By Steve Holt, Staff Writer
When Ranger minister Stan Harvey asked the common wedding question, “Who gives this woman to be married?” biology professor Roy Shake answered for Harvey, the bride’s adoptive father.
“Her father, mother, Bonnie and I,” Shake said.
And with those words, the bride’s foster father from 20 years earlier gave her away to be married, just feet from her adoptive father, who was presiding over the June ceremony as minister.
It is this kind of impact that Roy Shake, associate professor emeritus of biology, and his wife, Bonnie, have had on over a hundred foster children and countless others over the last 35 years that has sealed a place in the heart of every one of them.
“They are great, great people,” said Gina (Harvey) Smith, the bride who spent under a year in the care of the Shakes after she was given up for adoption by her marijuana-addicted mother. “If anyone needs anything from them, they are willing to help.”
And help Shake does.
Whether it is by mowing the lawn of a local widow or widower, checking in periodically on older members of his congregation, crafting a wooden letter opener or walking stick for someone, or teaching his two sections of “Biology: Human Perspectives,” the towering but aging Shake always has been a servant.
Dr. Patricia Hernandez, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, has taught in Shake’s building for 14 of his 45 years at ACU. She said she remembers a time when the professor had developed an infection but continued to teach a summer class.
“Aren’t you under the weather?” Hernandez asked.
“Oh, I’ve got an umbrella!” Shake wittily retorted.
She said he even developed a minor skin cancer from the sun while mowing lawns for widows and widowers and remembers a day when she found him rolling a lawnmower down the street.
“He told me, ‘I heard this widow had died, but I checked, and I guess she didn’t. So I am going to go mow her lawn,'” Hernandez said.
Parents for a Time
The Shakes’ most visible service over the last half-century has probably been their foster parenting. Bonnie said the couple lost count of the total number of foster kids for which they’ve cared somewhere after 100, and Roy said the two still keep in close contact with several of them.
Smith, now 20, is the one with whom the Shakes have remained the closest, as she visits their East North 18th St. home during most summers. Even after her wedding in June, Smith accompanied her adoptive mother and Bonnie on an annual camping trip.
She said “Uncle Roy” was a natural choice to give her away at her wedding in place of her adoptive father, who is a minister in Ranger.
Over the years, the Shakes have received about a dozen surprise phone calls in August or September from students whom the couple had impacted.
“Often at this time of the year, we’ll get a call from a student, a freshman usually, at ACU, who’ll say, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but…,” Bonnie said. “And then they’ll give us their story, and they were one of our foster kids! That’s really exciting.”
Hernandez said she has noticed that the Shakes don’t forget about the children for whom they are foster parents, but they love and follow up with them.
“These are lifelong relationships,” she said. “It’s not just for their childhood but for their whole life. For major milestones-graduations, birthdays-they try their best to be there for the kids, even though they have their own mom and dads.”
Graduation to Grandchildren
Shake met his future wife in the mid-1950s while working on a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where Bonnie was still in high school. After Bonnie’s graduation, the couple obeyed her parents’ instruction, waiting a year before marrying on June 7, 1957. Shake taught at a high school in Decatur, Ill., for a year before being offered a job in the ACU biology department.
“We had a mark reduction in pay, but pay’s not everything,” Shake said. “Life is a whole lot more important than reimbursement. It always has been, and it still is as far as we’re concerned.”
He said the couple’s original motive for coming to Abilene was for Bonnie to start her undergraduate work, but the untimely sickness of her mother changed those plans.
“In the intervening months, my mom got cancer. So we decided that we needed to make her a grandmother, if possible, before she died,” Bonnie said. “So when he was in the interview, I was already pregnant.”
That baby was the first of five natural children Bonnie would have, plus an adopted girl in 1971. All their children now live in Texas, where Shake and his wife can have easy access to their 11 grandchildren.
“They’re why we have a van,” said Bonnie, who was recently named Grandparent of the Year at Brentwood Christian Academy in Austin.
‘We love all kids’
Shake retired from full-time teaching in 2001, then saying he would take some time off to spend traveling and with his 11 grandchildren. And although he’s been able to do a little of each of these, he still teaches two 65-student sections of “Human Perspectives.” Bonnie said she hardly considers this retirement.
“Retirement’s been going great for me, but [Roy]’s not retired,” she said, laughing. “He’s continued to teach, by his choice also; he really loves it.”
Shake, who was the 1996 recipient of the CAS Educator of the Year, said his love for teaching stems from another love.
“I think a part of it is that we love kids. We have all along – of course, we think our grandkids are very special, but all kids. We love all kids,” he said.
Bonnie knows firsthand the love her husband has for his students, as she has taken several of his classes.
“He’s hard!” Bonnie said, laughing. “It’s not a smart thing to take your spouse’s classes, I’ve found out. If you get a good grade, they think he gave it to you. You can’t win.”
In fact, Bonnie said Shake showed no partiality to her just because they were married-one time when he was helping her study for his test, he purposefully let her study the wrong material that was written in her notes.
“Now that’s not very healthy for a marriage, is it?” Bonnie joked.
With the time he does have in retirement, Shake enjoys his duties as an elder at South 11th and Willis Church of Christ and also likes to give blood. He has given over 10 gallons of the red stuff since 1958. He also crafts letter openers and walking sticks from natural wood for friends and students.
In his classes, Shake encourages his students to think outside of themselves to the world around them, a skill he and his wife have all but mastered.
“What I try to do is to help them understand their own human physiology.”