Erle Galen Kauffman

February 9, 1933December 16, 2016

Erle Galen Kauffman February 9, 1933 to December 16, 2016

Erle Galen Kauffman, 83, Professor Emeritus, Geological Sciences at Indiana University, died peacefully at home December 16 after a long illness. Honored for his many contributions to the Geological and Paleontological sciences, Erle also was acknowledged as a master teacher, researcher and mentor, advancing the education of many through his passion for learning, rigorous science, and generosity of ideas. Erle held an academic position at IUB since 1996.

Born and raised in the Washington DC area, Erle received his undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and was awarded a Doctorate in Geological Sciences in 1961. Subsequently, Erle built a 20 year career with the US National Museum, Smithsonian Institution, where he ultimately held the position of Full Curator, Department of Paleobiology. During that tenure, Erle also served as Adjunct Professor of Geology, George Washington University, Washington DC. From 1980 to 1996, Erle was Professor and later Chair (1980-1984), in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Erle received many honors, both as scientist and educator. He was recognized with an Honorary Master of Science from Oxford University, England (1970), where he was a Visiting Professor, and an Honorary Doctor of Natural Sciences in 1987 from Georg-August-Universitat, Gottingen, Germany, and in 1986 as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar to Australia. In 1991 the Society for Sedimentary Geology awarded Erle the R.C. Moore Medal for Excellence in Paleontology, and in 1997 he was honored with the Gilbert Harris Award for Lifetime Excellence in Systematic Paleontology from the Paleontological Research Institution. Additionally, Erle was recognized with The Society for Sedimentary Geology’s W.H. Twenhofel Medal for Outstanding Contributions and Sustained Excellence in Sedimentary Geology in 1998, and more recently with the Paleontological Society’s Medal for Advancement in Knowledge in Paleontology in 2014. Erle was a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served in leadership roles in many of the professional organizations of which he was a member, notably as President of the Paleontological Society, and Vice President of the International Paleontological Association.

Erle lived life fully and with great heart, exploring, adventuring, playing as hard as he worked. His love of the Rocky Mountains drew him both professionally and personally. Erle was an experienced hiker, backpacker, climber, skier and an avid fly fisherman, and these adventures were an integral part of the Family life he shared with his beloved wife and colleague Claudia Johnson, his former wife Carolyn Kauffman, and their children Donald, Robin and Erica. Erle was an accomplished banjo player, and was known, particularly by his students, for gatherings famous for good food, good wine, good music, good conversation and camaraderie.

Erle is survived by his wife of 27 years Claudia C. Johnson; his three children: Donald (Kathleen) of Sydney, Australia, Robin of Paonia, CO, and Erica (Jim) Lancaster of Atlanta, GA; six grandchildren: Shelley, Christopher, Anna, Tucker, Tate, and Reed; former wife Carolyn (Stinebower) Kauffman of Redstone, CO; and his sister Christina Kauffman of Boulder, CO. Erle was preceded in death by his parents: Erle B. Kauffman and Paula V. (Graff) Kauffman.

To honor Erle’s legacy, please consider donating to the Erle G. Kauffman fund at the Paleontological Society, the Erle Kauffman Paleobiology Fund at the Department of Geological Sciences, Indiana University, or to Indiana University Health Hospice. A private memorial will be held to celebrate Erle’s life. Online condolences may be made to the family at


  • A private memorial will be held to celebrate Erle's life.


Erle Galen Kauffman

have a memory or condolence to add?

David Kessler

December 29, 2019

I thought I had posted this before. I had Professor Kaufman for my Paleontology course in the early 1980s at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He would post little sayings on the chalkboard such as: "Stop Continental Drift - Reunite Gondwanaland." One time we went on a field trip near Kremmling, Colorado. Found a lot of crinoid stem segments and I found one small trilobite. Professor Kaufman was very interested in the trilobite find. I still remember his specimen tests where he would include his favorite Rudists. I will miss him.

Robert Beauchamp

October 28, 2017

Dear Claudia. I just saw the announcement about the death of Earl. I am so very sad to read it. As you may know, I worked for Erle as his assistant at the Smithsonian Institution in the early 1960's. He became my academic advisor at the George Washington University, as well as my employer and especially my friend. He taught me so much about geology and inspired me to eventually receive a PhD in geology. I believe I was Erle's first graduate student. Our relationship lasted until the early 1970's until he took the position as Chairman of the Geology Department at Colorado University.
I have many memories working for Erle. He inspired me many times to be the best I could be as a geologist.
If it would please you, I would be happy to write about the experiences I had working for him and how he inspired me to be the best I could be as a geologist. Please let me know how I can do this.
Even though I am late in offering my condolences, please consider that this is the first time I learned of Erle's passing. My heart is heavy and my mind is filled with the memories of both working for him and being his student.

Robert G. Beeauchamp, PhD

George Stanley

January 31, 2017

University of Montana

Claudia so sorry to hear about the passing of a great man. So long ago I first ran into Erle in Miami when I was a grad student attending a short course on benthic communities where he intensely interacted, bubbling over with enthusiasm.

I happened to be on public transport the next day, on an airport bus and I overheard Erle chatting away in the seat behind me, talking with the passenger sitting next to him. He was explaining in a most lucid manner, what evolution was all about and how communities evolved. He really was an amazing and enthusiastic teacher. Later he returned to Miami and helped teach a revised version of that short course.

Later I was graciously invited to his home near Denver and later to your home in Indiana. I was constantly inspired by his high standards of science, his no nonsense approaches and his many talents which included his love for music.

I was very grateful for the time I got to spend with him. Erle went on to accomplish himself in so many subjects (even outside paleo/strat) but in my early days at professional meetings, Erle mostly talked about rudists and reefs.

I honored Erle with a song about rudists. You may have heard this song on Youtube that he actually inspired me to write.

With condolences,
George Stanley

Kevin Bohacs

January 31, 2017

Dear Claudia, I am so sorry for your loss. Erle was such a force of nature, it's hard to imagine the world of geology without him. I learned so much from him, on both the technical and social side of science-- he was so good at building community. Being in the field with him was always a delight-- enlightening and entertaining... as in the attached photo, where Erle is straightening out Pete Vail and I about the Niobrara (nice legs!). You are in our thoughts and prayers.

Beatriz Garcia-Fresca

January 30, 2017

Claudia, my warmest feelings for you, as well as Erle's family and friends. Big kiss from Austin.

Bill Little

January 30, 2017

Claudia: We've spoken many times, and you know how much Erle means to me. I am one of many who owes their career to Erle. He was a tremendous teacher, mentor, and friend, and he will be greatly missed. I'm so glad Debby and I were to spend some time with both of you a couple of years ago. May you find comfort and peace as you adjust to your new life.

Emmanuel Okon

January 30, 2017

Dear Claudia, Please accept our deepest condolences from the Department of Geology, University of Calabar - Nigeria. Erle, had been an excellent mentor to some of us who read about his thoughts in the field of geological sciences...Though he may not be around for us to reach out to him, these memories he left us with will carry us along....Shalom

Gilbert CAMOIN

January 30, 2017

I will never forget the beautiful and intense moments that we shared in Jamaica and in Boulder, CO in the 90's. My deepest condolences to you Claudia. Gilbert Camoin, France.

Malcolm Hart

January 30, 2017

Dear Claudia, as you know Erle and I were geological 'buddies' going back to the 1970s. I will always remember his contribution to science and to his contributions to the work I was doing. He had an infectious enthusiasm for his research and this clearly rubbed off on many others throughout the world.

Best wishes to you and the family from Yvonne and Malcolm Hart


January 3, 2017