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'She had a big heart' Remembering Roberta Shelton, the first Hoosier to die with COVID-19

Posted at 6:59 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 18:59:20-05

Thousands of Hoosiers have died since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020 and we know — they're more than just numbers. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 and want to share their story reach out to us at

Thousands of Hoosiers have died because of COVID-19 — but on March 16, 2020, Roberta Shelton became the first person in Indiana to lose their life while battling the virus.

Nearly one year later, Shelton's niece felt it was time to talk about the lady many knew as Birdie.

"She had the biggest big heart — if you need her she would have been there," Farrah Gibbens, Shelton's niece, says she and her Aunt Roberta talked every day.

Their toughest call was in March 2020.

Gibbens rushed to Community East Hospital to find Roberta on a ventilator. She was a diabetic who also dealt with occasional bronchitis, so COVID-19 hit her extra hard.

"She squeezed my hand. She tried to look over at me, and I told her we were there for her. Try and stay strong and fight it off. That was the last time I got to see her," Gibbens said.

COVID-19 took her life.

Shelton was the first known COVID-19 death in Indiana.

March 16, 2020, was a painful day.

"It really shocked me," Gibbens said. "You don't know what each day is going to bring. Be thankful for each day sometimes when things get too rough, maybe embrace it, but try to look at the positive instead of the negative in people."

Shelton loved animals, especially her dog "Skeeter" and enjoyed helping people.

You can easily picture Shelton on a cruise. It was among her favorite things to do. But supporting friends and being with family topped her list.

She was also among the first to help raise money for Memorial Park to honor the Delphi girls after they were killed four years ago.

"She just ... how somebody could do something like that to those girls, was just beyond her imagination. She could not understand," Gibbens said.

For now, Shelton's ashes are in an urn, close to family and in their care.

"I wish I still had her today," Gibbens said. 'But I would never have thought in one year that it would have been my aunt."

MORE STORIES | We're honoring the memories of these Hoosiers who died with COVID-19