Washington, D.C., but to this day regrets that illness kept her from attending.
But her most prized possession is a letter signed by the President in 2010 congratulating her on receiving the President's Volunteer Service Award when she was named Woman of the Year by the American Legion Auxiliary.
She says she is always on the lookout for more items.
"It's my life. Wherever I go, I seek new things to add," she said.
One question she gets asked often when visitors see her exhibit is, "Where do you put it all when not on display?"
"Well, let's just say my attic gets full," she laughs.
Some items, such as the collectible plates, go back into a display cabinet in her living room, she says.
The Obama Exhibit is open to the public. For viewing times and information, call 609-641-4337 or 609-653-3158.
Contact Lucia C. Drake: