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ACU Remembers: Roy Shake

Memorial services today will celebrate the life of longtime ACU biology faculty member Roy Eugene Shake, who died April 3, 2022, in Abilene, Texas, at age 89. 

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Roy Shake
Roy Shake

Family and friends will gather at 10 a.m. today at Hillcrest Church of Christ (650 E. Ambler Ave., Abilene, Texas 79601) for a service that will also be livestreamed at hillcrestonline.com.

Shake was born July 3, 1932, in Claremont, Illinois, and graduated in 1950 from East Richland High School in Olney, Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Eastern Illinois University, majoring in botany, geography and education; earned a master’s degree in plant ecology from the University of Wisconsin (1957); and did doctoral work from 1962-65 at the University of Florida. 

He wed Bonnie Lou Sargent in 1957, and they moved to Decatur, Illinois, where he taught general science, entered the National Guard for six months of active duty, and an additional 5 1/2 years in the reserve. He joined the biology faculty at ACU in 1958 and taught full time for more than 40 years.

Shake was a member of Abilene’s South 11th and Willis Church of Christ, where he served as an elder for 33 years. He and Bonnie were foster parents for more than 100 children and unwed mothers, and served on the board of Christian Homes & Family Services for 18 years.

Read his full obituary here.

When he retired from full-time teaching in 2001, this profile in ACU Today magazine described his life and influence from the Hill where he and Bonnie lived and worked: 

The course title may be Biology: A Human Perspective, but students who spend a semester with ACU’s gentle giant could rename it Life According to Roy Shake, and they wouldn’t be far from the truth.

Undergraduates from 1950s Olympic track star Bobby Morrow (’58) to fresh-faced first-year students in the class of 2004 have gleaned more than book knowledge from Shake, who retired from full-time teaching this spring as associate professor emeritus of biology.

He’s taught 18 different courses since joining the faculty 43 years ago but enjoys Human Perspective as much as any. So much so that he’ll teach two sections of it on a part-time basis this fall. Both the 65-seat class rolls are already full, Shake claims with delight.

“I thoroughly enjoy the students,” says the towering man with an even bigger heart. “I live to give them new information that will not only help them through my course but enrich their lives in the years ahead.”

What biology students learn in Shake’s class can take them far away from the shiny tile floors and smooth black countertops of his lab in the Foster Science Building. Even a field trip to the Shakes’ tree-shaded yard and make-yourself-at-home house on East North 18th Street is an education. There, they could see evident of sacrifice, love and benevolence practiced through the years by the Shakes and their own six kids on more than 100 foster children. It could provide students a Human Perspective unlike any they’ve ever seen.

“This one makes, oh, I don’t know, 101 or 102 – I’m not sure,” he chuckles at the thought of seeing his wife, Bonnie, rocking another sleepy-eyed baby in her arms at church last Sunday morning.

“We were given a plaque a few years ago from Christian Homes of Abilene with the names of 86 of our foster children on it, and I’ve sort of lost count since then,” he says. “You know, there were days when we dropped one off for adoption and picked up another at the hospital on the way home. We love them all, but they can sort of run together some days.

“Bonnie is the best,” he says. “Taking care of kids is just her cup of tea.” She has helped make their home a comfortable crossroads for a caravan of infants and would-be parents waiting to find each other.

“Make no mistake, we consider all those babies ours. But we learned long ago we can’t keep them all,” he says. “So we give them the best home and best start in life we can.”

His generosity takes many forms beyond sacrificing a good night’s sleep for four decades to help change diapers and feed newborns.

Shake is a longtime elder at South 11th and Willis Church of Christ and a veteran teacher and preacher in churches across Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois.

He is “working on” giving his 10th gallon of blood to the local blood bank, a habit he started in 1954. Shake takes his biology students to the Abilene Blood Bank each semester for a lecture, and is amazed how many of them participate and agree to be organ donors afterward. “I’m only 69, and since they extended the age limit to 71, I have some more time to increase my own contribution of blood,” he says.

He makes custom letter openers for friends and strangers. “I once paid George Ewing (professor emeritus of English) $10 for one of the prettiest carved wood letter openers I had ever seen,” Shake says. “And I thought, if George can make those, there’s no reason why I can’t!” And so he has, presenting countless ones to students and other friends. He drives around the countryside looking for assorted limbs and branches from which can craft more gifts. “My grandson and I made five letter openers this afternoon and I think I have a sack with more in it right now,” Shake says. He also has fashioned about 20 canes, or “walking sticks” as he calls them, for those in need of a steady leg.

The Christian Service Center, shut-ins, nursing homes, hospice centers, hospitals, childrens’ homes and assorted charities across the world find a smiling friend and helping hand in Shake, the son of Illinois farmers who remembers the day he first came to Abilene.

ACU dean Dr. Walter H. Adams (’25) invited him to apply for a faculty position in 1958. Shake drove straight through from Decatur, Illinois, stopping on campus just long enough to clean up for an interview. “I found a cold-water spigot next to some chicken houses the school kept near what now is Moody Coliseum,” he recalls. “I bent over that spigot and shaved in the dark to get ready.” Two hours later, he signed a contract and begah his and Bonnie’s long tenure with the university.

“God has worked out wondrous things in our lives. You can’t out-do him,” Shake says. “I love teaching, and I love students. I love plants and animals. It’s always a challenge and a thrill to learn about the natural world.”

While his retirement would exhaust most people half his age, he hopes to spend more time with his 11 grandchildren, travel and volunteer even more in the days ahead.

“I may have knee replacement surgery at Christmas this year,” Shake laments of a chronic ailment that hobbles him noticeably at times.

It’s not hard to imagine how he’ll manage to recuperate and find someone in need more than he. While he heals, at least he’ll know where to find a good walking stick for support, and a letter opener for his get-well cards.

Unless of course, he’s given them all away.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to South 11th and Willis Church of Christ (3309 South 11th Street, Abilene, Texas 79605) for Sam’s Place, an orphanage for deaf children in Kenya named in memory of former longtime ACU mathematics professor Dr. Sam McReynolds.

 
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