April 15, 2015

Services are April 18 for Verne Rockcastle, science educator

Verne N. Rockcastle
Rockcastle

A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at Kendal at Ithaca for Verne N. Rockcastle, professor emeritus of education studies and teacher preparation, who died April 5 in Ithaca. The science educator, a member of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty since 1956, was 95.

To generations of Cornell students, “Doc Rock” was an inspiration to discover more about science and the environment, and to share the enthusiasm.

For science teachers everywhere, particularly at the elementary school level, the professor whom Cornell colleagues called “Rocky” was the avid outdoorsman behind hands-on workshops and contagiously readable textbooks – not to mention a long-running, Cornell-based leaflet series (“Ferns and Their Allies,” May 1965, for example, or “Liverworts and Mosses,” May 1964) that made children and teachers alike look to the natural wonders beneath their feet.

Science writer Elissa Wolfson ’81 remembers “the twinkle in his eye as he shared his love of science education with us, his fortunate students. ‘Doc Rock’ could find a science lesson in anything from the underlying cause of a squeak to the tree rings in a wooden baseball bat to the sun’s reflection on the sidewalk.”

Indeed, “Teaching Science With Everyday Things” was one of Rockcastle’s co-authored books, according to Wolfson, who added: “I knew then that I was in the right class, the right major, the right college.”

Alumni reconnected with Rockcastle at his popular Cornell Adult University (CAU) natural-history field trips, from Alaska and the Galapagos Islands to Arizona and the gorges of Ithaca. He continued to lead CAU trips and teach the course Our Physical Environment for years after his nominal retirement. Not until 2011 did Rockcastle close his on-campus office.

Colleague John W. Sipple, associate professor of developmental sociology and director of the Center for Rural Schools, called Rockcastle “one of a kind. His passion for making science relevant and fun for his students, colleagues and friends was contagious. He committed his adult life to sharing that passion.”

Verne Norton Rockcastle was born Jan. 1, 1920, in Rochester, New York, and graduated from Syracuse University (A.B., science education), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.S., meteorology), and Cornell (Ph.D. in science education and nature study), then taught science at Brockport State Teachers College for nine years, before returning to Cornell.

He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Madeline Thomas Rockcastle, two daughters, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The family requests, in lieu of flowers, contributions to the Adirondack Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, Tupper Lake, New York, 12986, or to a conservation charity of one’s choice.