By STEVEN NALLEY
Lorene Cox has been working with veterans at Mississippi State University since before the university had a separate office for veterans’ affairs.
The G.V. Sonny Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans was established in 2006, she said, but she began handling G.I. Bill paperwork for veterans in 1990 at the MSU registrar’s office. Before then, she said, she spent eight years working with MSU in varying capacities, including continuing education paperwork and a few years with the athletic department. In working with veterans, she said she found her passion.
“I’ve always enjoyed being able to help veterans,” Cox said. “I feel like they’re a special group of people. They’ve had to make sacrifices for their country. I feel like the least I can do is help them make sure they get their G.I. Bill benefits to take some of the stress off of attending school.”
Now, Cox is retiring as veterans’ benefits and program coordinator at the Montgomery Center after 29 years with MSU and 21 years helping veterans and students in MSU’s ROTC program.
Cox will celebrate her retirement from 2-4 p.m Monday in the Old Main Lounge of Colvard Student Union, in the company of fellow staff at the Montgomery Center and current and former MSU student soldiers she has helped over the years.
Ken McRae said he only became director of the Montgomery Center in June, but he has already come to know Cox as one of the top professionals in her field.
“She knows and loves what she does; she understands what she does and the importance of it,” McRae said. “She’s one of those people you always say that you can’t replace. Losing her, we will lose a lot of knowledge and experience. She is just a truly good person, with the attitude you always want to see, that nothing is impossible, that you can work through any situation.”
Isaiah Ware, a junior at MSU in the Army Reserve, said he can attest to Cox’s ability to remain positive against difficult odds to help veterans in need. When he started school late last fall because of military orders, he missed the deadline to apply for G.I. Bill and Federal Tuition Assistance benefits. He met Cox for the first time looking for help, he said, and she helped him get back in school that semester.
“Really, I was expecting to not even be in school and have to wait until this semester to pick up where I left off,” Ware said. “She put in extra work to help me make sure I got everything I needed. When I heard how long she’s worked here, I was amazed. I was honored to be served by someone who was here for the long term.”
Brittany Hall, a sophomore at MSU in the Army Reserve, said Cox filled her with excitement about benefit processes which had previously confused her. She always felt confident that Cox would come through for her, she said, and she always offered a smiling face.
“If she did the job,” Hall said, “then it would get done.”
Hall is a work-study student at the Montgomery Center, and she said she will miss seeing Cox every day. Another former work-study student who worked with Cox is Jonathan Young, a senior in the Army National Guard who also plays football for MSU.
“She gave me my first job on campus,” Young said. “I come here at least once a semester. I hate to see her go. (The) time was short. (I) enjoyed it.”
Cox said both her father and her grandfather were in the military, so she grew up with great respect for the sacrifices soldiers and their families make.
“A lot of times, they just need extra help to transition to school life because they’ve been in a military environment; they’ve been deployed; they’ve been in stressful situations,” Cox said. “We are here to help them transition. We can direct them to the student counseling service office. We can sometimes offer scholarships to help them with unmet needs. We’re just here to have a listening ear. If they need to come and talk to us, we’re here for them so that they can be successful in their educational endeavors.”
Cox said work in veterans’ affairs has changed since she worked in the registrar’s office, and the Montgomery Center has opened many more resources to her and the veterans she works with.
Cox said retirement will allow her to spend more time in her flower garden and with her six grandsons.
“My grandsons play sporting events, so I want to spend more time going to the sporting events to see them,” Cox said. “They range in age from 16 to 4. They play football, basketball, tee ball, all the sports you can think of.”