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Dr. Augustine Ikechukwuka ‘Gus’ Okonkwo, 79, passed away peacefully in his sleep Monday morning, June 13, 2016, with his wife of 51 years, Herta Schumacher Okonkwo, at his side. ‘Gus,’ as he was affectionately called by many, had spent the last two years as a resident of Atlantic Shores and most recently at the Harbourway facility. His last few weeks were filled with love and laughter, as family and friends from far and near came to gather to reminisce and celebrate with him a life well lived.
Augustine was born August 18, 1936, to James and Rebecca Okonkwo of Asaba, Nigeria. It was always his dream to come to the U.S. to study, and on Christmas Day 1956, that dream became a reality. He arrived in Kansas City, Mo., with a lot of faith in God, no money and a phone number in his pocket of someone his Nigerian relatives had told him would meet him at the airport and provide a place for him to live. From there, he would go on to receive two bachelor of science degrees from William Jewel College, two master’s degrees from Emporia State and University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in biology from Michigan State. He then moved his young family to Huron, S.D., to teach at Huron College until 1974.
His love for his Nigerian culture and people helped lead him to the opportunity of teaching at Norfolk State University, where he remained a professor of biology until his retirement in 2006. Following his retirement, he received the distinguished honor of professor emeritus. He was also instrumental in launching the Gifted and Talented Program in the Virginia Beach Public Schools and helped to initiate the International Baccalaureate Program at Princess Anne High School, the first of its kind.
An active member of NITVA (Nigerians In Tidewater Virginia), Augustine was very involved in helping many young Nigerians to achieve their goals and plan for their academic and career successes. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus Father Nicholas J. Habets Council 4632 for over 15 years and a member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church for over 40 years.
The joy of his life was his family, and both Augustine and Herta enjoyed many travels overseas to South Africa, New Zealand, Thailand, Germany and Holland to see their children as they lived and pursued dreams of their own around the globe. He loved to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and learn about them and encourage them to be their best.
Augustine was preceded in death by his oldest son, Ngozi Okonkwo, and is survived by his loving wife, Herta Schumacher Okonkwo, and their four children, Rebecca Okonkwo McPherson, and her husband, James, of Manila, Philippines, James Okonkwo, and his wife, Laura, of Virginia Beach, Margaret Okonkwo of Miami, Fla., and David Okonkwo, and his wife, Querine, of Pittsburg, Pa.; treasured 12 grandchildren, Christopher, Christie and Crystal Okonkwo, Trinity, Madison, and Eden Cassidy McPherson, Morgan, Kyyam, and Jackson Okonkwo and Oscar, Steven and Quinn Okonkwo.
Viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 17, at Holloman-Brown Funeral Home, located at 1485 Kempsville Rd., Virginia Beach. Final viewing will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 18, with funeral services at 10 a.m. at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 1396 Lynnhaven Parkway, Virginia Beach. A reception will immediately follow services.
The family asks in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Okonkwo Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund #340450 through Norfolk State University Foundation.
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