CAMDEN — A story about what some think is an “electric chair” on display at the Union County Museum tipped off Ola Jean Kelly, museum executive director, that she’d been named the Olde English District Tourism Commission’s Betty Skeen Hospitality Employee of the Year for 2012.
The award is named for Betty Skeen who worked for many years at the S.C. Welcome Center in Fort Mill. The award honors those who work directly with tourists or visitors to the Olde English District to promote tourism and create a positive image for the district and the state through outstanding service and hospitality.
Kelly is the latest recipient of the award which was presented at the commission’s annual awards luncheon on Nov. 30 at the Historic Robert Mills Courthouse in Camden, an event she said almost didn’t attend.
“I had planned not to go to the meeting because it was on a Friday which is a busy day here,” Kelly said Tuesday. “But my favorite Revolutionary War expert, Charles Baxley, was going to speak and I just had to hear him.”
While she expected to hear a lecture by Baxley on the Revolutionary War, Kelly said she did not expect to hear her name called when the award was announced. However, she said she began to have her suspicions when the the winner was being described.
“They give out three awards at this meeting and I thought the description of this winner began to sound familiar,” Kelly said. “At the last I knew it was me because they told a story I tell about one of our objects when I do a tour of the museum. I didn’t think anyone else told that story.”
The story was about the 1942 “permanent wave” machine on the display at the museum. Kelly, who as little girl had her hair curled by the machine at a local beauty parlor, said the machine’s appearance often makes some think it is a much more sinister piece of technology.
“It looks like an instrument of torture,” Kelly said. “Some of the school children think it’s an electric chair.”
Kelly said she had no idea she’d won the award or even been nominated.
“It was a total surprise,” Kelly said. “Monte Lancaster and the local tourism commission nominated me, but I didn’t know until the meeting.”
The award is a metal pineapple that Kelly said was sculpted by South Carolina sculptor Bob Doster. She said the award was signed by Doster.
“It’s on display right now at the museum, but I eventually plan to take it home,” Kelly said.
Will Boyles, Union County tourism director, said Kelly won because she “works tirelessly for Union County and the preservation of its history. She has the unique ability to share her vast knowledge of the area in a way that makes it inviting and interesting for all ages.”
Kelly, however, said that the award really belongs to the entire museum staff.
“I’m very flattered because I am not being modest when I say that this belongs to everybody,” Kelly said. “I’m just the person up front.”
The Olde English District is one of 10 tourism regions in South Carolina. As the winner for the Olde English District, Kelly will compete with the winners from the other districts for the 2013 S.C. Hospitality Employee of the Year. The winner will be named at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel to be held in Columbia in January 2013.
Kelly said that she was not the only person from Union County or with ties to the county to win the awards presented at the luncheon.
Diana Glaser, a volunteer with Rose Hill Plantation State Park in Union, received the 2011 Carrie B. Dover Volunteer of the Year Award. The statement announcing the awards described Glaser as “a true asset. She and her husband spend more than 700 hours a year volunteering at the park. While her focus is maintaining a heirloom garden she chips in wherever needed. It’s in her interaction with visitors that you see her at her best.”
Carolina Adventure World in Fairfield County won the 2012 Olde English District Attraction of the Year. The announcement states that the park “started as a dream of its owner, Don Wilburn, and today it’s the Southeast’s largest ATV-UTV and dirt bike riding park. With over 100 miles of customized trail, Carolina Adventure World offers riders of all skill levels a new adventure.”
Kelly pointed out that Wilburn is from Union County and that she’d attended school with him when they were children.
Union County Museum
The Union County Museum is located at 127 W. Main St., Union, and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information about the museum call 864-429-5081 or go online at unioncountymuseum.com or on Facebook at Union County Historical Society.
The Olde English District
The Olde English District is a tourism promotions and marketing organization seeking to increase tourism and visitation in the seven upstate South Carolina counties of Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lancaster, Union and York. For more information about the district, call 803-789-7077 or go online at www.oldenglishdistrict.com.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.