SUN CITY CENTER — As a child, George Shambaugh was a city boy with absolutely no interest in bugs. He spent most of his free time helping his neighbor tend her garden and learning to play the piano.
Back then, he had no idea he’d eventually become fascinated by insects and go on to become an entomologist, working first for the Army and then later teaching graduate students at The Ohio State University. Nor did he know that in his retirement, he would volunteer at Camp Bayou, where he now teaches youngsters all about bugs.
It all began when Shambaugh, the oldest son in a family of nine children, needed money to help pay for graduate school expenses. The Columbus, Ohio, native had graduated in 1950 from Wilmington College with a major in chemistry and biology and a minor in German. He went on to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees at Ohio State.
“A new professor working with insects needed a research assistant with a background in physiology and biochemistry,” Shambaugh said. That’s when his interest in bugs was formed.
“When people think of animals, mammals generally come to mind,” he said. “But not many know that 75 percent of all animals in the world are insects; there are well over a million species.
“If you want to know anything about biology, you have to know about them.”
What’s fascinating about them, he said, is that at the cellular level, insects are very similar to all animals. But the similarities end at the systems level.
“We use lungs; they don’t,” he said, providing an example. “They get oxygen through tubes in their sides.”
Shambaugh served in the Army from 1953 to 1955, immediately after earning his doctorate.
“I was a PhD private,” he joked.
After his discharge and through 1962, he continued at the Quartermaster Research and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., as a civilian physiologist in the pesticides section, chemical and plastics division. From there, he went back to Ohio State, where he spent 25 years doing research and teaching electrophysiology and biochemistry.
Although his professional credits go on, what Shambaugh is known for now is his work, and bug collection, at Camp Bayou.
After his retirement in 1987, Shambaugh, and his wife, Ruth, became snowbirds, traveling back and forth for many years between Wooster, Ohio, and Kings Point. They moved to the community in 1998. A year later, he started volunteering at Camp Bayou and became a Florida Master Naturalist. He said he fought the state for two years for permission to collect insects at the nature preserve, and eventually sold them on the idea of using it to educate children.
Every insect he collected, and still collects, is classified in drawers, encased in plastic and constantly maintained. Visitors can view them from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, when Camp Bayou is open to the public.
“George is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met,” said Dolly Cummings, manager of the Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center. “I keep learning new things about him all the time. His contributions to Camp Bayou are immeasurable. Without his help we wouldn’t be as far as we are.”
His friends share similar views.
“My husband calls him a Renaissance man,” said Bo Nicholson, who has known Shambaugh for about 60 years. “He’s a devoted husband, a kind, gentle and loving man who keeps us in stitches with his wit. We think the world of him.”
Shambaugh, 84, now lives at Freedom Plaza. He loves to dance, is a member of the Sun City Center Men’s and St. Andrew Presbyterian Church choruses and plays keyboard for the church’s instrumental ensemble. He shows no signs of slowing down.