Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Everyday is Earth Day

An amazing man that I had the honor of knowing passed away recently. And since I can't seem to get my blog to take links you'll have to copy and paste this link.


And this is a really nice article that was written about him not very long ago. It's humbling to see all that he accomplished in his lifetime, and how his passion inspired so many.

If you are ever down in Costa Rica look for the trail that they named in his honor. Now go out and do something nice for the Earth in Dr. Joe's memory.

For former Nolan ecology teacher, every day is Earth Day


Dr. Joe Kuban’s speech loss is hard, wife DeLane says, "because he has so much to say." S-T/JOYCE MARSHALL

Nolan Catholic High School’s field biology class was returning from a summer trip to Port Aransas when a familiar voice suddenly pierced the silence.

"Stop the bus!" the teacher called out.

Dozing students sat up.

A black-bodied bird stood in the road, its curved beak pecking at roadkill.

Dr. Joe Kuban recognized the species immediately.

It was a crested caracara (Polyborus plancus), and the instructor saw this unexpected sighting as an opportunity to tell his students all about the migratory pattern and diet of this colorfully named member of the falcon family.

Katie Newman smilingly recalls Kuban’s excitement.

At school, and on excursions to the Gulf Coast, Big Bend National Park and the tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, this animated, exuberant educator always made the world of nature interesting and fun.

Kuban and his students turned over rocks. Identified trees, flowers and marine life.

They viewed sunrises and sat in the glow of a crackling campfire as their teacher played his guitar under the stars.

In 1974, Kuban founded what is believed to be the longest-running high school ecology studies program in the United States.

The Nolan alumnus taught generations of students to appreciate flora and fauna and impressed upon them their responsibility to serve as stewards of the land.

Among his saying, known as "Kubanisms": "If you’re not recycling, you don’t deserve to use any of the Earth’s resources."

For Kuban, every day — not just April 22 — is Earth Day.

"Dr. Kuban," Newman said, "was the most incredible teacher I ever had."

Now a senior, Newman is president of Nolan’s ecology club. She plans to study environmental science and elementary education at Saint Louis University.

She and others students in Nolan’s senior ecology program, now headed by Ellen Browning, made another trip a few weeks ago, to a modest brick home in south Arlington.

The resident met the visitors at the door, his whiskered face beaming.

He can’t hike miles of mountain trails, as he once did.

Kuban, 58, uses a wheelchair.

Although his mind is still sharp, in recent months he has lost the ability to speak.

"It’s frustrating," said his wife, DeLane, "because he has so much to say."

Still, his positive nature remains unwavering. Ask how he is doing, and Kuban lifts his left hand and gives a thumbs-up.

About 2  1/2 years ago, the Kubans learned that Joe has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS, which affects about 30,000 people in the United States, causes loss of muscle function and eventually paralysis. Patients typically live two to five years.

Kuban continued to teach at Nolan after his diagnosis, zipping along the hallways on a motorized scooter.

Students decorated the vehicle and equipped it with a horn.

"Joe never went through a denial phase," said Brother Al Kuntemeier, a longtime Nolan teacher, counselor and coach, and the bus driver on Kuban’s field trips. "He just kept saying — his words — 'I’m going as long and as hard as I can.’ That’s what he did."

The popular teacher gave up his calling last spring. Now he spends his days at home.

"He loves those kids," DeLane Kuban said. Their visit "meant the world to him."

Nature and music

Growing up near Lake Worth, Joe Kuban possessed an interest in nature.

He once glued a string to a tortoise’s shell and tied the other end to a tree. The boy wanted to track the reptile’s travel. Did a turtle possess wanderlust? Where would it go? And how far?

Next day, he discovered the string wrapped around the tree. The turtle had circled it like a maypole.

Kuban’s life followed a purposeful, straightforward path. He received two science degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and later earned his doctorate at Syracuse University. For his dissertation, he returned to Big Bend — his favorite place — where he studied the century plant.

Kuban also pursued his love of music. In high school he sang and performed with a rock band. After returning to Nolan as a teacher in 1973, he started an annual tradition by writing a song dedicated to each senior class.

In recent years he has composed and performed ballads about the beauty of Texas, particularly Big Bend. By the time Joe Kuban and The Lost Chizo Band recorded their second album in the summer of 2007, the lead singer was already experiencing the debilitating effects of his incurable disease.

Frank Kuban saw his brother’s determination.

"It was a little difficult," said Frank Kuban, a member of the band. "But Joe wanted to get these songs out."

Kuban’s music and his former students are testimony to his environmental legacy.

