Manatees inspire man's music

Published February 22, 2007

Gary Pane, a physical education teacher at Suncoast Elementary, has an alter ego. He's the Manatee Man, a singer-songwriter who, through sales of his album It's a Kid's World, has raised more than $600 for the Save the Manatee Club.

His love of manatees began after he moved to Florida in 1981. Pane was swimming in Crystal River one afternoon when a friend said, "Don't move quickly or get nervous - there's a manatee right next to you."

"What's that?" Pane asked.

"A 2,000-pound animal," came the reply.

Pane says he left the water at roughly the speed of sound, possibly without touching the surface. When he calmed down and got an explanation of what a manatee was, he became a lifelong fan of the gentle beasts.

"They've kind of been swimming in and out of my life for years," Pane said.

He came to teach at Suncoast when it opened. When the PTA selected the school mascot, it was a manatee.

Later, principal Richard Fauble figured a statue of a manatee would go well in the school courtyard. The Kiwanis Club offered to pay for a statue, and well-known sculptor T.J. Neil of Homosassa created it.

Pane found himself standing in front of the manatee statue every morning as he supervised children coming off buses. A songwriter since childhood with two prior music albums to his credit, he found inspiration in the courtyard statue.

"Songs just kept coming to me as I stood out there - and they're on the new album," Pane explained.

The rest of the story goes like this: At a local recording studio, Pane met Lucy Werner, 13, a student from Nature Coast Technical High. Hearing her sing, he was impressed, and he asked her to do backups on the album.

Lucy did, wowed everyone and Pane wrote a song especially for her to sing. The album ended up being It's a Kid's World, featuring Lucy Werner.

Upon its release, Pane decided he could promote his music, Lucy's talent and help manatees at the same time.

He went to the current principal of Suncoast, Jean Ferris, and told her he wanted to offer the music for sale to teachers and administrators, with proceeds going to Save the Manatee, which applauded the project and allowed Pane to use its logo.

With Ferris' permission, Pane sent bulk e-mail to school district employees, offering the album, which he produced with his own money, for $10 per copy. Pane sold 65 albums so $650 will go to the manatees, so far, with more to come as the album's audience grows.

"I've seen and heard the album, and it's really good," said Judith Vallee, resource development director for Save the Manatee. "We're happily looking forward to receiving support from the project."

Singing and entertaining are in Pane's blood. When he retires from teaching, he'll take his act on the road.

The manatees are in his heart. If he makes money with his talent, he promises Florida's favorite aquatic creatures will continue to benefit from his work.

Want more?

'It's a Kid's World'

For more information, or to inquire about the album, contact Gary Pane at (352) 650-0588.