Michael Hoke, Director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center,  has announced he will be retiring as of Thursday, but his mission of educating and making the world better place to live will continue.

Following his retirement, Hoke who is on  the board of The Big Thicket Association will  work to get the program off the ground.

During the summer,  he will work with 8th grade students who are involved in the Science Superstars program. The eighth graders will receive motivational and science training and then be able to go to area shopping malls, museums and elementary schools to show what they have learned and encourage others to do the same.

Hoke is the Founder and director of DuPont Science Super Stars: 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.

Hoke, who has been an educator for more than 30 years, will also pick up the program he started in 1978. He will revive the Bios program, which is known as a “school on wheels”, by 2014. This 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 emphasizes problem solving.

It has been through this program other students have followed their dreams and reached for the stars. Former notable alumni include Stephen Lee, of Orange Savings Bank, and Krispen Walker, of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

When not working on his various projects, Hoke will also do some consulting work at area nature centers.

Walter Riddle, President and CEO of the Nelda C. and Lutcher Stark foundation, who spoke Monday at the reception for Hoke at Shangri La, said of Hoke, “People automatically associate Hoke with Shangri La.”

Riddle added, it was Hoke who has an idea  in the 1990s for a nature classroom.

The pair made a connection with landscape architects for what would become Shangri La in August 2002.

“Here we are today in spite of various hardships,” Riddle said. “There was a hurricane with severe winds, a fire, and then another hurricane with flooding.”

Riddle announced the foundation will make a contribution of the Big Thicket Association in honor of Hoke. They also plan when the new pontoon boat is put into service at Shangri La, it will be christened, “The Michael Hoke.”

“Without a doubt he will not be forgotten, “Riddle said.

An interim director will fulfill Hoke’s duties until another director can be hired.

Hoke said to the crowd, he could have not done it without the staff, volunteers, members and the support of the foundation.

“Ninety-five percent of what we proposed is now Shangri La today,” he  said.

Hoke added, he wanted everyone to “be kind to their world.”
In conclusion, he quoted one of his favorites, Dr. Seuss.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because we did it,” Hoke said.

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.

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.

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

Hoke was the founder and coordinator of the Nature Classroom which 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.

His list of accomplishments also includes being the founder and director of EcoRangers: This program paralleled the Super Star program with the exception it used seventh grade presenters and highlighted ecological concepts,

There is no doubt in the future, Hoke will continue to teach all who meet him the importance of taking care of the world we live in and how to make it a better place.