Remembering Tom Kwak

Reposted from NC State University

We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Prof. Thomas J. Kwak on November 19, 2021 ​​due to a non-COVID related cardio-pulmonary event while visiting his hometown of Momence, IL.

Tom was a fisheries biologist and leader of the U.S. Geological Survey’s NC Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. He was also an active member in the American Fisheries Society and former president of its southern division. Tom received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Illinois and doctorate from the University of Minnesota. He joined the faculty at NC State in 1999.

Tom teaching identification skills to fisheries and wildlife students at Lake Raleigh

Tom was an influential instructor, with most of his previous students going on to pursue careers in fisheries and research. He led several foundational courses, including Fisheries Techniques and Management recently featured in the news, that inspired generations of fisheries biologists.

Along with being a highly-respected expert, Tom was a friendly and warm force for good. He was a supportive and caring supervisor committed to the personal and professional growth of each of his students. Tom championed creating a more inclusive environment in fisheries and was an active voice for change in every professional realm. He was always armed with his cellphone camera, infectious laugh, kindness, and booming pride of his students, colleagues, and community.

Tom was an active outdoorsman and avid beekeeper. He recently made the news for rescuing a hive of bees from RDU airport, a testament to his passion for nature.

Tom (far right) capturing the moment while his students electrofished in Puerto Rico

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Tom Kwak, a highly-respected and beloved member of the CALS and Applied Ecology community,” says Dean Richard Linton. “Tom was passionate about his work and was a model for all on how to work with others to conduct collaborative research. His presence will be sorely missed, and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

He is survived by his wife, Danielle Pender and his two children, Jacob and Alexandra Kwak, and their loving dog Dusty.

There will be a memorial service held in Raleigh, NC at a future date in addition to the service that was held in Momence, Illinois on November 22nd.

Tom was treasured by all who knew him, and we are all better for knowing him.

Please sign his online guestbook at

North Carolina American Fisheries Society Winter 2021 Newsletter honoring the memory of Tom Kwak

Tribute article in the NC State student newspaper, the Technician

Obituary from The Daily Journal

From the InFish community:

"Our sincerest condolences to the Kwak family. Tom was a dedicated mentor, collaborator, and friend to me as to so many others. His legacy and impact on our field are astounding and will live on through his mentees and colleagues but we grieve the loss of continuing to work with Tom and enjoy his friendship. A small consolation to me is that Tom lived a fulfilled life - he wrote the following to me not long ago - "I started pursuing the activities that would have an impact and be most fun, and the job became tremendously more rewarding all-around." I feel fortunate to have been able to have participated in some of those activities with him! " - Abigail Lynch, U.S. Geological Survey