The Imperial Valley College campus and wider community are mourning the recent passing of El Centro resident and IVC Associate Dean of Nursing and Allied Health, Roberta Webster.
Webster was a lifelong Valley resident whose tenure as an IVC dean, past career as a nurse and college instructor, as well as her community involvement made her a well-known local fixture and standout within the field of nursing education, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She died on Jan. 18 at the age 64, due to complications related to COVID-19, her daughter Cynthia Webster said.
“I don’t know if there was one person who didn’t know who she was by one extension,” Cynthia Webster said. “Everybody knew Roberta.”
Roberta Webster, nee Callahan, was the daughter of a pioneering family that had settled in the Valley at the turn of the 20th century, Cynthia Webster said. Roberta’s father, W.P. Callahan, and his brothers had farmed multiple acres at the family’s homestead near Austin Road and other fields west of El Centro.
“She sure was proud of that,” Cynthia Webster said, referring to her mother’s deep ties to the Valley.
Roberta Webster had decided to pursue a career in nursing after having been enrolled in Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program internships with two local healthcare providers while attending Central Union High School.
Following her graduation from Central Union in 1974, Roberta Webster had enrolled in IVC’s nursing program. She eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in science and nursing education, respectively, from the University of San Diego.
Aside from her academic and professional accomplishments, Webster was highly engaged in the community and established longstanding ties to local entities and organizations.
She was an ever-present “room mom” for daughters Cynthia and Chelsea during their formative years at the McCabe Union Elementary School District. She was also a Mt. Signal 4-H leader, who shared her love of sewing, arts, and crafts with the club’s young participants. And she was an avid parishioner of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in El Centro, Cynthia Webster said.
Since 2018, Roberta Webster had served as associate dean of the Nursing and Allied Health Department at IVC, initially on an interim basis and then permanently in 2019.
She was considered a “nursing hero” whose contributions to the campus and Valley community amid the pandemic will not be soon forgotten, said Martha Garcia, IVC president and superintendent.
“Roberta helped train and prepare many nurses and allied health professionals,” Garcia said in a written statement. “She was compassionate, caring and devoted to her profession of selfless service.”
“The college expresses tremendous admiration and gratitude to her and her family. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, loved ones and friends.”
Daniel Ortiz Jr., an IVC Nursing and Allied Health Department associate professor and simulations coordinator, said he is grateful to count himself as one of Webster’s many close friends and colleagues.
Webster’s passing stirred up in Ortiz a “whirlwind of emotions,” which he said included pride at having known and worked alongside her.
Aside from being a well-respected educator and well-liked administrator, Ortiz said he will remember Webster above all else as a loving mother to her two daughters. That same compassion was often expressed toward her students, said Ortiz, a former nursing student of Webster’s, too.
“She was always very welcoming, and warm and student-focused,” Ortiz said. “It’s going to be a tremendous loss for our team.”
Webster was instrumental in helping IVC’s nursing program remain operational amid the pandemic, when other regional nursing programs were shuttering, Ortiz said.
With the campus administration’s assistance, Webster was able to petition the California Board of Registered Nursing to allow the campus’ nursing laboratory simulations to continue.
“Roberta really answered the call for our region and for our patients,” Ortiz said. “In the absence of that we would’ve shut down and not been able to graduate the most recent cohort of students.”
Webster began her teaching career at IVC in 1986 and became lead instructor for the psychiatric technician program, which was funded through the nonprofit Service, Employment and Redevelopment Jobs for Progress program, IVC reported.
In 1990, Webster transitioned to teach maternal/child nursing and gerontological nursing, while assisting in the revision and rewriting of the nursing curriculum under the direction of the director of nursing at that time, IVC said in a written statement.
Gregorio Ponce, dean of San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, said he first came to know Webster about 30 years ago when she was a Lamaze instructor for his wife and himself. They reconnected years later when she joined IVC, where he had formerly taught as well.
More recently, Webster, Ponce and his wife would often encounter one another in public when out for morning walks. Ponce said he will greatly miss those talks, seeing Webster’s smile, and feeling her positive energy.
“Roberta’s kindness and dedication to the people she helped always stood out as a key quality,” Ponce said in an email on Jan. 21. “Her heartfelt approach to all she did was always appreciated and valued.”
In the late 1990s, Webster left IVC to work at El Centro Regional Medical Center to manage and coordinate a grant-funded inpatient and outpatient breastfeeding education program, which was funded by the Imperial County Children’s and Families First Commission, IVC said in a written statement.
In 2011, she returned to IVC to teach as a part-time nursing instructor and was hired on a full-time basis a year later. Webster taught in both the licensed vocational and registered nursing programs and served as assistant director of nursing, the campus stated.
Besides teaching, Webster also worked on both the RN and LVN self-studies for continued accreditation for nursing governing boards. At the undergraduate level, she taught nursing for California State University, Dominguez Hills, and National University, both offered at the IVC campus, IVC reported.
Helina Hoyt, SDSU-IV nursing program coordinator, said she came to know Webster about 15 years ago. At the time, Webster had expressed an interest in doing more to teach local students the nursing profession.
Hoyt said she credits Webster with helping to boost the number of nursing students at IVC and create more educational opportunities for the students.
“She always wanted to grow our own,” she said.
Together, Webster and Hoyt collaborated with their respective campus’ administrations to establish academic pathways that made it easier for IVC nursing students to simultaneously enroll in both campuses with the aim of transferring to SDSU-IV’s undergraduate nursing program.
“We were able to work together to help optimize a program called cross enrollment,” Hoyt said, noting that most of the Calexico campus’ nursing students hail from IVC.
During the pandemic, Webster also had worked with local hospitals to ensure that IVC nursing students were able to complete the requisite hours of clinical trials so they could graduate, Hoyt said.
“She worked tirelessly to the end to keep students in a clinical setting,” Hoyt said. “It’s even more important that we have an academic pathway so students can get that education to help nurses so that they can battle COVID.”
Services for Webster are scheduled for next month. A Rosary prayer service will be hosted at noon Feb. 9 on Facebook live, said daughter Cynthia Webster. To view the service on Facebook, go to https://fb.me/e/g0x3OS3Hc, or search for “Rosary for Roberta Callahan Webster.”
A viewing will be hosted from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at Frye Chapel and Mortuary in Brawley.
A funeral Mass for Webster will be held and livestreamed on Facebook at 8 a.m. Feb. 10, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in El Centro. The view the service on Facebook, go to https://fb.me/e/1XHBGTCXe, or search for “Funeral Mass Honoring Roberta Webster.”