Environmental educator Michael Hoke passed away Wednesday at the age of 68. Hoke, a retired WOCCISD science teacher, was the first executive director of  Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center and was recently named as the president of the Golden Triangle Sierra Club.

Most recently, Hoke was the tour guide on the Ivory Bill, a boat that carried visitors to the Big Thicket via the Neches River.

In a statement released today from Walter G. Riedel III, President/CEO, Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, he said:

“My colleagues and I were deeply saddened to learn late yesterday of the death of Michael Hoke. As the first director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Mike was extremely instrumental in not only the planning and development of the Gardens, but also in presenting to the Foundation’s Board of Directors the initial concept of a restored Shangri La.

“His contributions to Shangri La Gardens were numerous, but none was more important than the emphasis on education. Mike was a tireless advocate for education, and he touched the lives of countless students through his years as a science teacher, educator, and mentor.

“We at the Stark Foundation are grateful for the vision and leadership that Michael Hoke provided at Shangri La during its early years. We also acknowledge the numerous other contributions that he made to the Orange community both before and after his 2013 retirement from Shangri La. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike’s family.”