Bearing Witness: Farmer cultivated fruitful life before dying due to COVID-19

Alberto Ybarra, a La Blanca farmer and family man, died Aug. 15, 2020, at McAllen Medical Center, when he succumbed to COVID-19. He was 49 and leaves behind his wife Lilliana, 18-year-old son Angel, 17-year-old son Abram, and 14-year-old daughter Andrea. He is also survived by his parents Rosa and Abel Ybarra, who are 89 and 87, respectively, and six brothers and sisters.

Lilliana bore closest witness to her husband of almost 25 years.

“Albert came from a farming family,” she said. “He knew how to operate all the equipment: tractors, planters, plows, cotton pickers, combines. All the equipment to harvest, he knew how to work it. He learned it from his family, and he passed it down to my children and me. When he died, we just continued to do what he taught us.”

Albert grew up in the fields, and along with his sisters and brothers learned just about every facet of farming.

“Everybody was involved,” Lilliana said. “When he planted calabazas, for example, he did it with his father and his siblings. They harvested together, and then his mother sold the calabazas from her home. That’s how he grew up.”

The family and the farm became Albert’s greatest teachers.

After he graduated from Edinburg High School in 1989, Albert continued to farm and eventually became an agriculture specialist at the University of Texas Pan-American, now UTRGV. Through that position Albert took part in training at least one generation of new farmers in the Rio Grande Valley. After more than 20 years at UTPA and then UT Rio Grande Valley, he leaves an enduring legacy in his role as mentor and friend to farmers, and many others.

Juan Raygoza, a UTRGV director of special programs who helps beginning farmers, also bore witness to Albert’s life. Juan tells that Albert was a great mentor.

“I called Albert almost daily, because he knew more about farm equipment than anyone,” Juan said. “His knowledge on farm equipment was vast, and he mentored me and many others while maintaining great humility.”

Juan describes the challenges Albert experienced with COVID-19 and describes a sense of immediate loss.

“Albert was just gifted as a farmer,” Juan said. “I miss his wisdom, and his guidance, but I mostly miss him as a friend. He was so giving.”

Juan describes Albert as a bridge person, the kind who bridged 20th century agricultural knowledge with an understanding of more modern-day farming practices. Lilliana describes him as a man who was always there for his family.

“We did everything together,” she said. “He was always there for me, for his children, and for everyone in his family.”

“When Hurricane Hanna hit in July,” Lilliana said. “Albert got really busy securing the fences to protect the cows, goats, chickens and other things on the farm. And the day after the hurricane, he got sick with the virus, and he didn’t recover.”

Like many others during the pandemic of 2020, Albert leaves us too prematurely. But Lilliana and her family can find solace in having been part of the life of a decent, generous and committed family man.

Que en paz descanse Alberto Ybarra. Rest in peace.


Francisco Guajardo, chief executive officer for the Museum of South Texas History at 200 N. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg, authored this story as part of an ongoing series entitled Bearing Witness. The museum’s effort aims to document some of the Rio Grande Valley lives lost to COVID-19. For more information about the museum, visit