Michael Hoke, Director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, has been an educator for more than 30 years.

Since joining the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation on Aug. 1, 2002, he has given his knowledge and expertise in environmental and educational issues in furthering and facilitating the development of the Shangri La by the Stark Foundation.

It is for these reasons Hoke was named the Record’s 2012 Person of the Year.

Hoke holds advance degrees in science, education and educational supervision. He has taught students from pre-K to college levels. Since 1978, he has originated and directed programs related to science and the environment.

Several of these programs are currently sponsored by Shagri La. His management experience also includes facilitating programs at several major universities through National Science Foundation grants and summer institutes.

John Cash Smith is chairman of the officers and sits on the board of directors of the Stark Foundation.

“Michael is a unique individual because of his educational background. He’s added a lot to the job. He’s very creative and it shows in the programs he has put together. There’s nobody else around like him,” Smith said.

In fact, Hoke was a science teacher and department chair for the West Orange-Cove CISD for 31 years.

His career can be further broken down as follows:

• 1978-present

Founder and director of Bios, A School on Wheels: A summer science program has taken more than 2000 area students on science experiences through the southwestern U.S. Students are taught a variety of science disciplines along with taking part in a science Olympiad which emphasized problem solving.

• 1995-2002

Founder and director of DuPont Science Super Stars: This program allowed eighth grade science students to become science presenters for elementary students. More than 30,000 elementary students were impacted by this program in its seven years of operation. The program ceased when Hoke retired from the school district in 2002.

1995 – present

Founder and coordinator of the Nature Classroom: This program introduced more than 3,500 area students a year to the wonders of the natural world through hand-on experiences in a Cypress/Tupelo Swamp.

1999- 2002

Founder and director of EcoRangers: This program paralleled the Super Star program with the exception it used seventh grade presenters and highlighted ecological concepts,


1990- Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching

1991- Texas Medical Association for Award for Science Teaching

1992- Outstanding Earth Science Teacher in the U.S., American Association of Geology Teachers

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality selected Shangri La with the Texas Environmental Excellence Award in the education category in early April.

“TCEQ has been honoring Texans for 20 years who demonstrate a great impact on the environment,” said Terry Clawson, manager of media relations for TCEQ. “They introduce kids and adults to the environment to become familiar with the ecological system in Southeast Texas. TCEQ is very proud of Shangri La in going above and beyond.”

Clawson added 30,000 children and adults go through the park every year to experience the environment in a safe way they may never had experienced before. Particularly since some of the kids are socio-economically challenged.

“This award speaks highly of the quality of environmentally-conscious events and programs that are offered to visitors of all ages at Shangri La,” Hoke said of receiving the award. “Programs such as the Community Trash-Off, Earth Week and Eco-Fest activities, as well as our programming for students and teacher workshops increase the awareness of environmental issues and promote our mission of mentoring children of all ages to kind to the world.”

A statement from the Stark Foundation reads Hoke’s objectives for Shangri La is to become one of the finest botanical gardens and nature centers in the nation. Its mission of “mentoring children of all ages to be kind to their world,” will allow Shangri La to make a positive impact on horticulture and environmental education throughout the United States.

Holly Hanson, volunteer coordinator and tour coordinator, said Hoke is always a teacher.

“He teaches not only the kids and the adults in the group tours, but he is constantly teaching to the staff. He’s a great man to work for. He’s a motivator, a mentor and a teacher. I’m just one of hundreds who could say the same thing,” Hanson said.