SC’s naturalist, Rudy Mancke, winding down career, not ending it

Rudy Mancke observes snake with students

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.

Rudy Mancke standing among specimen in his office
Rudy Mancke stands among the thousands of specimens and artifacts he has collected over the years. He says that as long as he is not harming an animal, if he sees something on the side of the road he has to stop and examine it.

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.

Rudy Mancke leads class discussion
Mancke leads a discussion in his graduate class, Reinventing the Naturalist. The discussion included the factors that separate humans from other species.

“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?

How well do you think you can do identifying some of these things from Rudy Mancke’s collection?


9 thoughts on “SC’s naturalist, Rudy Mancke, winding down career, not ending it

  1. I have been trying to contact Professor Rudy for a couple of months now. We have identified a bird at our backyard feeder that we thought was a young cardinal still brown in color but has a beak that appears to be freakish, very long and pointed on top and short like a gross beak on the bottom. It has molted and the head feathers have not renewed at all, so it is almost bald with some color changing in the body and tail to a brownish red as a female cardinal would appear but the beak remains the same and she does not seem to be social with other birds at all. We are worried for her well being and really want to know what she is. She is so elusive that we are unable to photograph her at all so I can’t send a picture. Please help us to have someone come look at her with us and maybe photograph her to solve our mystery. A very faithful birder and nature lover, Debbie Sweeney, 7 Donaldson Drive,
    Beaufort, SC 29906. email:

  2. I walked out in my front yard today and found a long black snake slowly swallowing a brown snake. Could Rudy tell me what the two snakes are? A black rat snake? eating what kind of brown snake?
    Harriette Edmonds ,
    If the image doesn’t come through, look at the picture on my Facebook page.

  3. When walking at Myrtle Beach. ..I found what I thought was a piece of petrified wood…I have loved having this in my collection of shells…when I showed it to a friend. ..he said he thought it was a bone…it is covered with barnacles. ..could I get you to look at my find ?

  4. Rudy Mancke, God bless you! You are a international treasure that has not lost the local humility of one’s friendly next door neighbor.

    How may I view episodes of Nature Scene? Any field guides/books you’ve published? I was introduced to you through hearing you on Nature Notes – the one thing I look forward to every morning. Very soothing before beginning my day. I would also like to know when Nature walks are scheduled. Thank you!

  5. How do out when, where Mr Manke is leading walks? I’ve been on two with him, and thoroughly enjoyed those, but kinda “lucked” into them .

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