Leonard Latkovski, Dr. (Len) was born in Kārsava, the Latgale region of Latvia on June 9,1943 to Leonard Latkovskis and Albina Putans. In 1944 he and his family were forced to flee the Russian Communist takeover of Latvia to Germany where they lived in displaced person refugee camps until emigrating to the United States in 1950.
The large family (ultimately 9 children) settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Len graduated from St Xavier High School in 1961. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Bellarmine College in 1964, where he was President of the Student Body. He did his post-graduate work at Georgetown University, earning a Master of Arts in Russia and Eastern European history in 1967 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Russian History in 1973. He joined Hood College in 1969, where he remained a Professor of History and Political Science until the time of his death. He was twice honored with the Hood College Excellence in Teaching Award. He was nominated as an Outstanding Alumnus of Bellarmine University.
He loved sports and his summers in the 1970s and 1980s were spent playing and teaching tennis at the Pine Orchard Club on the Connecticut shoreline. He coached the Hood College Tennis Team many years and was inducted into the Hood College Athletic Hall of Fame in recognition of his decades of coaching students to success in tennis.
His most outstanding characteristics were his kindness, compassion and tireless energy. He was a champion of the disenfranchised, including the poor, the mentally ill, and the oppressed. He tutored new immigrants and provided friendship to the marginalized members of society. There was always a bed or place to sleep available in his home for a soul in need. He was a civil rights advocate at a time when he placed his safety and financial security at risk by doing so. He was an intuitive listener, always asking heartfelt questions and listening attentively whether it was an Irish farmer picked up hitchhiking or a family member he’d long known. His generous spirit touched many, especially the Latvians he provided with trunkloads of medicine and scarce necessities on his trips to Latvia, particularly during the Soviet era.
A leading scholar on Russia and the Baltics, he placed a critical spotlight on deportations and inhumane conditions in Soviet gulags, having interviewed dozens of survivors. He traveled dozens of times to Latvia and Russia, not only leading groups of students and friends. He used his tours of Soviet Era Russia and the Baltics to monitor religious persecution, interview priests and citizens and report directly to the Vatican, including personally to Pope John Paul II on more than one occasion. Among the gulag interviewees was the daughter of his own aunt who had been imprisoned for 14 years for her religious and pro-democracy work.
He was a well-known local and regional commentator in the US media, including National Public Radio, and appeared on Russian and Latvian television and radio, and in press interviews. He founded the Latgale Research Center and the Gulag Research Press.
The Latgale region of Latvia, and the Latgalian language and people were very dear to him. He was an expert on the history of the Catholic church in Latvia and the Soviet Union. His numerous publications include a History of the Aglona Basilica (translated to Latvian). He was director of the Latgale Renascence Fund, which for several years has generously supported the most impoverished of families of Latvia with food, clothing, and school supplies. Catholic Sister Tekla, the nun who distributes those funds in Varaklani, Latvia, wrote in gratitude that he lived by this humble motto, ”All that you do for the least of my brethren you do for Me.”
He was known affectionately as Len, Dr. L, Lenny, and Poppy. In recent years he began spelling his name Leonhards (the Lion Hearted) after he discovered that spelling on official documents, including his birth certificate (a historian through and through).
He is dearly missed by his wife of 48 years, Patricia Hannigan Latkovski, children, Alicia, Chris, Stephanie, and Tony, beloved grandchildren, cherished brother and sisters, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, colleagues, friends, as well as hundreds of former students.
A funeral service will be held on June 20 at 10am at Hood College Chapel in Frederick, Maryland. An additional memorial service will be held in Louisville at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Latgale Renascence Fund would be most appreciated. More information on Dr. L and the Latgale Renascence Fund can be found at www.lllrf.com