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Legendary Legacy

Alumna from Kenya started nursing agency; her brother carries on her dream

From The Ichabod - Winter 2020

During her lifetime, Lydia Akumu Oika, bsn ’02, was always a pioneer. In 1998, she moved to Topeka from her home in Nairobi, Kenya, to pursue a degree in nursing at Washburn University. She had never been to the United States – she had only done research at her local library.

After she arrived in Kansas, she regularly sent pictures back home, and three years later, her brother, Richard Ochieng, mba ’03, bsn ’09, joined her at Washburn, along with several other people from their African community.

Richard Ochieng and Lydia Akumu Oika“Everybody else came because she was there,” Ochieng said. “She was looking for a place where cost of living is not that high, and she ended up with Washburn. She was the first in our family to come to America.”

Sadly, Oika passed away in 2018 from brain cancer at the age of 40. She left behind a legacy of hard work and determination – as well as a thriving business she built from the ground up. If anyone knew about her potential for achievement, it was Ochieng, who recalled his sister’s near-legendary dedication to her studies. In 2000, Oika was pregnant with her first child, but she wasn’t willing to let anything stand in the way of her goals.

“She came back to class on Monday after giving birth to the baby over the weekend,” Ochieng said. “Nursing school is that tough, and she did not want to drop out.”

After graduation, she worked at a hospital in Topeka before moving to Bakersfield, California, as a travel nurse – but she quickly recognized she could take on a much larger role in filling hospitals’ staffing needs. In 2005, she founded her own travel nurse agency, Century Health Services.

“In the beginning years, she had to also work as a nurse to supplement and pay her nurses,” Ochieng said. “Her kids would barely see her at home. It was quite a rough start, but she believed in what she was doing, and she knew it was doable, so she did it.”

Over the years, her business opened offices in multiple states and began staffing many of the prisons in California. In 2015, Century was voted the most successful minority and woman owned business by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber.

“To see somebody do something so neat – to be a minority woman and to establish a business – I just say rock on, Lydia,” said Caren Dick, assistant professor, School of Nursing. “She did tremendous work in the School of Nursing, and I knew she would change the lives of whoever she encountered.”

When Oika received her difficult diagnosis in 2017, her brother stepped in to help run the company. He plans to continue Century’s upward trajectory in her absence, largely for the benefit of her two sons, Alvin, 19, and Andre, 15.

“She made it a very profitable business,” Ochieng said. “She was able to do a lot – she had grown it to where we are able to staff hospitals in any state. It would be a shame to just let it go.”

Spring 2020 Alumni Mag

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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