Cotton Museum Leader Stepping Down

July 5, 2015 07:00 AM
Cotton Museum Leader Stepping Down

Cotton is a staple in South Carolina, producing more than 500,000 bales in 2014, according to the National Cotton Council. And just like the crop he takes care of, Janson Cox is a staple at the South Carolina Cotton Museum in Bishopville.

Cox came to the museum in 1998 and has served as executive director there for 17 years.

But after all those years, he is stepping down as executive director.

Cox has turned the Cotton Museum into more than just a cash crop cornucopia; he's expanded it with interactive exhibits and a veterans museum.

He's made the Cotton Museum nationally known, saying people come from across the country to small-town South Carolina just to visit.

Cox said a family came in the other day from Seattle and wanted to see their grandmother's memorabilia in the veterans part of the museum.

He said that's one of the most enjoyable things about his job, getting to talk to people and being hands-on with a lot of the exhibits.

"I enjoy doing it. I enjoy talking with the people. I enjoy working the exhibits and the artifacts," Cox said. "I have the knowledge to handle some of the stuff, which gives you a comfort zone you don't have otherwise."

Since Cox took over the Cotton Museum, he's also added a library, and he's created new exhibits like the oral history of war, with local veterans recording their stories onto DVDs and leaving them at the museum for people to listen to.

Cox said that has been his favorite memory in his time working there.

His love affair with museum work started long before he got to Bishopville.

Cox grew up volunteering at museums and it continued when he was studying mathematics at The Citadel.

Cox tried to get a job geo-mapping after college, but his employer didn't want to hire someone with glasses. Cox had an interview lined up with NASA next, but one phone call changed his plans.

It was The Citadel asking if he could serve as acting director of The Citadel Memorial Museum. Cox took the job saying, "What else was I going to do?"

He's been in museum work ever since, holding that saying close to him throughout his work.

He's worked previously at museums in upstate New York and in Charleston, where he served 25 years as manager of the Charles Towne landing before coming to Bishopville.

When he decided to retire from the Charles Towne landing to move to Bishopville, he promised the museum he'd only work five years. He's been there a dozen years longer.

He said the excitement of new challenges and the people in the community keeps him coming back.

Cox's passion for his job is evident. Wearing an infectious smile, he laughs and says, "I do what I love, and I love what I do."

Cox joked, saying he isn't getting any younger, and wants to be able to spend more time on his farm in Kershaw County raising horses and doing things with his wife.

He's still active and rides his horses frequently, he said.

But retirement won't stop him from coming back to the museum he's called home for so long. He said he still wants to volunteer and work with the upkeep and building of new exhibits.

"The worst thing anyone can do is retire and go home. If you retire and go home, you're going to die," he said, mentioning statistics showing those who retire and don't do anything usually die quicker.

"I'm not doing that game. I still have my health. I still have my physical body. I still have the enthusiasm. Hey, I'll come back here and volunteer."

Cox said they are still looking for his replacement. He said the ideal candidate would be a retired veteran with the passion to do good work. He said if anyone is interested, contact the museum.

Cox will take a year to train his replacement and will slowly phase out near the end of the year.

But even though he won't be the executive director anymore, he's still going to be a staple in the museum, almost like the crop cotton is in the South.

And after being all over the country working in museums, he says Bishopville is one of the places that really stands out.

"Bishopville is really, in all true reality, a gem of a community that has not been destroyed architecturally," he said. "It still has a small town capability of being what small towns should be like."

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