Beloved math teacher dies

By Gus Bode

Rita Polston lived with an open door policy.

Math Department Chair Andrew Earnest said the math teacher’s door was always open to students, whether it was during her office hours or not.

“My enduring memory will always be of her sitting in her office surrounded by students,” Earnest said. “That’s where she loved to be and what she loved to do.”


Polston, who taught math and science for 24 years, died at the age of 61 Sunday at her home. Her family requested that the cause of death not be made public.

Visitation and memorial services will be held today from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bailey Funeral Home in Vienna.

Polston began working at SIUC in 1986 as an intermediate algebra teacher, and a few years later became the course’s coordinator. Her most recent accomplishment was developing the university’s core curriculum math course, Math 113.

Earnest said she taught the course herself every semester until she felt it was polished enough to pass on to another teacher.

“She was pivotal in university core curriculum teaching,” he said.

Polston also assessed the mathematics core curriculum courses and taught a seminar for secondary education math majors.

She was awarded the Outstanding Term Faculty Teaching Award at SIUC in 2004. That same year, Polston retired after 18 years as a lecturer in the mathematics department.


Even after she retired, Polston taught Math 107 and 113 for the Individualized Learning Program.

“She was our best instructor,” said Susan Edgren, associate director of continuing education. “She was fantastic. It’s a big loss for us.”

Polston continued to tutor until her death.

Edgren said Polston really went above and beyond what was expected, traveling 47 miles to Carbondale to tutor students free of charge.

Administrative Aid of Continuing Education Gayla Stoner was one of Polston’s tutees last year.

She said Polston met with her weekly and helped her conquer her fear of math.

“She was here for me when I could meet with her and I’ve seen her do that for a lot of students,” Stoner said.

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