Idowu Ogundipe arrived at JFK on a flight from Nigeria to begin a new life in the United States at 6 a.m. on September 11, 2001.
His wife met him at the airport, and by the time they got to their apartment and turned on the TV, the second plane was flying into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
It was a sobering start, to say the least, but over the next 16 years of study and striving, Idowu rose from security guard to business manager of the Shelter Island School.
Idowu is Yoruba, one of the major ethnic groups of Africa, and was born in Ilawe-Ekiti in southwest Nigeria. People from this part of Nigeria, Idowu explained, give their children names that describe the child’s relation to the rest of the family, or are a hopeful prediction of the child’s future.
Idowu’s name is one given to a child born into a family that already has twins, in this case his sisters Taye (which means “First Twin”) and Kehinde (“Second Twin”) who still live in Nigeria. His younger sister, Modupe (“I Give Thanks”) lives in Hempstead with his mother, Victoria.
The only son in the family, Idowu was very close to his father as a child, and was only six years old when his father became sick and died. Afraid his father’s death would be too much for a child to bear, Idowu’s adult relatives told him his father had traveled, but he eventually figured out that they were hiding the truth.
Idowu’s family could not stay together without a father to support them. “There was no department of social services,” said Idowu. “If you lost your family, then relatives, or even sympathetic neighbors or friends, would raise you.”
Idowu went to live with an aunt who worked as a nurse and had six children of her own. His twin sisters went to live in different parts of the country, and only his youngest sister stayed with their mother.
Although Idowu spoke Yoruba at home, English was the language of school, and he was proficient from an early age. His first thought was to become a banker, and although he was admitted to college, he could not afford to go.
He found a job as an office assistant doing clerical work for an accountant named Omole, who told him that finance was a narrow field, and that accounting might be more versatile. “I considered that great advice,” Idowu said. His accounting studies started with the Institute of Chartered Accountants and continued at Ondo State Polytechnic. He was a hardworking student and moved quickly from clerical work to become a chartered accountant, the equivalent of a CPA.
When Idowu was 23, he met his wife Omobola (“This Child Met Wealth”) through friends and family. Born in Brooklyn, and raised in Nigeria, she was a 19-year-old accounting student when they met. They married in Nigeria, and she moved to America where Idowu joined her on Sept. 11, 2001.
Although he had worked for seven years in Nigeria as an accountant, Idowu’s first job in the States was as a security guard, where for over a year he worked long hours in tense conditions. “I knew I was better than what I was doing,” he said.
He also worked part time at H&R Block, using his accounting skills to supplement his family’s income.
Omobola was in labor with their first child, when a nurse at the hospital heard that she had sent him home to rest so he wouldn’t miss his guard shift. When he came the next day, the nurse instructed Idowu to go to a bulletin board in the hospital advertising an opening for an office job that required taking a civil service test.
“I took it,” he said, “and was on top of the list and started work at the hospital.”
Idowu went to work for the Roosevelt School District in 2004, and continued to further his career and education, taking another civil service test for field auditor, which got him a job in the county comptroller’s office auditing county agencies. He rose to become field audit supervisor in 2009. He also completed a master’s degree in accounting at Long Island University while working full time.
Omobola works as an accountant at the Nassau County Correctional Center, and the couple has two daughters, Renikeji (“I Have a Friend”), 15 , and Kesioluwa (“Just Call on God”), 13, and a son, Temitope, (“My Life Is Worthy of Thanksgiving”), 7.
In August 2015 Idowu took his children to Africa. “They didn’t like it out there,” he said. “But now they have a better appreciation. They didn’t grow up there like me.”
In 2012, Idowu became accountant for the Uniondale School District and four years later he completed the coursework and the New York State exam that qualified him to be a business leader.
He began looking for a job with the increased responsibility for which he was qualified and found it with the Shelter Island School District.
Idowu said he mapped the route to Shelter Island from his home in Uniondale when he got the call to come for an interview, and saw a line that stopped at the tip of Long Island next to the words, “ferry required.” “When I drove to the edge of the sea, I didn’t even know where to go with the car,” he said. “The man on the ferry had to show me what to do.”
Idowu thought the Island was beautiful. When he was invited for a second interview, he started taking the opportunity seriously. Finally, he was offered the position and told his joyful children that his new job was located “One mile away from heaven.”
He’s excited by the challenge of working with the faculty, administration and the Board of Education to manage the school’s financial business, and wants to be central to the school’s success. “As a school business leader, you coordinate the views of all the stakeholders,” he said. “What you are doing, everyone should know about.”
Idowu’s life has been an extraordinary journey, and he says his faith in God, as well as faith in himself, have helped. “I believe I can be the best,” he added. “I commit to what it takes.”
What do you always have with you? I keep the man up there with me, always in my heart, all the time.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? The ferry. I like the view.
Last time you were elated? When I got this job.
Last time you were afraid? Before I got the offer, I was a little bit nervous. This is where I want to be for at least the next few years.
Favorite movie or book? Coming to America
Favorite food? Obe Eja Tutu, a fish stew with rice and black-eyed peas that my wife makes.
Most respected elected official? Obama. I am inspired by his story. His father left him to struggle through life and he didn’t drop the ball