McBee Mayor John Campolong, who once lived in Bethune, received the Order of the Palmetto from S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster at the governor’s State House office on May 1. In addition to the governor, Campolong and his wife, Sarah, town council members Charlie Sutton, Kemp McLeod and Bea Bolton -- as well as more than 30 McBee residents and Campolong family members -- attended the ceremony.
South Carolina established the Order of the Palmetto in 1971 to recognize lifetime achievement and service to South Carolina. It is the highest civilian honor awarded by the governor.
Gov. McMaster recognized Campolong’s contributions to job creation since arriving in South Carolina from Pennsylvania in 1947, personally creating more than 300 textile jobs.
What follows is a detailed biography, which was considered by the governor’s Award Review Committee leading to the Order of the Palmetto being conferred on Campolong:
Campolong, 91, is a Clearwater, Pa., native born to Italian immigrants. He grew up learning his father’s tailor trade, along with his two brothers and a sister. During World War II, John’s father expanded his business to begin production of U.S. military uniforms.
Campolong graduated high school in 1945 and married Sarah Sturniolo in October 1947. Two weeks after their marriage, the couple moved to South Carolina, where he went to work in plant quality control for Sacony, a New York clothing manufacturer.
During the next 10 years, Sacony opened and operated seven clothing manufacturers in South Carolina. The company promoted Campolong up the ranks and he soon became the general manager for all seven South Carolina plants. During the 1950s and 1960s, Sacony was one of the state’s largest employers, providing 2,700 to South Carolina residents. In his position as general manager, Campolong became closely acquainted with a number of state and local government officials who promoted business growth in the state. He became a frequent (unpaid) advisor to the S.C. Development Board when out-of-state companies were considering relocating to South Carolina.
In 1960, Campolong opened his own ladies’ apparel (cut and sew) plant in McBee -- McBee Manufacturing Company. His operation grew and he opened a second plant in Camden -- Camden Manufacturing Company, and became known for high quality ladies’ sportswear. By the mid-1970s, Campolong’s plants employed 320 people. By the mid-1990s, with much of the textile industry moving overseas, the business scaled back to one location and found itself with little contract work. At that time, Campolong, along with two sons and one daughter, began designing his own clothing line, Vinci. He employed salesmen to present their clothing to specialty stores through the Southeast and at regional markets.
Throughout Campolong’s professional career, being involved and giving back to the community has been a high priority. While living in Bethune, he was a charter member of the Bethune Lions Club, and spearheaded its first major project: raising funds from private local and statewide resources for the installation of lights at the Bethune High School stadium. Residents later elected him to Bethune Town Council with an overwhelming majority of votes, leading to efforts to install the town’s first streetlights.
The Campolongs moved to McBee in 1964 with their six children. While in McBee and growing his business, Campolong served on the Chesterfield County Hospital Board for 10 years, most significantly assisting in the building of a new hospital in Cheraw in the early 1980s.
Campolong was, again, a charter member of another Lions Club, this time in McBee. He also put his conservative fiscal values to work when he served on the local advisory board for Sandhills Bank.
Throughout his time in McBee, Campolong has been instrumental in bringing additional industry to the area. For a town with a population of less than 900, the number of jobs in and around McBee hovers in excess of 2,000. Industries represented in the area, in addition to Vinci Clothiers, are A.O. Smith, Talley Metals, McLeod Farms, Mar-Mac-Dupont, Mar-Mac Wire, Southern Graphics and Citizen’s Bank (formerly Heritage Bank).
The Campolongs have raised six children in McBee, all of whom attended college in South Carolina and gone on to be productive citizens and the parents of nine grandchildren. They are longtime members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hartsville, with Campolong chairing several fundraising efforts for capital improvements. He used his corporate building experience to oversee the planning and construction of two major church expansions.
In 2006, at the age of 78, rather than slowing down, Campolong successfully ran for McBee Town Council. Two years later, his efforts to protect the town’s water resources and to run the town in a fiscally conservative fashion were rewarded with his election as mayor. As mayor, one of his greatest successes has been the creation of a 40-acre Community Recreation Center near McBee Elementary School for the town’s youth. Campolong’s efforts to collect private donations have resulted in substantial monetary and in-kind donations -- the land acquisition and all initial construction of paved walk trails and fenced ball fields at the complex was accomplished with no town debt.
Voters reelected Campolong as mayor in 2012 and 2016. At the end of his third term in 2020, he will be 93 years old and has vowed not to run again. Instead, he is looking forward to making regular visits to the recreation center and hopes to see the construction of a new community center where seniors can meet and exercise, and where all ages can enjoy the planned gymnasium.