Wellsville, NY - Elizabeth Embser Wattenberg, a social worker and health care organizer, who was the director of the Allegany County Office for the Aging and the founder of Rural Health Resources, a consultancy for regional medical networks, died on Friday, March 11, at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, following a brief illness. She was 69.
Elizabeth, known as Betty, devoted her career to improving the quality of life for residents of Western New York, largely through her efforts to establish or strengthen elder care, dental and mental health, and emergency services in rural areas. As the president of Rural Health Resources, founded in 1998, she focused on programs for volunteer personnel of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teams. Working with the Southern Tier Health Care System and the New York State Department of Health, Betty traveled across the state to coordinate emergency care, enhance grant initiatives, and develop strategic partnerships in rural health. She retired in 2013.
In the 1980s, Betty became the director of the Office for the Aging, where, together with her dedicated staff, she worked to identify needs and develop resources for aging populations and their families. Building upon many years of social work and advocacy, Betty then left county government to join the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, where she was a clinical instructor and coordinator of the Community Oriented Primary Care project based at Cuba Memorial Hospital. Betty was also an enthusiastic and outspoken member of the Boards of Wellsville Central School and Jones Memorial Hospital.
During her tenure at the Department of Social Services of Allegany County, in the 1970s, Betty was an aging services specialist. She developed programs such as a training course at BOCES designed to teach students how to care for homebound elderly, which provided mentorship and career opportunities in the healthcare field. She also worked with her good friend and colleague, Dorothy Thomas, on several nonprofit projects—they were known locally as the “Dynamic Duo”—including the Wellsville Child Care Center and the Community Express, Allegany Country’s first public transportation service, which ran for eighteen years. In all of her work, Betty wanted to make things a little better, healthier, and easier for everyone.
Elizabeth Jane Embser was born on February 6, 1947, to Richard and Louise Embser of Wellsville. An editor of the school newspaper and member of the speech team, she graduated from Wellsville High School in 1966. Betty studied at Trocaire College, in Buffalo, where she was Student Government president. She later earned a BA at SUNY College at Buffalo, a Masters in Community Service Administration from Alfred University, and a certificate in Health Care Development from Cornell University.
A gracious host and a lively presence at any party, Betty had a deep curiosity about the world. In 1971, she lived for several months in Paris with her sister, Linda, intending to travel in Europe and volunteer at the 1972 Munich Olympics. When she returned home to Wellsville for a brief visit, her father said she had “better get a job.” He sent her to Angelica to work in social services. And that was where her career began.
Betty married Mark H. Wattenberg in 1982 at the United Nations Chapel in New York City. In addition to her husband, she is survived by her son, Brendan, of Brooklyn, New York; her sisters, Linda and her husband George Lewis, of Salem, New York; Gail Embser, of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Susan Embser, of Durham, North Carolina; her brother, John and his wife Diana of Wellsville; her godchildren Shannon (Pickup) Leonida, of Raleigh; Michael Lewis of North Attleboro, Massachusetts; and Jenevera Embser, of Rochester; close family friends Vincent and Carole Darden, of Syracuse; and numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews. Betty, who treasured the value of friendship, was also lucky to have shared many life adventures with her high school classmates Kathy Farnsworth, of Ellicott City, Maryland, and Peggy (Cronk) Towers, of North Salem, New York.
Passionate about her work on behalf of the elderly, upon her retirement from the Office for the Aging, in 1992, Betty’s colleagues presented her with a clock, built by Wally Higgins, an Alfred artisan, inscribed, “Aging is for Everyone.” It was a motto Betty lived by.
Friends are invited to visit the family on Tuesday, March 15 from 2:00 to 4:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 pm, and again on Wednesday, March 16 from 10:00 to 10:30 am at the J. W. Embser Sons Funeral Home Inc., 34 W. State Street in Wellsville. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Wednesday at 11:00 am at the Immaculate Conception Church in Wellsville. Burial will be Sacred Heart Cemetery. The family suggests memorial donations be made to Allegany County Area Foundation, 6087 State Route 19N, Belmont, NY 14895. To leave online condolences, please visit www.embserfuneralhome.com.