CRYSTAL LAKE – Samuel Oginni came to the United States with $25 in his pocket and the American dream in his sights.
After leaving Nigeria in 1975, Oginni worked tenaciously to provide for his family, and in doing so, he became one of Crystal Lake's most well-respected and successful businessmen. Oginni owned Crystal Lake Pontiac GMC for 16 years before selling the dealership in 2011 because of health problems and a tanking economy.
On Saturday, Oginni died at Centegra Hospital-Woodstock. He was 59 years old.
After arriving in America, Oginni put himself through school at Bemidji State University in Minn. He then went to Morehead State to get his master's degree in business.
Oginni met his wife, Sally MacArthur, by challenging her to a tennis match in Brainerd, Minn. She won, and the two were married in 1982.
Oginni and his family moved to Crystal Lake in 1995, and he became owner of Crystal Lake Pontiac GMC. General Motors sought Oginni out through a minority dealership program and lent him some money to start the business.
Oginni was so successful that he paid the loan back in two years.
From there, the accolades began flowing in for Oginni. He was the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Member of the Year in 2006. He was listed on Black Enterprise Magazine’s top 100 auto dealers in 2007. And he was a member of the board of directors at the General Motors Minority Dealers Association for about a decade.
“He loved owning a dealership. He loved everything about the dealership,” said Dina Kasper, who worked closely with Oginni as the dealership's office manager since 2004. “He had an amazing work ethic. Nothing ever stopped him.”
If there was one thing Oginni valued more than his business, it was his family, Kasper said.
“He loved his family,” she said. “He bought his wife flowers every Sunday from Jewel.”
Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said Oginni was a leader in the community whose positive attitude left a lasting impact on the city.
"I would have to say that he was one of the most positive people that I think I've ever encountered," Shepley said. "It's hard not to be impacted by someone who has an attitude like that."
Shepley said he attended a Rotary Club meeting with Oginni--which Oginni attended regularly--and said at the end of the meeting members would go around the room and put a dollar in a basket for something they were happy for. Oginni would put in two or three at a time.
"We was grateful, very happy, and very positive no matter what the circumstances," Shepley said.
The recession hit Oginni's dealership hard in 2008. His business was in doubt when GM decided to eliminate Pontiac from its future plans, but the company, still believing in Oginni, granted him a Buick franchise.
But during tight financial times, people's wallets stayed closed and cars remained on the lot.
Crystal Lake Chamber President Gary Reece remembered chatting with Oginni in 2009 when the business was in serious financial trouble.
“His business was being put through the wringer,” Reece said. “The auto companies were taking a beating. But Sam always had a smile. He was a man of deep faith.
“I can't even begin to tell you what that man was going through with his business.”
At the same time, Oginni was going through a different, more serious type of trouble.
In 2010, Oginni was diagnosed with emphysema. He had a double-lung transplant in 2011.
His health problems and the difficult economy were too much for Oginni, and he sold his dealership in August 2011.
The dealership, now called Courtesy Buick GMC, retained many of the employees who worked for Oginni. Kasper said the office won't be the same without Oginni stopping by.
“The girls at Courtesy Buick will really miss him,” she said.