ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - The year was 1945 and Jennie Erle Cox didn't even know she had been entered into the "Maid of Cotton" pageant. So when she got a letter telling her she'd been selected as a finalist, she was a bit shocked.
"I didn't even know what to say," said the now Jennie Jaco, who goes by simply "J".
The 86-year-old resident of Park Pointe Village Retirement Community in Rock Hill, says everything was a blur after that. At 19, she went to Memphis to compete in the pageant and won. For the next 6 months, she toured dozens of cities all over the Eastern US promoting and talking about cotton.
At the time, the "Maid of Cotton" held a distinction similar to today's Miss America. So when her tour took her into military hospitals, she was quite a hit. But it wasn't always an easy task.
"It was really hard, and I really had to work to just remember that they were being helped," said "J".
More than half a million US troops were injured in World War II. During her reign, "J" did her very best to see every one. And make every one smile. "When I played the piano and sang some would sing along with me. So that part was really nice."
She went on to accomplish a successful careers in sales, public relations, and several pretty much whatever endeavor she had time for.
Jaco also had a successful marriage and a son who she's proud of. She's done a lot in her life, but she's quick to remind, the book isn't closed.