Orange’s science hero, Michael Hoke, died after a medical emergency Wednesday afternoon at Baptist Hospital in Beaumont.
Hoke, 68, was a longtime science teacher in the West Orange-Cove school district and retired to become the first executive director of the Stark Foundation’s Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. He pushed to get Shangri La to ecologically green and it became the one of the first to earn the Platinum LEEDS certification.
He loved the outdoors, nature and science and thought children should learn through exploring. For decades he taught at the middle school level, an age that many teachers find frustrating. But he loved the adolescents and made science fun.
During the summer, he would take groups of selected students on extended camping trips in the program he called BIOS, a Classroom on Wheels. Other teachers would go along on the trips which covered the Texas Gulf Coast, Big Bend and Colorado.
Hoke was once named the outstanding science teacher for Texas and was honored at a White House luncheon. In addition, he was invited to study at special summer programs at Harvard University.
Most recently, he was active in the Big Thicket preservation group and had been piloting the Big Thick tour boat on the Neches River.
He is survived by his wife, Sandra, a retired pre-school teacher and volunteer at Shangri La, along with two grown children, Julia and Robert, plus two granddaughters and a grandson. The Hokes were longtime members of First United Methodist Church in Orange. Funeral services are pending.