Newton Steve Ekpo, a civic volunteer and pioneering leader in Sacramento's Nigerian community, died Feb. 26 of complications related to esophageal cancer, his family said. He was 60.
Mr. Ekpo was a young track star in Nigeria who emigrated for better opportunities in America. Since settling in a culturally diverse Sacramento region in 1985, he celebrated his native heritage while supporting efforts to strengthen families and communities in Northern California.
He worked as a marriage and family counselor and later was an investigator for Child Protective Services. He raised four children with his wife and was associate family life minister at Parkway Church of Christ. He advised Sacramento city officials as a member of a Meadowview neighborhood advisory panel.
After moving to Elk Grove in 1999, he coached youth soccer teams and volunteered with the Elk Grove High School PTA. He initiated a Northern California conference on fatherhood in Elk Grove in 2009 and led efforts to establish the city's Multicultural Committee.
While immersing himself in a new culture, Mr. Ekpo led efforts to build a vibrant Nigerian community in Northern California. Starting with five families in 1990, he co-founded and served as the first president of the Sacramento Association of Nigerians. Since then, the group has grown to hundreds of members who organize a popular Nigerian independence day celebration each October.
Mr. Ekpo also was president of the Sacramento chapter of African Christian Fellowship. He devoted himself to building bridges to America for other immigrants through faith, family and community.
"He knew how hard it is to move from one continent to another," said his daughter Elizabeth. "He wanted to connect with other Nigerians and build a community one that would not seclude itself, but would assimilate and grow within the Sacramento community."
Born in 1951 and raised in the Nigerian capital of Lagos, Mr. Ekpo was a gifted track athlete who won medals at international contests in Africa.
Married in 1980 to his wife, Lucy, he was recruited by U.S. colleges and accepted a track scholarship from Harding University, a Christian college in Arkansas, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business. He earned a graduate degree in counseling psychology from National University.
Mr. Ekpo received outstanding citizen awards from the Elk Grove and Sacramento city councils. He served on the Elk Grove Multicultural Committee and belonged to Elk Grove Rotary, and he volunteered as a referee and coach at running events.
"He loved people and was always laughing," his daughter said. "He was serious about building communities, but he was always laughing and joking with everyone. Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face."