Sheldon Theodore Rio passed away on January 26, 2014, at the age of 86, in Bozeman, Mont., in the home of his son, Rodger. He was born May 9, 1927, in the Soo Line railroad depot in Raymond, Mont., to Andrew Rio, an immigrant from Norway, and Alice Rio, a German immigrant from Russia. For the rest of his life, he would claim that being born in a train depot explained his strong attraction to trains. He grew up on the Hi-Line with his parents and five siblings in a two-room homestead without plumbing or electricity.
Sheldon attended the two-room school house in Raymond from kindergarten through 8th grade. While there, he was often asked to assist younger students with their studies, starting him on a career in education. He then attended Plentywood High School, and graduated in 1945.
Sheldon entered the United States Army in September, 1945. Being a strong farm boy with a good aim (he often earned movie money shooting gophers for their bounty), he was given his unit's Browning Air Rifle. After basic training he was stationed in war-ravaged Seoul, Korea. When asked about his time in Seoul, he would always comment about how surprised he was, after seeing the destruction, that anyone was still alive.
Sheldon was discharged early from the army to attend college at Westmar College in Iowa. While there, he became captain of the football team and played entire games as both an offensive and defensive lineman. Sheldon graduated in 1950, with a Bachelor of Arts in general science.
The summer after graduating, he took a summer job doing maintenance at a private hospital in Spokane, Wash. It was there that he met Joan Lowney, who was employed there as a nurse. They became engaged and were married on December 30, 1950. They spent the first nine months of their marriage living separately, as Sheldon was teaching high school mathematics and science in Shelby, Mont., and she continued her job in Spokane. Eventually Joan would move to Shelby where their daughter, Marjorie, was born April 28, 1952.
In the autumn of 1952, the family moved to Missoula, Mont., so he could work on his master's degree at Montana State University (which was what the University of Montana was called then.) He graduated in 1954, with a Masters of Arts in mathematics, and took a job teaching mathematics in Newport, Ore. The Rio family spent one year in Newport where their son, Rodger, was born. The next year he took a position teaching mathematics at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.
In 1957, Sheldon left Pacific University to work on his doctorate at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. He received his doctorate in the specialized mathematical field of topology in 1959. He then took a position as an associate professor at Western Washington College in Bellingham, Wash.
After four years of friendly people and unfriendly weather, the Rio family headed to balmier climates in Southern Oregon, where Sheldon became chairman of the newly-formed mathematics department at Southern Oregon College. He would spend the rest of his career helping Southern Oregon college transition from a college to a university.
Sheldon served as chairman of the mathematics department from 1963 through 1972. He was director of the School of Science and Mathematics from 1979 through 1989. He also served as interim dean of academics from 1986 through 1987. Throughout his career, Sheldon was on numerous state, regional and national mathematics councils and held a number of offices. Even with all the time he spent in administrative positions, when asked what he did, he would say without hesitation that he was a teacher. Teaching was always his passion.
Sheldon loved to sail, play tennis and travel. He was also an avid photographer who built a dark room into his house on Taylor Street. In the mid-1960s, he built a 16-foot, Wayfarer-class sailboat from a kit he ordered from the Isle of Wight. With his son, Rodger, he won numerous sailing races including three of the first four Stamm Memorial Races held by the Rogue Yacht Club. He played tennis two to three times a week until his mid-80s. He traveled to numerous countries, including most of Western and Central Europe. He was also a visiting professor, twice in India, and once in Germany. He spent the last years of his life traveling with the last love of his life, Myra Beeler.
Sheldon enjoyed bluegrass music, classical music, opera and theater. He red-coated, for more than four decades at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He helped the Oregon Cabaret Theater with their mail lists and ushering when they first started out. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera. He was active for decades with the Sons of Norway writing the local newsletter for which he won awards.
Sheldon was a doting grandfather and great-grandfather loved by his grandchildren. He was loved by his friends and family for his patience, sense of humor and willingness to always help when asked.
Sheldon was preceded in death by parents, Andrew and Alice Rio; all five of his siblings, Grant, Ellsworth, Beverly, Russell and Kermit; wife, Joan; and daughter, Marjorie. He is survived by son, Rodger; four grandchildren, Sean Rio, Christine Rio, Brooks Reffstrup and Alex Reffstrup; great-grandchild, Gavin Reffstrup; and his companion, Myra Beeler.
A private burial service will be held Friday, May 16, 2014, at the Eagle Point Veterans Cemetery. A reception open to all his friends will be held later that day, at 3:00 p.m., at the Mountain View Estates Community Center, 333 Mountain View Drive, Talent, OR. People wishing to make memorial donations are encouraged to contribute to the Sheldon & Joan Rio Scholarship Endowment at Southern Oregon University, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Rocky Mountain Hospice in Bozeman, Mont., or the Medford Gospel Mission.