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July 29, 2020

Leonard “Len” Kouba, a geography professor at NIU from 1966 to 1993, died at home in Sycamore on July 15, 2020.

Len with one of his catches, an arapaima, in Thailand.

In addition to specializing in the geography of Africa, Dr. Kouba was a world citizen – visiting approximately 120 countries. An avid fisherman, he sought to catch the biggest fish on the lightest line and set hundreds of records around the world. Among his treasures were a 210-pound tarpon caught in West Africa, a 500-pound arapaima in Guyana and a 1,100-pound blue marlin caught off the coast Sao Tome and Principe, a west African island nation. His travels also allowed him to experience larger game, such as a 400-plus pound silverback gorilla and a charging bull elephant.

Len with some of his students at the department’s 50th anniversary reception in November.

Professor Kouba made an equally-large impact at NIU – as a researcher, teacher and colleague. He was highly respected by his students and was a recipient of NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1972.   

Former colleague David Changnon recalls “Len was truly a gentlemen and regional geographer. He retired in January 1993, so we only overlapped one semester. He was devoted to the department and was one of the few retired faculty who would attend our annual Career Day. For those who knew him, he will be sorely missed.”

For alumnus Jim Plonczynski (’77 and ’83), Kouba’s impact is special. The geography professor was among a group that went to a White Sox game that was Ploncynski’s first date with fellow Huskie and his future wife, Donna. Donna would go on to become an NIU Nursing Professor and taught for 20 years.

“Len will always be remembered by me as a great teacher and mentor who helped me get direction in life,” Plonczynski said.

Students mattered to Kouba. Prior to his death, he established the Leonard J. Kouba Geography Graduate Student Fund to provide scholarships and other resources for graduate students in his home department.

No services were held. Butala Funeral Home and Crematory handled the arrangements. To sign the online guest book or share a special memory, go to .

Memorial contributions may be made to the Leonard J. Kouba Geography Graduate Student Fund by contacting the NIU Foundation. Gifts can be made online , by calling 1-877-GIV-2-NIU, or by contacting Ray Jackson , executive director, college based-advancement.