NEWPORT, Pa. - A retired prison counselor in Perry County is receiving worldwide acclaim after his hobby outgrew its place in a local state park.
Steve Hoke's basement has always been his art studio, but lately, he's found a new pastime: building gnome homes.
"I needed something where I could get out and get some exercise," he said. "I became a bit sedentary by doing things here in the house, so this was a perfect fit."
A gnome forest built in a Kansas park inspired Hoke's new hobby, and it quickly became a passion.
"My intention was to get kids and families out of their houses, away from the electronics and to go for a walk for a couple of hours a week," he said.
Hoke got permission to begin building gnome homes at Little Buffalo State Park. It developed a cult following in Perry County, as hundreds of park visitors would leave notes and other trinkets for the gnomes.
"One of the notes read, 'Mr. Gnome, would you please help me, or would you please tell my mommy to come home because I miss her?'" Hoke recalled. "The day I found it, I cried."
There were 38 gnome homes in all: five stand-alone cottages, and for the rest, Hoke built custom-fit wooden doors for the holes in the trees.
"To see the joy these things brought to so many kids and their families, it was difficult letting them go," he said.
That's because the gnomes and their homes were given an eviction notice by park staffers, who said the homes were not the right fit for a state park.
Hoke removed the homes from the park and thought that would be the end of his new passion, until his story made waves on the Internet.
"I never had any idea it was going to morph into this," he said. "It has certainly taken on a life of its own. I've gotten calls from around the world."
There are now offers from local parks and libraries to move the gnome homes there, as well as from domestic and international open spaces.
Although Hoke does not have enough homes for all the requests, he says he would like to build more to meet the demand.
The worldwide response from people has been overwhelming, but inspiring, he says.
"They haven't lost that sense of mystery, that sense of enchantment, and that will keep me going," Hoke said.