Cody Leonhardt Remembered for His Empathy and Bright Soul

Leonhardt’s sister, Lisa Kozina, said that their family wants to share his story to end the stigma around mental health and encourage people to seek help and utilize resources.

Cody Leonhardt, a second-year student in Loyola’s School of Law, passed away on Jan. 15 at the age of 25. According to his best friend, Tony Dye, Leonhardt was very close with his family and aspired to defend individuals in the LGBTQ+ community in his future law career. 

Leonhardt had taken a leave of absence from the law program to focus on receiving treatment for mental health challenges, according to an email sent to Loyola’s faculty, students and staff on Jan. 18. 

Leonhardt’s sister, Lisa Kozina, remembered Leonhardt as being extremely caring with a big heart.

“He was always empathetic and worried about others,” Kozina said. “He went out of his way to make sure that the other people around him could succeed.”

Kozina, 31, said Leonhardt was very close with his family, including his parents Robert and Manuela, as well as his nieces and nephews. 

“He would talk to my mom every day on the phone, they would FaceTime,” she said. “And my dad, he really enjoyed fishing with him.”

Kozina said her favorite memory of her brother was watching him become an uncle.

“He was always so grossed out by my kids, like the dirty diapers and messy hands and spit up,” Kozina said. “But he never hesitated to love on them and play with them.”

Leonhardt would have dance parties with his nieces and let them paint his nails and play “pretty pretty princess,” according to Kozina. She says he was always smiling and went along with them.

Dye, 24, has been Leonhardt’s best friend since fifth grade. Dye said they both had PlayStation 3s that they used to play video games with each other, which is how they initially bonded. 

He said Leonhardt was very quiet and kept to himself at first, but once you got to know him, he showed his sense of humor and became the loudest in the room. 

“He was the life of the party,” Dye said. “Whenever anything was going on, it was Cody that was making jokes. Everyone was laughing with him. He was telling stories. He was always just a bright soul no matter what.”

Dye said the two of them have been inseparable since middle school — taking the same undergraduate classes and getting the same degree at Purdue University Northwest. 

“If we didn’t, we absolutely loathed being there alone, just sitting there wishing we could be with our friend,” Dye said. “Being with him 24/7 every day was an incredible gift.”

Leonhardt was also the best man at Dye’s wedding in October. Dye recalled pinning a set of flowers on his shirt and seeing him smile. 

“Seeing him look at me as I’m doing that, fondly, is an image and a memory I am going to hold close to my heart for the rest of my life,” Dye said.

Dr. Nicky Jackson, a criminal justice program coordinator at Purdue University Northwest, had Leonhardt as a student for all four years of his undergraduate education. 

Jackson remembered Leonhardt as a student who never hesitated to ask if he needed something. 

“I just wish he would’ve asked about other things,” Jackson said. “The world lost an amazing young man, he had so much potential, so much potential.”

Kozina remembered how hard Leonhardt worked to get into law school and recalled the moment he chose to attend Loyola.

“It was a big moment in his life, and I know that my parents and I were really proud of him,” she said.

One of the reasons Leonhardt decided to go to law school was to defend those in the LGBTQ+ community, according to Dye, since he had come out as gay in his sophomore year of college. 

“At one point in time he couldn’t find his voice, and though he felt he wanted to come out, he couldn’t until he found the right time,” Dye said. 

He explained that Leonhardt wanted to help people that still felt silenced after they came out. 

“He wanted to make sure that those people were helped because he felt that the criminal justice system and our civil system was incredibly unjust,” Dye said.

To honor his interest in video games and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, Leonhardt was wearing a gay pride pin from his favorite game, Destiny, at his memorial service Jan. 19 at Elmwood Funeral Chapel in St. John, Indiana.

In November, Leonhardt experienced a mental health crisis. He went through inpatient and outpatient therapy and decided he was ready to return to school in January, according to Kozina.

“When he expressed what was going on, it felt like we had got him back in a way, but come January when he had passed, we didn’t realize how bad it was,” Dye said. “Even then, he was incredibly strong and made sure that everyone was okay.”

“He was just a very, very bright person. He was a great friend and a good brother that will be sorely missed,” Dye said. 

Kozina said her family wants to share Leonhardt’s story to end the stigma around mental health by encouraging people to seek help and utilize resources. 

“We just really want to honor his memory and make people see what we saw in him and help people realize that even if you are struggling with addiction or depression or anxiety or anything, that you should reach out for help and lean on those around you and those that care about you,” she said.

Dye expressed navigating mental health issues is a hard journey for everyone involved.

“Mental health is scary, and I want people to realize that drug abuse and addiction is also a mental illness as well, and there’s help for that,” he said. 

Leonhardt’s family has requested in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the National Alliance on Mental Health. The family also recommends students take advantage of available mental health resources at Loyola and reach out to those around them when they are struggling. 

Loyola’s Wellness Center offers various resources for mental health including crisis care, counseling and psychiatry, all of which are accessible on their website.

Jennie Colville

Jennie Colville