Remembering Tom Kwak

Tom Kwak

Many have asked about making donations in memory of Tom. This post has been updated on Dec 3, 2021 with memorial information at the bottom. 

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.

Memorial Information:

  • NC 529 Plan Education Fund accounts for the Kwak children, Jacob and Alex, have been created in the College Foundation of North Carolina by Danielle. Please email Carrie at for account information.
  • Other options include making a donation to American Rivers at
  • And the Shriners Hospital for Children at
Tom (center) with students in Busan, South Korea for the World Fisheries Congress. Photo provided by Bonnie Jean Myers
Tom and student Ambar Torres Molinari in Puerto Rico

10 responses on “Remembering Tom Kwak

  1. Augustin Engman says:

    Excellent piece on Tom. Thank you for writing this, Michelle!

  2. Steven Cooke says:

    Tom will certainly be missed by many. He gave so much to our profession and our world.
    Thanks for sharing these words and images.

  3. Dale P Burkett says:

    Tom was an amazing human being. I knew him from his time with the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. Always thoughtful, considerate, and caring – a soul called to the next dimension too early.

  4. Andrew Rypel says:

    I am so sad about the loss of Tom. He was one of the best fish ecologists in the world and had so much life left. He left an incredible legacy in his current and former students, and in the excellent science he pioneered. He will be deeply missed by all.

  5. Jessica Baumann says:

    Michelle, you did a fantastic job capturing what an amazing person Tom was. We are all truly better for knowing him and he will be missed by so many. Thank You.

  6. Wayne C. Starnes says:

    Great personal friend and colleague who greatly facilitated the academic component of my career as adjunct faculty at NCSU, co-advising grad students, etc.. I was grateful for that.

  7. Jim Rice says:

    I miss my friend. I want him back. The next best thing is all the mutual memories of Tom that so many of us share. This story brings many of them to mind; thanks Michelle.

  8. Wilson Xiong says:

    Ua koj tsaug ntau (Thank you very much) Michelle for this. Tom will be missed by all.

  9. Gwen White says:

    Tom was a remarkable soul who worked to make the world a better place. We will miss his kind, inspiring, and creative spirit.

  10. Gregory Power says:

    He was such an excellent professor and embodied all of the good things of the College of Natural Resources.

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