BISHOPVILLE — Cotton is a staple in South Carolina, pro- ducing more than 500,000 bales in 2014, says 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, but now 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 visit.
Cox said that’s one of the most enjoyable things about his job.
“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 added a library and created exhibits such as an oral history of war, with local veterans recording their stories so people at the museum can listen to them.
Cox said that has been his favorite memory in his time working there.
His love of museum work began long before he got to Bishopville. Cox grew up volunteering at museums and it continued when he was studying mathematics at The Citadel.
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.
He’s been in museum work ever since. He’s worked at museums in Upstate New York and in Charleston, where he served 25 years as manager of Charles Towne Landing in West Ashley before coming to Bishopville.
When he decided to retire and move to Bishopville, he promised the museum he’d work only five years. He’s been there a dozen years longer.
He said the excitement of new challenges and the community keep him coming back.
Cox’s passion for his job is evident. “I do what I love, and I love what I do.”
He 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 spending time with his wife.
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 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.
“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.
Cox will take a year to train his replacement and then will slowly phase out.
After being all over the country working in museums, he says Bishopville is one of the places that really stands out. “Bishopville is really ... a gem of a community that has not been destroyed architecturally,” he said. “It still has a ... capability of being what small towns should be like.”