A solid succession plan is vital in ensuring that the foundation upon which a top tourist attraction in Sampson County has been built remains intact, and the mainstay museum continues to thrive well into the future.
David and Jeannie King, the faces of the Sampson County History Museum who have spearheaded numerous events and fundraisers and grown the grounds by leaps and bounds over the years, may retire in the not-too-distant future, and the county needs to prepare to fill some big shoes and have plans for moving the museum forward., local officials said.
“The Chamber is going to start offering some assistance at the History Museum eight hours a week, just in thinking about the future,” said Janna Bass, executive director of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce. “We just know how much David and Jeannie have put in to the History Museum. David used to be on (the Chamber) board before he rotated off and he kind of mentioned they needed some help.”
History Museum board member Ronnie Jackson said David and Jeannie King, who are president of the History Museum Board and director of the museum, respectively, have been the lifeblood of the museum for years. Now, David is handling most of the museum operations with Jeannie helping when needed, Jackson noted.
The museum board is not looking to actively hire its next museum leader, but it is hoped with the assistance of the Chamber and county officials, a succession plan can take root. There is no date for David King’s retirement, but preparations are being readied, Jackson said.
“We’ve seen it coming for a number of years and the museum has grown beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s mind-boggling what’s there now,” Jackson said. “Their impact is what has made that what it is, and you’re not going to find another David or Jeannie.”
However, through what Jackson calls an “exploratory” process, it is hoped that all those good efforts can stay in good hands and under reliable leadership.
“The time had to be right, with the Chamber, the History Museum, Jeannie and David,” said Jackson. “That time is here now.”
Bass, on behalf of the Chamber and the History Museum, extended an invitation to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners to explore Sampson’s rich history at an informal dinner, possibly as early as next month, where some of those talks about the future of the museum — and its impending transition — could occur.
“The Sampson County History Museum is the hidden jewel in Sampson County that showcases the rich heritage and history within Sampson County’s past,” Bass said in a letter to the Board of Commissioners. “David and Jeannie King have turned their passion into the top tourist attraction within Sampson County. The board of directors for both the Sampson County History Museum and the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce recognize that this jewel no longer needs to be hidden and future planning has begun.”
County manager Ed Causey said early February could be the timeframe for those discussions to start.
“They would like to have some discussion and invite us to look at … the succession planning for the museum,” said Causey. “They would like to host a dinner and work session and have a tour of their facility maybe sometime in early February.”
The Board of Commissioners’ support and input is vital, as it makes up the majority of the History Museum’s annual funding. Amid deliberations leading up to the current 2013-14 budget, the museum’s local allocation was put under the microscope ever so briefly before the board decided to keep the funds intact.
At that time, History Museum board member Tim Howard said the county’s fiscal support was crucial to the Sampson staple. Without those funds — annual expenses of the museum amount to $74,000, of which the county provides $54,000 — the county and its citizens would suffer the “cruel and unfortunate” fate of seeing the museum close its doors.
“It has been opened to the public for 15 years or so now, and has thousands of artifacts and about eight buildings,” said Howard. “It is a remarkable exhibit. It surely is one of the finest local museums in the state and is visited by thousands of people every year, many of whom come from outside Sampson County solely to visit the museum.”
‘Don’t want it to fail’
From its plethora of activities during Christmas in the City to October’s massive Craft Demonstration Day, coinciding with the annual Court Square Street Fair, the museum hosts a number of events that have seen thousands upon thousands visit the grounds over the years. And the museum has grown exponentially, with old homes and stores preserved and restored in order to house an untold number of artifacts, exhibits and other memorabilia that pay homage to Sampson’s history in agriculture, law enforcement, military, and athletics, with the opening of the Sampson County Sports Club Hall of Fame.
Through the years, countless volunteers have dedicated their efforts to expand the museum and keep it open. Chief among them are David and Jeannie King.
Howard called David King the “moving force behind the creation and continued life behind the museum,” working at no charge and tending to any situation that comes up around the clock.
“He has done this for the entire 15 years,” said Howard. “I don’t think we can get a better deal than that in Sampson County.”
Last summer, Howard alluded to the need for succession planning, stating that King would likely not be running the museum for much longer and a firm foundation for its continued existence was direly needed. That begins with the county’s yearly commitment, which makes up the majority of the landmark’s support, he noted.
“It’s a good investment,” Howard said. “I would go so far as to say there’s not another part of this county that attracts more attention from outside the county, from a traveling tourism standpoint, than the History Museum.”
Bass said representatives of the Chamber, History Museum and others looked forward to talking about the future of the museum as it braces for a transition down the road.
“We want to talk about the importance of the museum now and where we want to see it go in the future when Mr. David and Ms. Jeannie do decide to retire,” said Bass. “As succession planning begins, we understand that, through innovativeness and partnerships, together we can ensure growth and the vast impact the museum has on Sampson County.”
Bass said the museum brings with it an increased number of tourists, a higher quality of life and an array of educational opportunities. “We are looking forward to the next chapter,” she said.
A date for succession planning discussions to take place could be set during next week’s Board of Commissioners budget workshop.
“We just really wanted them to come out there and take a private look at what we have here,” said Jackson. “Everybody’s trying to make a success of this and (the Kings) have done so much out there, we don’t want it to fail.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.