HOPEWELL — In the spring of 1974, Beth (Mattoon) Webster was nearing graduation from Midlakes High School and planning to study theater at SUNY Geneseo. Her dream? An acting career.
A meeting with her guidance counselor changed her mind, altering her career path that is still going strong after more than four decades.
“My guidance counselor said I’d never make any money (at acting), so you had better figure out something else,” Webster said with a laugh at the Ontario County Public Health office. “My best friend was going to the Marion S. Whelan School of Nursing. She said, ‘Come on along,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ ”
On June 9, Webster celebrated her 39th anniversary as a public health nurse with the county. She said she likely will retire next year after marking her 40th year.
Webster, who lives in the Phelps home where she grew up, comes from one of the town’s most renowned families. Her grandfather, Joseph Mattoon, and father, Bill Mattoon, were town supervisors.
At the Whelan school, a 12-month program to become a licensed practical nurse, Webster was named class president.
“The school was different back then. If you were not married, you had to stay at the dorm (on the Geneva General Hospital campus),” she said. “The doors were locked at midnight, and you had a curfew. Ms. Whelan was a retired nun, so we sort of lived in a convent.
“I learned a lot of professionalism there,” she continued. “We were 18-year-old high school graduates ... you were taught respect, how to be a good bedside nurse. We had excellent teachers, excellent mentors, and Ms. Whelan taught me a lot. I’d sit in the back of the class with my best friend ... all of a sudden we had a hand on our back, and it would be Ms. Whelan coming to get us for something. She was a lovely lady.”
Years later, Whelan was one of Webster’s patients while Webster worked as a home-care nurse for the county.
“It was the scariest thing in my whole life,” she said. “I knew I had to make the bed just right.”
Webster graduated from the Whelan school in 1975 and was hired at Geneva General Hospital, where she worked the night shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., for about a year.
“This was the day when nurses could not hang IVs. We couldn’t give medications,” she said. “We certainly took care of the patients, but we couldn’t do any of that stuff. Times have changed a lot since then.”
Webster went to what is now Finger Lakes Community College and earned an associate degree in 1978, becoming a registered nurse. With a friend, she moved to Richmond, Va., and worked on the gynecology surgical floor at a hospital. About two years later, when her grandmother had some health issues, Webster returned home.
Her father, then on the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, suggested applying for a nursing job with the county. Webster interviewed with Martha Allen, then director of the county public health department, and was hired June 9, 1980, as a home-care nurse for people who had recently been released from a hospital.
“I remember sitting in his truck, and he said the county had a great pension plan,” Webster remembered. “I said, ‘I’m 23 years old. What do I care about a pension plan?’ Now that I am almost 63, I’m glad I listened to my father. Always listen to your father, because he has the best advice.”
Webster was a home-care nurse for 21 years before moving to the public health department’s Children With Special Healthcare Needs program. The early intervention program helps families with developmentally disabled children find area resources.
“It’s a wonderful program that I didn’t know much about when I was working in home care,” she said. “I have seen amazing results with children ... many, many years ago, we were told just make them happy and comfortable. Now, they are productive, wonderful members of our society.”
Liz Hoven, the program’s director, has worked with Webster in the public health office for 37 years.
“She has a fantastic personality and a great sense of humor,” Hoven said. “She is a dedicated Ontario County employee and really takes that to heart. She is very practical (and) has a good connection with the children and their families.”
Webster’s personal life also is connected to her career.
In 1985, one of her patients was Linda Webster, a woman with terminal cancer.
“Linda wanted me to meet her husband, Dan, who worked for Hemdale Farms. It was no big deal,” she said. “Linda died a few weeks after I first met her, and a couple of months after that Dan called and wanted to thank me for taking care of Linda so well. He wanted to take me to dinner.
“Long story short. We got married two years later ... and have been married 32 years.”
Webster, who became a mother to three of Dan’s children, later became a grandmother and is now a great-grandmother. Two members of her family are nurse practitioners.
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “Everything kind of fell into place.”
While Webster has another year to go on the job, she doesn’t plan on coasting into retirement.
“I certainly didn’t know I’d be doing this for so long, but this job is different every day. Every family is different, every child is different,” she said. “We have a wonderful county and a wonderful population. We just go out and try to help them.
“I still love the job, and that’s when you should leave ... before you get tired of it. I’ve never had a day when I thought I didn’t want to go to work.”