Alumnus Jonathan Adewumi ‘86 dies from COVID-19: “He was bigger than life”

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Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief

When news broke about Jonathan Adewumi’s passing due to complications of COVID-19 on April 17, hundreds poured support and shared memories on social media about the Nigerian-American restaurateur, entrepreneur, African culture advocate and community leader.

This was a sign of how many people’s lives Adewumi had an impact on.

From Nigeria to Brooklyn, Utica and beyond, Adewumi’s vision was to connect people and strengthen and uplift his community, said Robert Gregg, a UC alumnus who was a friend of the family and Adewumi’s fraternity brother.

“He was a larger than life figure, very regal, very kind, very approachable and very knowledgeable across a broad range of topics,” said Gregg, remembering Adewumi’s big broad smile and infectious laugh. “He was just someone who you could go to for anything.”

Born in England, Adewumi spent some of his childhood in Nigeria until the family moved to the United States. In New York City, Adewumi helped bring African culture to the city. He co-owned the successful Amarachi restaurant in downtown Brooklyn, a place of reunion for many in the community, but his endeavors did not stop there. He and two siblings created the clothing business Nigerian Fabrics and Fashions, which gained Stevie Wonder and Queen Elizabeth’s interest. Adewumi was also behind New York City’s Nigerian Film Festival and was in charge of a travel business. Before his passing, he was planning a trip to Liberia because one of Adewumi’s aspirations, and he had many, was to reconnect people with Africa.

At Utica College, Adewumi studied computer science and minored in business administration. During his time on campus, he stood out as a clear leader, becoming president of the Black Student Union and joining the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

Adewumi’s connection to the Utica College Alumni Council brought him to campus last semester during Homecoming, when he attended BSU’s 50th anniversary banquet.

Now, UC and other alumni want to keep Adewumi’s memory alive by continuing to make connections and organize events, because that’s what he would have wanted, said Mark Kovacs, executive director of alumni and parent relations.d

Part of the reason why people could not believe Adewumi’s passing, Kovacs said, was because “how strong” he appeared to be and how infectious his personality was.

“When he passed because of the virus, I think it hit home for people to think how real this is,” he said.

Another alumnus who remembers Adewumi well is Dwayne Beasock, his fraternity brother.

“Jonathan was a magnet for people, it’s not an exaggeration,” said Beasock, who referred to Adewumi as ‘King Jon.’ “Jon led by example. Whether it was by introducing others to the Nigerian film festival or giving young people a successful blueprint or even teaching us about his Nigerian culture and fashion, Jon did it all.”

Denise Leary ‘89 met Adewumi through Greek life. She said she remembers the BSU as a strong organization on campus with Adewumi organizing fundraisers and trips for the members to discover Africa. 

“It is a specific loss that I would say can’t be replaced. I just remember he was bigger than life,” Leary said. “My takeaway is to always show love and make people feel good about themselves and always uplift someone.”

Maria Araujo ‘99 was so convinced that Adewumi had recovered that she thought the hospital had made a mistake.

“He was a visionary, but he never forced you to see his vision,” Araujo said. He was a connector and a helper. Even after he passed, he continues to connect me with people.”

Adewumi’s long-time friend Sonia Daly ‘91 could not believe he was gone. In fact, she thought Adewumi was gone from the hospital.

Daly, who has recently recovered from COVID-19, said her favorite memory with Adewumi was the first time they met when he visited campus to see his fraternity brothers pledging.

“We found a corner in school and we talked about our families, our upbringings,” Daly said. “I want people to always remember that he was the guy that you could count on in your life who would remind you of your greatness,” Daly said.

Sam Adewumi never expected that he would never see his brother Jonathan again after he dropped him off at the hospital in early April after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened. 

In fact, the news of Jonathan Adewumi’s passing caught everybody off guard as they thought he was showing signs of recovery. 

“We thought he was coming home,” said Sam Adewumi, who was heartbroken.

He said the family could not see Jonathan in the hospital when he became intubated and not being able to visit him is “horrible.” 

Sam Adewumi also said his brother had tried to get tested five different times, but his requests were denied because he wasn’t sick enough. 

With that, Sam Adewumi said, in this time, the message of togetherness that his brother Jonathan tried to instill in the community when he was alive is more necessary than ever.

“People talk about how much they shared with him,” Sam Adewumi said. “We need to support each other, help each other. It’s not about how much you have, it’s about what you do for people. It’s the impact that you have.”

Jonathan Adewumi leaves behind his son, siblings, family and scores of friends across the globe who are mourning his loss.


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