Ms. Polashek: A Lifetime of Music


Mary Greenfield

Ms. Polashek conducting the Ames High Orchestra in the fall of 2021.

*Interview sections are from Ms. Polashek’s retirement article, June 2022

On November 21, 2022, former orchestra teacher Ms. Polashek died in her sleep two years after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS. She is survived by her husband and four children. 

It’s safe to say that the Ames High orchestra program as we know it wouldn’t exist without Ms. Polashek. She made it her mission to build the program into what it is today. When she first arrived, Ames High’s orchestra was a tiny department with only 9 students. Ms. Polashek argued that in order to have a strong high school orchestra, the district needed orchestra programs in the lower grades. She also pushed for orchestra lessons to be added to students’ schedules. The orchestra grew in size under her leadership, going from very few kids to over one hundred. 

Ms. Polashek wanted her students to view themselves not as students in orchestra, but as musicians and performers. She had high expectations for her students and conducted orchestra rehearsals in a very professional manner. When you sat down in her orchestra room, you were treated like a player in a top symphony orchestra, not a high school group. 

“She didn’t see music as just something to add to your high school education, but something to enrich you as a person,” explained Social Studies teacher Kirsten Sullivan. 

Ms. Polashek conducting the Ames High orchestra in the fall of 2021. (Mary Greenfield )

Most of all, Ms. Polashek is remembered for her commitment to the Ames High community, and her desire to help both students and staff. In interviews for her retirement article last year, fellow staff members spoke about her character.

“She had been diagnosed with ALS, and ALS is terminal. ALS has no cure,” Ms. Sullivan recalled, “but she chose to sign her contract and come back to teaching. She could have retired a long time ago, but she chose not to.” 

When Ms. Polashek spoke to you, she made sure you knew she cared. “When she would stop and talk to you, she had a stance. She had a look,” Spanish teacher Jane Jurgensen said. “The way she talked to you made you feel that she was really listening. And she was. She was really listening and she really did care.” 

Even after she stopped teaching in January 2022, she was still present in the orchestra and Ames High community. Ms. Jurgensen talked about the process of packing up rooms at the end of the 2021-2022 school year before the transfer into the new school building. 

“She was in the email chain, even when she was no longer at school, asking ‘Who is packing up the orchestra room?’ For goodness sake, lady! You don’t need to be worrying about that!” 

“To me, this is her legacy,” Ms. Jurgensen said, “She never stopped caring. She had that perseverance and dedication that so few people have.”