Dr. Robert Manley was an institution in Nebraska culture

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Beautiful Nebraska," "Little Old Sod Shanty on My Claim," and dozens of other songs were among Dr. Bob Manley's repertoire, now forever silent.

Baby boomers of a certain age probably remember enjoying Dr. Manley's work as much for being able to watch television at school in those pre-VCR days as for the material he presented.

The musical call of a meadowlark opened his "Nebraska Heritage" show in the 1960s, which featured broadcasts filmed on location around the state, and another Nebraska ETV series "Rails West," explored the key part the railroad played in Nebraska's early history.

Early this year, we asked our readers to send Dr. Manley a card for his 80th birthday, which generated another story and solved a mystery about a long-lost interview with Sen. George Norris' widow, Ellie, in 1970.

ETV officials claimed to have never heard of the interview, but when former Norris House attendant Duane Tappe informed Manley a copy was available courtesy MPPD, Dr. Manley was relieved.

"Thanks for proving that I haven't lost all my marbles," Manley wrote to Tappe last March.

It wasn't Manley's first contact with McCook; he appeared at a Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival, and even taught English and history at McCook High School early in his career.

A graduate of Elmhurst College in his native Chicago, he moved to Belleville, Kan., to play semi-pro baseball for two years.

Could he have played the McCook Cats semi-pro team? We're still researching that.

He went on to teach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Hiram Scott College in Scottsbluff. His classes were usually full.

He worked at the Stuhr Museum from 1980 to 1986, giving him material for his 1985 book, "The Town Builders" about the settling of 1880s Central Nebraska.

It's sad to lose an institution like Dr. Robert Manley, but reading about his work tempts us to head to the library to see what we can rediscover.

What better legacy could there be for one of Nebraska's great storytellers?

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