John Hoke

John Hoke

I recently called attention to the death of a Manumit teacher, Rob Barstow, who was at the school in the mid-1940s. Frank Rich, in the New York Times Week in Review section dated December 26, wrote a lengthy article on Barstow. None of it related to Manumit, but perhaps it will be of interest to those of you who knew Rob and his family.

Here is something else on a Manumiter who achieved some public recognition. Articles on electric cars and exotic power services for the third world residents of areas lacking electricity reminded me of John Hoke, a student at Manumit in the early 1940s whom I  knew both from Manumit and a summer camp in upstate New York. Hoke was a tremendously imaginative individual with a considerable interest (and skill) in assembling ingenious devices he invented. He was also a naturalist. After Manumit, Hoke went to Antioch. I thereafter ran into him in 1962 or 63 in the State Department in Washington, DC. I was working as a lawyer for the newly created foreign aid agency, AID. Hoke was also working for AID in a more interesting role. AID has received a modest appropriation to undertake practical research projects that might assist development in third world nations.

In 1962–63, Hoke, among other things, was trying to produce power from exotic sources for radios in areas where there was not electricity. The thought was that such radios could assist in education in remote areas. He had a “laboratory” at AID and had squirrels or other small mammals running in devices to produce modest amounts of power. As best I recall, he had gone as an AID employee to a remote area in Surinam (South America) to test this and other concepts.

AID was a new agency and third world foreign aid was not popular with the Congress. A congressman learned of Hoke and his unusual research projects and held public hearings, which caused a minor sensation in the Washington papers for a few days, with some embarrassment to the new, Kennedy administration.

Plainly, Hoke’s imaginative ideas, no matter how sound, were not possible for AID to pursue as a political matter. Although Hoke was not responsible for policy decisions based on what the Congress would support, he was “the fall guy,” and was fired. Justice did not triumph. The senior official who made the policy judgment concerning the type of research work to be done was the person who should have been dismissed.

After leaving AID, Hoke worked for a while as an inventor and devised a plan for a low-cost electric car and built a model. Life magazine ran a multipage article, naturally with photos, on Hoke and his electric car in the mid-1960s. No doubt you can find this on your computer.

I saw Hoke from time to time in the Washington, DC area. He worked for many years for the Park Service on their ponds in the DC area and received commendations for his  work. John had a considerable interest in ecology, snakes, turtles, and small mammals. I recall that at Manumit at Pawling he had a small zoo adjacent to the gym.

I have extensive pleasant memories of John, most of which I have not burdened you with. He would have done very nicely as the subject of the Readers Digest monthly article, which, as I recall, was entitled something like “The Most Unforgettable Character I Know.” Hoke had great imagination and hands-on ability. Indeed, I recall, another car he made (and drove) out of plywood and the discarded gasoline engine from an old washing machine.

I have been unable to locate John. Perhaps one of you has information on him.

Herb Adelman