By Tommy Mann Jr. – The Record

Michael Hoke, a man known for his passion for educating young minds and the environment died this past week.

Hoke, who died Wednesday, Jan. 13, leaves behind a legacy which will be remembered for years to come. He was an important member of the community who strived to make the world a better place by improving the environment and he did that for many years right here in Orange.

Hoke was very instrumental in the construction of Shangri La and making the facility the world recognized facility it has become. He was employed with the Stark Foundation and Shangri La for 11 years before retiring in 2013.

“My colleagues and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Michael Hoke,” said Walter G. Riedel III, president and CEO of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, in a statement. “As the first director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, Mike was extremely instrumental in not only planning and developing 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,” Riedel continued. “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.

Before he went to work at Shangri La, Hoke was an educator for many years with the West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District as a science teacher and spent many years shaping young minds. He helped create a Nature Classroom in the 1990s, which helped students better understand the environment and the world. It also was a glimpse of what Hoke would help make Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.

After leaving his post at Shangri La, Hoke returned to his roots as an educator and restarted the Science Superstars program.

“We at the Stark Foundation are grateful for the vision and leadership that Michael Hoke provided Shangri La during its early years,” Riedel added. “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.”

In 2012, Hoke was recognized by The Record Newspapers as its “Person of the Year” for his dedication and passion in environmental and educational issues.

Science was Hoke’s passion as an educator and it showed throughout his career.

He founded Bio: A School on Wheels, which was a summer science program credited with providing more than 2,000 area students science experiences through the Southwestern U.S. It also allowed the students the opportunity to take part in a science Olympiad which emphasized problem solving.

From 1995 to 2002, he founded the DuPont Science SuperStars program. This county-wide program for eighth grade students provided training in multiple areas of science and allowed these same students to bring their own love for learning to students at area elementary and middle schools. The program ceased after Hoke retired from the West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District, but he revived it following his retirement from Shangri La in 2013.