Sylvia Annette Watson, a founding faculty member at Oxnard College who gave up teaching five years ago to become a minister and was known in the community as a mentor to underprivileged youths, has died at the age of 43.
Friends said Watson died of cancer Sunday at a Van Nuys hospital. She was a lifelong resident of Oxnard and was among a handful of instructors who taught at Oxnard College when it opened in 1975.
Watson taught sociology at the then-tiny campus, the smallest of the three colleges in the Ventura County Community College District.
"She was a wonderful teacher because she put her heart and soul into every lesson," said Marta Garza, a friend and colleague of Watson's at Oxnard College. "She was very popular with students."
Despite her love for teaching, Watson left the college district in 1988 to pursue an even more passionate calling, Garza said.
"She was always a very spiritual person," Garza said. "And she decided to become a minister so she could serve her community to her fullest."
As pastor at the True Light Assembly in Oxnard, Watson worked hard to encourage poor and disenfranchised youths to succeed in their endeavors, acquaintances said.
Just last July, Watson and her sister, Emma Waits, an Oxnard College counselor, taught a course at the campus aimed at helping black youths establish a stronger sense of identity and to set goals.
The youths selected for the program were falling behind in their studies or seemed listless about their futures.
"She was a mentor to a lot of people in the community," said Cathy Garnica, an administrative assistant at Oxnard College. "Young professionals, kids on the street. She really connected with them."
Watson is survived by a son, Jerrod, and several relatives who live in Oxnard. A service will be held for her at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Oxnard, under the direction of the James A. Reardon Mortuary in Oxnard.