Richard Hoke (standing) makes a point to a student. “Teaching has forced me to keep up-to-date,” said Hoke. “It has helped my own education.”

Teaching was one of those things Richard Hoke thought he’d just dabble in. “I just thought I’d do it for a few years …” began the maintenance superintendent for the city of Elgin, Ill., before his voice trailed off. Eighteen years later, Hoke is still dabbling. And, enjoying the ride. By day he may be employed by the city of Elgin, but evenings Hoke is teaching a heat pump, commercial refrigeration, or commercial air conditioning class at Elgin Community College (ECC).

Hoke has been a part of ECC’s HVACR program longer than any current instructor. In fact, seven years ago, when the community college was without a program coordinator, Hoke and fellow part-time instructor Ed Cook stood up and worked together to guide the program until Andrew Erbach was hired as the full-time program coordinator. Thanks, in part, to Hoke’s drive to keep improving the program, ECC worked for and earned Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), quite an accomplishment for a two-year post-secondary school.

Those who know Hoke cannot say enough about the man who finished second in the voting in The NEWS’ 2008 Best Instructor of the Year contest, co-sponsored by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). “Rich has the respect of his peers and his students,” praised Erbach. “His knowledge of theory and of the industry is unsurpassed.”


What keeps Hoke motivated are his students. “I enjoy working with them,” he said. “I like to see them succeed. It’s just great to see them learning and moving on to a great career. It’s kind of exciting to see that happen.”

Erbach cannot think of a more dedicated instructor. “Rich goes out of his way for his students, answering questions at all hours on the phone,” he said. “Rich gets into the classroom early and usually leaves late. He is a fierce advocate for his students, often arranging to have equipment delivered to the school that will enhance his students’ learning experience.”

Hoke is a firm believer in having a balanced approach to the learning process - 50 percent theory along with 50 percent hands-on training. Though times have changed and the equipment continues to become more technical and complicated, Hoke believes students have adapted accordingly.

“I don’t think students have changed all that much,” he said. “They’ve always wanted to learn here. Many come to Elgin seeking a career change or to get into something better. A big percentage are here for retraining, trying to expand their education. I always emphasize that learning is a continuous process.”

And that includes for the instructor, too. In addition to passing all current certified member specialist (CMS) categories with Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), Hoke is certified in all current categories with North American Technician Excellence (NATE) along with having EPA 608 and 609 certification.

“Teaching has forced me to keep up-to-date,” he explained. “It has helped my own education.”

Also helping Hoke along is the program’s advisory board, which he pushed for several years ago. It consists of representatives from local service contracting firms and wholesalers, along with a few maintenance managers and an engineer.

“It’s something we did not have in the past,” said the regional director for RSES. “We felt we needed input from other people. We needed to find out from potential employers what we needed to teach. It helped us on the inside. We take it seriously.”

Working with the board, Hoke continues to actively seek equipment, looking to improve both the heat pump and commercial refrigeration labs.

“We got a grant from Grainger to get some equipment,” said Hoke. “We try to work with suppliers, getting dented equipment, which is still good for teaching. We are always there for the students.”

Elgin Community College HVACR student Bill Riseley (left) gets some tips from instructor Hoke. “I always emphasize that learning is a continuous process,” said Hoke. What keeps Hoke motivated is his students. “It’s just great to see them learning and moving on to a great career. It’s kind of exciting to see that happen,” he said.


Being a humble man, one has to turn to those who know Hoke to find out all that he does, not only for his students, but for the entire industry. For instance, in the eyes of Renee Tomlinson, director of training and testing for RSES, Hoke’s dedication to the industry is “unsurpassed.”

“In addition to his ‘day jobs,’ he has worked very hard over the last few years rebuilding and revitalizing the RSES Fox Valley Chapter; running RSES courses and scheduling educational seminars in the area on an annual basis,” she said. “Rich currently serves on the international board of directors for RSES, as well as serving on the RSES educational and examining board, the committee of RSES that oversees all of the educational development of the society.”

Hoke has also authored a number of educational publications within the society and does it “for the good of the industry, never asking for anything in return,” noted Tomlinson.

“His drive and passion to train HVACR professionals is unsurpassed and he is always striving to do more,” she said. “Rich also values the relationships he builds with people every day, always mindful and thankful for the things people do. He would help anyone who asks.”

Tomlinson termed Hoke “a true inspiration and an excellent role model for all HVACR professionals.” In her opinion, he “constantly and consistently strives for excellence without arrogance.”

Hoke’s boss could not agree more. “To Rich Hoke, education is all about the students, never about him,” summarized Erbach.




COLLEGE OR SCHOOL:Elgin Community College

LOCATION:Elgin, Ill.


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