Naturalist Rudy Mancke, who taught generations of South Carolinians about nature’s wonders, has “retired.” But don’t tell him his nature walks are over. Mancke reflects on his career and how he plans to continue educating people as long as he can.
By Kathryn Duggan
May 6, 2014
After years of bringing the outdoors into homes and classrooms across South Carolina – and even as he approaches 70 – Rudy Mancke is still trying to find as many ways as he can to keep the conversation about nature alive.
After his “NatureScene” program stopped taping in 2002, Mancke became a lecturer at the University of South Carolina. And after “retirement” in 2008, he stayed on to teach a course in South Carolina’s natural history.
Yet, at 69, even Mancke admits he’s slowing down. So what comes next for South Carolina’s beloved naturalist?
There’s good news for those who want to continue learning about nature. Mancke says he will continue leading nature walks and plans to keep teaching himself as much as he can about the world until his last day.
“I know people who have just quit all at once and they were unhappy, and I want to be happy,” he said, “I’m older now than I’ve ever been, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to act, but I love what I do.”
Mancke has traveled through all 50 states as well as overseas examining nature and sharing his knowledge about all that inhabits it. “NatureScene,” ran on SCETV for 23 seasons, and South Carolina designated Dec. 12, 2001, as Rudy Mancke Day and gave him the state’s first Environmental Awareness Award.
Yet Mancke said he still learns just as much as his students.
“It’s great because their perspective is different than mine, so it allows me to continue being a student,” he said. “I love the interplay between teacher and student no matter which side I’m on.”
Sara Lee Simons of the South Carolina Association of Naturalists, which Mancke helped found, said Mancke’s nature walks for the group often drew 70 or more people, and she expects they’ll continue to be popular.
If Mancke needs any inspiration, he need look no further than Simons, who at 87 still joins the local walks whenever she can. Even after Mancke hangs up his gloves, his legacy is likely to continue encouraging people to learn more about what is in their backyard.
Listen as Rudy Mancke discusses what retirement will mean for him.
Hear Rudy Mancke talk about the most rewarding part of his career.Links
Mancke, a former Spartanburg High School biology and geology teacher, started the State Museum’s natural history collection in 1975. As the first curator, his impact still allows the museum to “demonstrate diversity of South Carolina’s natural world,” spokesman Tut Underwood said.
“He is very dedicated to education and he wants people to share his enthusiasm,” Underwood said.
A nature exhibit was a “dream in a group of people’s minds, and Rudy, because of his connections, made that happen,” said Rodger Stroup, the museum’s first history curator. “I couldn’t find anybody who I would want someone to be more like than Rudy,” he said.
Mancke took his education of South Carolinians statewide when “NatureScene” began airing on SCETV in 1978. That show’s legacy figured into USC student Alex Iannone’s decison to sign up for Mancke’s graduate class.
“I wanted something hands on, and I had heard about his TV show, so I knew he was experienced,” said Iannone, who is pursuing a master’s of earth and environmental management.
What Iannone said he found in Mancke was a teacher eager for students to share their opinions and learn.
Dustin Leypoldt, another earth and environmental management student, said it was “refreshing to be taught by someone who is generally passionate about what he is teaching; you don’t usually find that.”
Mancke said that as of next year he will reduce his teaching to just his graduate seminar, but that he wants to continue for as long as he can.
“I have a photographic memory, but I’m older now, so it takes the photos longer to develop,” he said.
“Teaching is a great way to refresh and keep sharp; it makes me feel younger than I am,” Mancke said. “Sometimes I need them more than they need me.”
Although he is not ready to set the date, Mancke acknowledges there will be an end to his teaching career. But Mancke said he has no intention of moving from the state. He said his family is here, along with great opportunity, and that he is simply having too much fun.
“I have genuinely been happy doing what I do,” Mancke said. “And the icing on the cake – and the cake is real sweet – is that other people enjoy that too.”
So you think you can be a naturalist?
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Question 1 of 7
This is the head of what?Correct
This is the head of a female white-tail deer. You can tell this is a female skull because there is no sign of antlers.Incorrect
This is the head of a female white-tail deer. You can tell this is a female skull because there is no sign of antlers.
Question 2 of 7
What aquatic creature did this tooth belong to?Correct
This tooth belonged to an extinct giant white shark known as Carcharodon megalodon or its nickname “Big Tooth.”Incorrect
This tooth belonged to an extinct giant white shark known as Carcharodon megalodon or its nickname “Big Tooth.”
Question 3 of 7
What is this specimen called?Correct
You can tell this is the purple sea urchin from the spine’s color.Incorrect
This is the purple sea urchin, which you can tell due to the color of the spine.
Question 4 of 7
What bird is named after this feather?Correct
The Red-tailed hawk is named after its feathers.Incorrect
This is the Red-tailed hawk, which is named after the color of its feathers.
Question 5 of 7
What is this specimen called?Correct
The American lotus is a fruit pod. Each hole holds an individual seed.Incorrect
This is an American lotus, which is a type of fruit pod. Each hole holds an individual seed.
Question 6 of 7
What type of snake did this skin come from?Correct
This skin belonged to a corn snake. Mancke said that he salvages the skin from snakes whenever he can.Incorrect
This skin belonged to a corn snake. Mancke said that he salvages the skin from snakes whenever he can.
Question 7 of 7
What animal does this lower jaw structure belong to?Correct
This was the lower jaw of an Eastern snapping turtle.Incorrect
This was the lower jaw of an Eastern snapping turtle.