Roberta "Bobbi" Widlits
Class of 1974
By Carl Feather
It took Roberta Widlits and Jean Burton three decades, but they've finally realized their teen-age ambitions of serving in the armed forces.
Widlits and Burton were ceremoniously commissioned as first lieutanants April 19 at ACMC where they work as nurses. They joined the Individual Mobilized Augmentee Program of the Army's Nurse Corps Reserves at the age of 49.
Burton says while 46 is the usual cut-off age for entering the program, exceptions were made because of the demand for nurses and their qualifications. It took a year to move through the process of application, waiver and acceptance.
There is a minimum of a three-year commitment, but each woman fully anticipates staying in much longer.
"I'm going to do it for 20 (years)," say's Burton,a North Kingsville resident," The retirement age now is 62, but they will allowfor an extension."
Enlisting at an age when most woman are thinking about joining the red hat society and taking up quilting illistrates the"can do" attitude that has driven these woman throughout their lives. Widlits is a 1974 graduate of Geneva High School. She and her husband of 28 years, Bill, have two children: Kristen, married to a deputy sheriff, is expecting their fist grandchild in September; Josh is in the Air Force.
Widlits has degrees in both education and nursing and is working on her master's in nursing. She works as a physical education teacher at Happpy Hearts School and has been a nurse at ACMC since 1988.
She works eight hours a week as a nurse during the school year; she takes on more shifts during summer brake.
Widlit's recently completed her Critical Care Nursing training.
"I've never put anybody in the Army who had these credentials." said capt. Mark J. Seufer, an Army Health Care Counselor and the officer who recruited Widlits and Burton.
Widlits and her husband have owned several businesess, including the Short-Stop Drive Thru, Chestnut Homes Construction, Chestnut Ridge Developement and Uniforms and More. Their most recent endeavor is Wings resturant and Tavern.
Burton, a Michigan native, worked in radio station management before following her lifelong interest in nursing and entering the associates degree programat Kent State in the early 1990s, She recieved her degree in 1997 and started studying for her bachelor's the next week. She graduated cum laude in December 2001.
Her husband, James, is a mortician and owner of the Burton Funeral Home in Ashtabula Harbor. The couple have an adopted son, James Allen, 2 1/2 years old, and are foster parents to two other boys, ages 18 months and 3 months. Jean works full time at ACMC, three 12-hour weekend shifts, so she can be at home with her children during the week. A support network of a step-daughter, two grandchildren and neighbors and friends helps her juggle the many responsibilities she has between being mother, nurse and wife of a business owner.
Nevertheless, both Burton and Widlits were willing to add yet another layer of responsibility to their hectic lives.
"I think I'm the busiest, almost the busiest, woman I know," say's Burton. "But if you slow down, maybe you'll get rusty."
A sense of patriotism and desire to do something for the injured soldiers in the War on Terror drives their decisions. Both have family members in the armed forces and they say that if one of them were injured, they'd want them to receive the very best in care.
"I feel I'm a good nurse and I, as I watch the new's and see all these young kids with severe injuries, knowing what my nursing skills skills are, it seems like a very good place to serve," say's Widlits.
"We all know that nurses are needed everywhere, the deficit is so great, even in the army," say's Burton. "That's one place we can't afford to have a deficit."
This article was re-printed from the Ashtabula "Star Beacon." April 25, 2006
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