Unveiled prior to the Senior Shenanigans production in February, a pair of bricks in front of The Grand Theatre underscores Terri Cox’s devotion to the historic venue.
The bricks — inscribed with the words “Nobody loves The Grand Theatre more than Terri M. Cox, program director 1999-2019” were installed about one month prior to the Cartersville resident’s impending retirement. After 20 years of service as The Grand’s program director, Cox will bid farewell Friday.
“I have always felt like it’s a huge honor, because this place has meant something to almost everybody that’s lived here,” Cox said, referring to working at The Grand. “… What I enjoy the most is the people. … It’s just wonderful to see people come here. Sometimes they’re full of joy over what is happening.
“But I’ve seen people who’ve [come] even after a tragedy in their life. They’re going to get to come here and forget about that for a couple of hours, see something beautiful, see something that touches them. I always say that people leave a little something special behind in that building. … There’s a really great feeling in the place. You know that great things have happened there and are going to continue to happen there.”
Following 15 years of teaching in public schools — including a decade at Cloverleaf Elementary School — Cox joined The Grand’s staff July 1, 1999. Delighted to implement the theater’s educational programs, she worked with the Bartow History Museum staff to design classes for elementary students, focusing on their social studies curriculum.
Several thousand children from Bartow and surrounding counties take part in the field trips each year. Along with touring exhibits at the museum, the students visit The Grand where drama, dance and music highlight related programming, ranging from the Cherokee Indians to historical figures to a trip around the world.
“I really feel like when you’re learning something hands on or through music or dancing that it’s going to stay in your mind more than just your everyday class,” Cox said. “Teachers are fantastic at teaching their objectives. But using the arts, it sticks with you.
“It’s something you’re going to remember seeing — a different way of learning. It addresses so many different learning styles, because you’ve got the oral; you’ve got the visual; you’ve got the kinetic. ... Somewhere along the way, we’re probably going to hit that style that each kid relates to the most.”
Situated at 7 N. Wall St., The Grand Theatre was established in 1910. Prior to highlighting the performing arts, the venue operated as a movie house from the 1920s to 1977.
During her tenure at The Grand, Cox also has developed its summer theater camps and directed the Senior Shenanigans’ program, when her co-worker Don Kordecki passed away in 2010. Initially an offering of the Cartersville Medical Center’s former Senior Friends program, Senior Shenanigans and its show with the same name showcases the talents of its 50-and-older performers.
“I love working with [the] Senior Shenanigans group,” Cox said. “… They are so funny and unexpected. Working with them was not what I thought it was going to be. They are so funny and so bold and bad. They’re naughty. I’m always having to say, ‘You can’t say that in front of your audience. Your grandchildren are going to be there.’
“… I admire them. No matter what is going on in their lives, they keep going. They keep laughing, and that’s what keeps them going, is the friendships and the laughter. … They’re a really great example for me going into my retirement that you just have to keep going no matter what’s going on.”
While celebrating The Grand’s 100th anniversary in 2010 with a special musical production and oral history interviews with area residents was one of Cox’s favorite moments at the theater, one of her most difficult was the loss of Kordecki — her friend and mentor.
“I had a background mostly in music — in education,” Cox said, adding Kordecki — The Grand’s former technical director — told her about the job opportunity at The Grand in the late 1990s. “[Don’s] background was more in theater. I had so much to learn. Every day I would watch and learn from him.
“[One of] the things I loved about Don — when he directed, when he was giving critique to any actor, he would always bring out one of their strengths. … Then he would give the critique on top of that. It wasn’t ever a negative. It would just make you feel empowered, because he gave you those comments. You felt like I’m competent, but now I’m going to be so much better than I was. … He was such a great person.”
Also falling under the umbrella of The Grand’s educational programs are the venue’s acting classes — started in 2006 — and Summer Music Theatre Camps. Kicked off around 1990, the camps were spearheaded by George and Jonalyn Bew, who teamed up with Kordecki, for a two-week offering for young thespians. The outreach effort now has expanded in scope with camps for elementary, middle and high school students, with each culminating in a theatrical show.
“I participated in my very first theatrical production as a member of summer theater camp 17 years ago,” said Kristy Montgomery, who will succeed Cox as The Grand’s program director June 1. “That was my first interaction with Terri Cox, and she immediately became one of my favorite people. It's impossible to work with Terri and not love her; she's so kind and warm, and one of the most supportive people I've had the pleasure of knowing.
“After several years in camp as a student, there was a few years of time where I knew her as a rental client through ACT I. In 2011, our relationship shifted again when she asked me to return to the summer camp program as her production assistant and a director. From there, I've worked with her across all three of the camps at various points in time and in different roles, as well as directing her fall show and spring acting classes.”
For Montgomery, whose introduction to The Grand was performing in “The Pajama Game” as middle-schooler, it will be an honor to build on Cox’s legacy at the downtown venue. Currently serving as the drama teacher at Cartersville Middle School, Montgomery also is the co-president and program director for the ACT I theater group.
“The evolution of our relationship is so immensely precious to me: I admired Terri so much as a child, and grew up to have the privilege of knowing her as a mentor and friend,” Montgomery said. “Terri built the role of program director with so much love and care, and I cannot fully express how honored I am to be her successor.
“When I was in seventh grade, I remember thinking that I very much wanted to be Terri Cox when I grew up. This new position is, very literally, a dream come true for me.”
In her final week at The Grand, Cox shared she feels as though she is “looking backwards and forwards at the same time.”
“At this point, I’ve really completed just about all of my projects that I’m working on,” said Cox, who also coordinates The Grand’s volunteer program and oversees rental contracts, and the house and box office staff. “… I’m also trying to get everything ready for me not being here.
“I’ve been talking a lot with Kristy about the way I’ve done things in the past, so that she can pick up from there. We’ve talked a lot about how she’s not replacing me. She’s just going to take things in her direction moving forward into the future. That’s really what I’m excited about. I’m excited to see what she’s going to do,” she said, adding — while serving its patrons, she has enjoyed working with The Grand’s staff and volunteers through the years.
Once she retires, Cox said she looks forward to spending more time with her husband of nearly 37 years, Chip, who retired six years ago. The couple shares two adult children: Joshua Cox and Megan Cox Verell.
Along with traveling and being more involved in their church — Trinity at the Well, Cox will be busy promoting her new book, “How to Drive Like a Christian.” Through humor, stories and Scripture, she is striving for her self-published work to encourage readers to “keep calm” and “deal with [their] frustrations in a positive way.”
On Saturday, Cox will return to The Grand for a book signing in the theater’s lobby from 3 to 5 p.m.
“She’s going to be missed a great deal,” said Matt Santini, administrator for The Grand and mayor of Cartersville. “… I say there’s a lot of people that love the theater, but nobody loves The Grand Theatre more than Terri Cox does.
“It’s been evident every day that’s she’s here — the energy that she’s brought, the level of personal care and dedication that she’s brought … to every single patron that’s come through. She just has that great knack to make everybody feel like they’re the most special person in the world when they walk through these doors.”