Jenean Todd – Preserving the Past, Inspiring the Future
By Leslie Moore
Driving down Hwy. 17 in North Myrtle Beach today, it’s hard to visualize a time, 7500+ years ago, when Native Americans hunted and fished along these shores, making their homes in virgin forests of pine and cypress. Arrowheads and shards of pottery will soon be on display at the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum, providing a glimpse into that distant past. The area in and around North Myrtle Beach has a rich and complex history that is being compiled and made ready for museum visitors to enjoy. Led by its dynamic Director, Jenean Todd, the Museum will celebrate its grand opening next spring, on March 10, 2013.
Vivacious and energetic, Jenean was raised in Cary, North Carolina. After high school, she left the south for Pennsylvania, where she attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “My grandmother lived there so it was like a second home to me,” Jenean assured me when I asked her about the transition. A chance comment from one of her professors literally changed the course of her career. “He told me that I would never be a fine artist, but he could see me managing a gallery or museum!” After graduation, Jenean moved back to Cary and went to work for a silk screen company, but soon accepted a position with the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, her first museum job.
“That was my first taste of museums,” she told me thoughtfully, “and I then realized my father had literally paved the way for my career. He loved museums, especially ones focusing on the Civil War, and growing up we visited a lot of them. This was the 1970s, and, back then, museums weren’t interactive; there was nothing for children – I hated them! But, these experiences helped me to understand how to engage young people in a learning environment.”
Two years later, Jenean, by then a new mother, moved to Wilmington, accepting a position as Exhibit Designer at New Hanover County Museum. Leaving behind her family was not easy. “I had no support system and was a single mother to my son, Collin, then a year old. It was so difficult!” But, she loved her work. “My degree is in visual communication, and museum exhibits are basically three-dimensional layouts. The position was a perfect outlet for my creative nature.”
New Hanover County Museum was housed in a 1939 National Guard Armory, a perfect site for historical preservation, but space was limited. “In the early 1990s we expanded the museum from 13,000 to 39,000 square feet – it was an exciting time. The name was changed to Cape Fear Museum, and my title changed to Exhibit Coordinator. Our space was amazing – it was designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the same group who designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.”
Personally, Jenean’s life was changing as well. In 1988, she married and had another son, Griffin. Her work with the museum was challenging and rewarding. After helping her husband earn a degree at UNCW, the five-year marriage ended.
Several years later, Jenean met and married her soul mate, Ken. The couple bought a fixer-upper and began remodeling. One night, at midnight, Ken and Jenean woke up, sickened by the smell of the carpet in the house. They stripped the carpet from the floor, and went back to bed. “The next morning I woke up and told Ken about a dream I’d just had. I was holding a legal pad with a list of names on it. I had crossed off all but one – Huston. We decided if we had a baby that would be its name. The name might have been forgotten, but my son Griffin kept it alive, always talking about baby Huston. In 1997, our daughter, Huston, was born!”
Lovers of the famous dance, the shag, Ken and Jenean visited North Myrtle Beach through the years for SOS (Society of Stranders) and other shagging events, eventually buying a condo as a weekend getaway. “I took my first shag lessons shortly after meeting Ken. When I was pregnant with Huston, everyone saw me on the dance floor, getting bigger as the weeks passed.” In 2010, the couple came to North Myrtle Beach for their anniversary, stopped by the Chamber of Commerce and saw North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum logo items for sale. “I asked about the Museum and learned it wasn’t open yet. Chamber staff put me in touch with local businessman, Dick Hester, whose vision was the driving force in bringing the Museum to life. On March 10, 2005, Dick had awakened with a vision of the completed museum in its current location, the old library building on 2nd Ave. N., even before there was discussion of a new library in NMB. Dick shared his vision with the North Myrtle Beach City Council, who supported his idea with one condition – that he accept the position of chairman!”
Dick Hester remembers this night very well. “It was on a Thursday morning, and I woke up about 3:30 am seeing a vision of our museum,” he began. “Our area has changed in so many ways and is very different compared to fifty-plus years ago. In my vision I saw an oral and pictorial history of the surrounding areas of North Myrtle Beach on display, in a setting where future generations could get a first hand view of how we got to where we are today.”
Jenean and Ken went back to Wilmington after that first meeting with Dick Hester, but she was intrigued by the idea of a museum in North Myrtle Beach. After 24 years in Wilmington, she was ready to do something different. After much thought and other job offers, she accepted the position of Director for the fledging Museum and began work in July of 2011.
The Museum committee knew they needed a leader with experience and were thrilled to find Jenean. “I first met Jenean on a Saturday morning, and we talked for about two hours,” Dick remembers. “The North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum Board of Directors had been meeting for six years, and we realized that it was time to find someone to lead us forward. Jenean was that individual. I do not know where we would have been today if she had not come our way. With her guidance, direction, experience and leadership, the Museum now has a Grand Opening Day scheduled for March 10, 2013, exactly eight years from the day I had my vision. Jenean was the answer to my prayers and has proven to be exactly the person we needed to make this vision a reality.”
Jenean and her family love living in North Myrtle Beach and have settled in to the laid back life offered by the tight-knit community. “Ken continued to commute to Wilmington for a short while, but is now retired. He volunteers and plays pickle ball, a game that combines tennis, badminton and ping pong – he loves it!” The couple soon found their two-bedroom condo was not big enough for a family of three and bought a house in the area. Huston, the only child still at home, is a sophomore at North Myrtle Beach High School.
Museums are charged with preserving history, and Jenean’s expertise will ensure the proper storage and display of exhibits. She explained that long-term exhibits are on display for maybe 10-15 years. The artifacts are then carefully stored away from light and humidity. Textiles and paper items must be rotated every six months. “At home we leave our photographs out forever. In the Museum, we scan each photo at a high resolution, and then return each to a protective sleeve for safekeeping. We can use the scan for any number of reproductions, and never harm the original.” The museum is currently a work in progress, with boxes and files of donated items lining the rooms, waiting to fascinate and educate future visitors. Jenean proudly showed me around, pointing out some of the highlights and is especially excited by kiosks that will house oral histories by some of the area’s oldest residents. The Museum’s collection is growing daily, as more and more items are donated. Visitors will see everything from Native American artifacts to a stunning mural of local shaggers, with hands-on elements that reveal a local perspective on history and science topics.
While the museum is not yet open to the public, meetings and events are being held in the main gallery. Volunteers are currently being trained to record artifact donations and memberships. As opening day draws near, volunteers will be trained to answer questions about the exhibits and to conduct family and student programs. When I asked Jenean where she hopes to be in five years, her passion for the new Museum shone through her words. “I believe we’ll have grown so much that we’ll be preparing to expand. This Museum will be a welcoming place where visitors of all ages can explore regional growth, witness the devastation of Hurricane Hazel, sway to the sounds of beach music, examine coastal research and discover the resilient spirit that makes North Myrtle Beach a great place to live and vacation. This will be a place where local history can be treasured and shared – here we will celebrate our region.”
The Museum is accepting Founding Members, individuals whose names will be listed on the Founder’s Wall, through January 31, 2013. If you have North Myrtle Beach area memorabilia or office equipment to donate or if you would like to sponsor an exhibit, call 843-427-7668 or visit www.nmbmuseum.com.
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.