Students, teachers and others in the Stevenson High School community are mourning the death of Mary Layco, who taught mathematics at the Lincolnshire school for more than 35 years.
Layco, 63, died Thursday, 10 days after falling ill during one of her classes.
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"Mary was our longest-serving teacher, and has aptly been described as the heart and soul of the Mathematics Division," District 125 Superintendent Eric Twadell said in a message to Stevenson families.
"I think it's telling that Mary could have retired years ago, but loved teaching our students so much that she chose to remain with us. Mary Layco was a gift to Stevenson High School, and we are fortunate to have had her with us."
She was well liked by her students and highly respected by her peers and was regularly listed in the school's annual survey of graduating seniors as a faculty member who had a positive impact.
Visitation is from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29, at Glueckert Funeral Home Ltd., 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road, four blocks south of Palatine Road, Arlington Heights. Prayers will be said at 9:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 30, at the funeral home. Mass will be at St. Edna Catholic Church, 2525 N. Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights, at 10 a.m.
Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to Mary K. Layco Reach for the Stars Scholarship Fund, C/O Glueckert Funeral Home.
Members of the Stevenson's Student Services staff will be available for students from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27 in Room 2104.
Layco, who joined the Stevenson faculty in August 1978, was known for an engaging style that enlivened classes. She incorporated songs, including Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools", to help students grasp mathematical concepts.
"As a student in her class, you would find rigor, wisdom, teamwork, ways to think creatively, confidence that you could do it, and, perhaps most importantly you would have fun!" Timothy Kanold, former superintendent and director of mathematics and science at for District 125 wrote Thursday in a blog post.
Kanold titled his post, "The Greatest Teacher I Ever Knew" and described Layco as beloved, joyful, smart, grace-filled and a lover of students and mathematics. He said he taught calculus one year just so he could be on her teaching team.
A star reminding students to aim high was a fixture in her classroom, said Jim Conrey, Stevenson spokesman.
"One word that jumps out immediately when you talk of Mary Layco was class," he said. "She was a class act all the way."
Layco completed her 35th year at Stevenson last spring and was the longest-serving teacher among the current faculty. She spent more than four decades in the classroom.
She began her teaching career in 1972 at St. Barbara High School in Chicago. She spent a year there before moving to Madonna High School for girls, also in Chicago, for four years. She taught at Niles North High School in Skokie for one year before joining Stevenson.
Layco was a two-time recipient of a "Those Who Excel" Award of Merit from the Illinois State Board of Education. In 1995, she was honored in the classroom teacher category, and in 2007, she joined Advanced Placement Calculus colleagues Chris Kelly, Andrew Richardson and Chris Thibaudeau in the team category.
"She was a pro among us amateurs," Kanold wrote. "A natural."