John Styrsky, a 1988 Nolan graduate, is an assistant biology professor at Lynchburg (Va.) College. He took Kuban’s senior-level ecology course and happily anticipated the field trips. They explored the Big Thicket National Preserve in East Texas and studied the coral reefs and marine environment around the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.

"Dr. Kuban set me on that path," Styrsky said.

Tiffany Bright studied wildflowers in Tandy Hills Park, a nature preserve in Fort Worth, and experienced the wonder of floating in a small craft along meandering canals in Costa Rica after dark, listening to nature’s nocturnal serenade.

The 1994 Nolan graduate still can see their guide aiming his flashlight into the jungle.

"We would see these pairs of eyes looking back at us," she said.

Bright, 32, now works as an environmental engineer for a consulting company in Dallas.

The apprentice

After his ALS diagnosis in the fall of 2006, Kuban began looking for someone to carry on his work at Nolan. He found that person while serving as an adjunct professor at UT-Arlington.

A graduate student, Browning shared Kuban’s interest in bobcats and love for Big Bend. In the summer of 2007 she accompanied the professor to the national park. Browning had considered a career with the National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but when Kuban asked whether she would agree to replace him at the high school, she was surprised and honored. She couldn’t say no.

Browning spent the 2007-08 school year at Kuban’s side, observing and learning. She witnessed his special relationship with students and saw, and heard in his voice, his passion for protecting the environment. During her first week at Nolan, Browning and Kuban went to lunch. That hot August day, as they drove away from the school, Kuban spotted workers seated on riding mowers, cutting the grass.

"I told them not to mow in the afternoon when it’s an ozone alert day!" Kuban thundered.

He appeared visibly upset.

"I thought to myself, 'This guy is the real thing,’ " Browning recalled.

Kuban’s educational contribution hasn’t gone unappreciated. At Nolan’s Fort Worth campus, a plaque celebrates his teaching, music and conservation efforts. Members of Kuban’s graduating Class of 1968 are funding two $5,000 college scholarships in his honor, one for excellence in science, the other in music.

The ecology classroom where he taught has the feel of a museum. It is filled with items Kuban collected through the years. A library of reference books, with titles like TheNaked Ape. National Geographic magazines. Globes. Long-handled nets. On one wall hangs a long, woven basketlike nest of the oropendola bird from Costa Rica.

There also is a signed photograph of Jane Goodall.

The renowned primatologist visited the class after Kuban received the 1995 Goodall ecology award.

'There’s a reason for this’

DeLane was living in Houston when her sister in Fort Worth urged her to meet him.

"He’s geographically unacceptable," DeLane said.

"You don’t have to marry the man," her sibling reasoned. "Just go out to dinner."

As DeLane related the story, she gazed across the kitchen table at her best friend and husband of 11 years.

"And, here I am," she said to him.

At first they thought the weakness Kuban felt in his right leg might be a side effect of his cholesterol medication. Later, his fingers started twitching. Then, after neurological tests, they learned the awful truth.

"I knew what ALS was," DeLane said. "But I never had a patient. Until Joe."

Unfortunately, her skills as a physical therapist cannot reverse the damage or hold the relentless disease at bay. Every day she witnesses her husband’s strong will, his quiet courage, his good nature, the steadfastness of his faith.

"Joe told me, 'There’s a reason for this. I just don’t know what it is,’ " DeLane said.

She paused and manufactured a smile.

"I’m the one screaming at the heavens."

On Wednesday, they plan to attend an Earth Day event at the Nolan campus. In Kuban’s honor, faculty and students will plant a young evergreen tree that will be lit each Christmas.

On this spring afternoon, this exceptional man looks silently through a glass door and gazes at the potted red geranium DeLane placed on the back porch. There are no crested caracaras. A feeder attracts other welcome visitors, though — chickadees, sparrows, the tufted titmouse, an occasional finch.

All carry a song, but none is purer than Joe Kuban’s last album track, a gift to his companion, sung with all the feeling and strength his faltering voice could muster:

You may weaken my body

Make me stumble when I walk

My right hand’s tremblin’

And I slur words when I talk

You might steal my last step

You might rob my last breath

But you can’t take the love

You can’t take the love of this woman

From me.


Understanding ALS April is National ALS Awareness Month.

The ALS Association’s "ALS Across America" campaign recognizes people like Dr. Joe Kuban of Arlington and other Americans who are living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease. As many as 30,000 people in the U.S. are affected, and about 5,600 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Survival averages two to five years after diagnosis.

ALS is not contagious. There is no known cure.

Information: www.alsa.org or 800-782-4747

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