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Onye Kwe, Chi ya Ekwe
Dr. Felix Kamalu Ekechi, a long-time Kent, Ohio resident, was called home on July 13, 2023. He was 88 years old and passed away peacefully surrounded by his family. Born in Umuodocha Umuorii, Uratta, Imo State, Nigeria, he was the proud last born son of Mr. Ekechi Egekeze Orji and Mrs. Ogazi Udum Egekeze Orji (both of blessed memory). A lifelong learner, educator and author, Dr. Ekechi was known to many as, Ndaa Felly, Professor Ekechi, or simply and affectionately, “Prof.”
Professor Ekechi had a storied educational career, retiring as a distinguished Professor of History at Kent State University in 2004 (35 years). At Kent State, he served as Coordinator of the African Studies Program, a position and discipline he cherished tremendously. He is the author and/or co-editor of many books and numerous articles on various aspects of African political, social, cultural, gender and religious history; among them are, Missionary Enterprise and Rivalry in Igboland, 1857-1914 (nominated for the African Studies Association Herskovit’s Award); Tradition and Transformation in Eastern Nigeria: A Sociopolitical History of Owerri and Its Hinterland, 1902-1947; The Cassava Palaver: the Gender Problem in African Economic Development, Proceedings of the 12th Annual Third World Conference, vol. 1; African Market Women and Economic Power (co-edited); and Pioneer, Patriot, and Nigerian Nationalist, A Biography of the Reverend M.D. Opara, 1915-1965. The most recent manuscript, African Encounter with Christianity and Social Change, The Essays of Felix K. Ekechi, was published in his honor, in 2020.
Professor Ekechi’s passion and reverence for education and determination to expand the scholarship on African history were fostered at an early age. He was rigorously trained at Holy Ghost College by Reverend Fathers, sharpened in knowledge at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Owerri Nigeria, and nurtured in love by his beloved elder brother, Duru William D. Ekechi (of blessed memory); excellence was always the standard!
Arriving in the United States in 1963, Professor Ekechi experienced his first civil rights march, and (in his words) “frightening” midwest winter at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. Immediately thereafter, he earned his Master's Degree in 1964 from Kansas State University. In pursuit of his doctoral degree, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Having grown enamored by the crisp winters and warm chili of the region, a young Prof. Ekechi somehow convinced his beautiful fiancée Regina, to leave the comforts of sunny Nigeria to join him. She agreed and they were married at St. Patrick Church, the same year he received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1969), specializing in African /Igbo studies, social and political history, including religious studies, women’s studies, and the history of missionary enterprise in Africa.
Professor Ekechi settled in Kent, Ohio later that year. He would always remark that he chose Kent and Kent State University for its friendly community and an excellent school system, both of which were ideal to raise children. As the first member of the family to obtain a PhD, he fully embraced the scripture reminder of, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” Committed to civic responsibility and service, Professor Ekechi was a true son of the soil, investing unfailingly in his home village in Nigeria. In his early tenure as an Assistant Professor, he would recall the torture of being separated from loved ones during the Biafra War in Nigeria. During these difficult years, he organized food and supplies to be sent home, praying it would reach his family.
A man of faith, he was a lifetime member of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kent and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Fourth Degree. He served as a member of Kent’s Bicentennial Committee (1976), appointed by the Mayor. He belonged to several academic organizations, including the Pan-African Faculty and Staff Association, KSU Africa Initiative Committee and the Kent State Research Council. It was not unusual for his children to hear from strangers about the many ways he supported educational pursuits of students, friends and colleagues, from all corners of the world. It is fitting to mention that 19 members of the extended Ekechi family, all have graduated from Kent State University, under his expert tutelage!
Professor Ekechi is the recipient of numerous grants, citations and awards for distinguished scholarship and meritorious service, both in the United States and Nigeria, among them, Life Achievement and Leadership Award by the World Owerri People’s Congress (WOPC), Commendations from Kent State University, Akron City Council, the Ohio House of Representatives and several civic organizations. He is a founding member of the African Community Association, as well as a founding member of the Uratta National Association (USA) and a Patron of numerous cultural groups.
Professor Ekechi relished life outside of academia and service. He enjoyed walking, dancing (at every occasion), cheering on the New England Patriots, vigorously debating African politics, shouting at all of his children’s sporting events, catching “amazing” shopping deals at Kohl’s, playing highlife music to reminisce with his wife, enjoying traditional Ofe Owerri soup, indulging in strong (piping hot!) cups of black coffee (or a “hot” drink with friends on the porch) and photography.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, Nneoma Regina I. Ekechi. Devoted children: Kemakolam Ekechi of Silver Spring, Maryland; Chidi (Heather) Ekechi of Parma, Ohio; Okechukwu (Rebecca) Ekechi of Munroe Falls, Ohio and Chinyere I. Ekechi of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Cherished grandchildren: Cameron Chidozie, Owen Ahamefula, Maya Adanna, Olivia Ulumma, Ositochukwum Ekperechim and Kiara Chinyere. Dearest sister: Mrs. Justina (Joy) Onuebinwa Ekechi Onyewuchi. Numerous nephews, nieces, cousins, extended family members, lifelong friends, colleagues and community members throughout Nigeria and the diaspora.
Dr. Felix Kamalu Ekechi’s life and legacy as the Patriarch of the family and community remain an inspiration and one worthy to celebrate! His affectionate smile and generous spirit are forever in our hearts.
A Celebration of Life honoring Professor Ekechi is scheduled on Saturday, August 12, 2023, at 10:00AM at St. Patrick Church, 313 N. Depeyster St. Kent, OH 44240. Livestream:https://firstname.lastname@example.org/streams.
Reception immediately after Mass at 12:00PM at Kent State University Student Center Ballroom,1075 Risman Drive Kent, Ohio, 44242. Livestream: https://boxcast.tv/view/celebration-of-life-for-professor-felix-k-ekechi-s0ynu9tqnyfmtqrf2hr3.
Funeral and homegoing services will take place in his hometown in Nigeria.
In support of Professor Ekechi’s commitment to education, all who wish to remember him with a donation, may:
Go online to www.kent.edu; click on the gold Give Now button in top right corner of page; then advance to field for Custom Designation. Input #36441 - Professor and Mrs. Felix K. Ekechi Endowed Scholarship; then proceed through with personal giving information. Or Make checks out to “KSU Foundation,” noting on memo: #36441 Ekechi Scholarship, and Mail to: KSU Foundation c/o Gifts Processing PO Box 5190 Kent, OH 44242.
Services in care of Bissler and Sons Funeral Home and Crematory.