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The Influence of a Great Educator Lasts a Lifetime

Columbia SC Moms Blog is honored to partner with Hammond School to bring our readers the following post.

I’ll never forget receiving the phone call years ago from my disappointed kindergartener who had forgotten his change of clothes for a trek with Hammond’s naturalist-in-residence, Tom Mancke. To a five year-old, missing a morning excursion with Mr. Mancke is a crisis of monumental proportions—a missed opportunity to discover animal tracks in the woods, admire a beaver dam in the making, or scoop tadpoles from a stream.

For any other reason, I may have refused to return to school … forgotten homework or an overdue library book, but I recognized the importance of these trips that moved the classroom into the great, big world. I returned to school to find Tom and his small group of explorers preparing to go explore the wild.

Hammond Nature Hike with Tom Mancke | Columbia SC Moms BlogTom Mancke could likely be compared to a unique set of parentheses that frames the Hammond experience. The only faculty member to work with students throughout Hammond’s 14-year program, Tom is one of the first teachers a student meets when at Hammond, and one of the last. The same young students he introduces to the world that is smaller than meets the eye are the same seniors he spends a week with prior to graduation. Their fondness for his mystique, and the brilliant innocence with which he views the world, never diminishes.

Tom’s talent lies in the ability to help students discover magic in what may appear at first glance mundane: the many and varied uses of the humble deer foot … the inner relationships between creatures large and small … and a penchant for discovering miracles all around us. As I handed off the clothes, Tom gave a quick wave goodbye and led them off into the wonderful wild where these young students would learn firsthand the mystery and marvel of the web of life.

Years later at graduation, the same child who only 13 years earlier had forgotten his trekking clothes, approached me in cap and gown and said, “Mom, look what Mr. Mancke’s wearing. That is the most amazing person I’ve ever met.” I turned and there he was, Tom Mancke, in academic regalia, as he is every year at graduation, lining up to lead seniors into the service alongside the rest of the faculty.

Graduation at Hammond - The Benefits of the Hammond Experience | Columbia SC Moms BlogBut what set him apart was the leather cording hanging around his neck that held a well-worn sheath with a neatly pocketed knife. It wasn’t lost on me that having an instrument to cut is one of the most important tools a person needs when going out into the world. Our seniors were heading out into the world that day and graduation was the tangible proof that we were all cutting ties of one kind or another.

As my senior and his childhood friends graduated, I couldn’t help but recall the day so long ago that I watched these same students as kindergarteners being led out into the wild to discover the web of life. And here was Tom again in the midst of the faculty procession that would lead them to their final destination … graduation … and back out to discover for themselves the web that is life.

The varied and unique opportunities a Hammond education affords exposes children to an experience unlike any other. Teachers and coaches alike develop lasting relationships with students in a carefully crafted program that enhances future possibilities. We know the influence of a great educator lasts a lifetime.

We invite you to explore the Hammond Experience for yourself. Please join us for a Lower School Interactive Open House on Sunday, October 22 at 3 p.m. by reserving your space here. For more information, visit our website at or contact our admission office at 803.695.4018. 

Interactive Open House Hammond School

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2 Responses to The Influence of a Great Educator Lasts a Lifetime

  1. Bob Wolpert October 13, 2017 at 12:49 am #

    “If you’re cold and wanting a warm meal, you’ll never look at a stick the same way again. This is magical stuff to me.” – Tom Mancke

    Thank you for yours wonderful article on Tom Mancke.

    For fourteen years, I watched “The Magic Man” a.k.a. Tom Mancke draw people young and old into his mysterious and wonderful world as he demonstrated how to start a fire using a bow-drill.

    Have you ever heard the expression, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”? Well, for me, the expression is “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and Tom Mancke!”

    My son Thomas is named after the best teacher I have ever known – Tom Mancke, the naturalist-in-residence and primitive technology guru at Hammond.

    Blowing into a handful of softened pine needles and cattail seeds, Tom starts fire in the way his ancestors did thousands of years ago. Using a stick of yucca plant and a bow made from bone, Tom get sparks going within a couple of minutes. Invariably, applause goes up from onlookers when the first flames appeared from the ball of kindling. Such is the power of Tom Mancke.

    Various animal skulls, bird talons, feathers and a variety of snakeskin always accompany Tom on his teaching journeys. Tom has a particular fondness for snakes and strives to enlighten people so they won’t be afraid, but respectful of these magnificent creatures.

    I have often been mesmerized as Tom demonstrates how Native Americans efficiently used every part of the deer. Who else could teach you the best way to make glue from deer scat and pine resin?

    “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm

    I am perpetually in awe of people who break out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. Tom Mancke is one such person.

    If I may, let me conclude with a Haiku poem.

    Tom Mancke – The Magic Man

    Imagination at work

    • Tiffany Nettles
      Tiffany Nettles October 13, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

      Love this! Thanks for sharing!

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