ANDOVER — As the community prepares to say farewell to Colleen Ritzer, her family is ensuring the 24-year-old Danvers High School math teacher’s legacy and passion for teaching lives on.
They have established the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship in memory of their “beautiful daughter and sister.”
The scholarship will be awarded to students who will be pursuing a degree in education “so they can continue her legacy of making a difference in a student’s life.”
Ritzer’s sister, Laura, a senior at Andover High School, posted the details of the scholarship to the “Remembering Colleen Ritzer” Facebook page yesterday.
“It would mean the world to my family to raise money to support future teachers that will make a difference in the world,” Laura Ritzer wrote.
Then she had this message for her big sister:
“You left behind an amazing legacy Colleen, and we want more people to be an inspiration as big as you. “
Colleen Ritzer will be laid to rest Monday following a funeral Mass at her family’s spiritual home, St. Augustine Church on Essex Street in Andover. Her burial will follow in Spring Grove Cemetery, where her grandfather, Paul Martellucci Sr., was buried last year.
To accommodate the outpouring of those wishing to pay their final respects, Sunday’s calling hours will also be held at St. Augustine Church from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. The 5:30 p.m. Sunday Mass at St. Augustine has been canceled to accommodate the visiting hours.
Fr. Peter Gori said while it’s rare that a Mass schedule would be altered to allow for a wake, his parish has sought to accommodate the Ritzer family, who have been long-standing parishioners of St. Augustine for generations.
”We’re trying to make things as gracious and gentle for the family,” he said, adding that parishioners who typically attend the 5:30 p.m. Mass are encouraged to attend an earlier Mass at St. Augustine or another in the area.
Remembrances and memorials to Ritzer continued yesterday from within town and beyond.
At Assumption College in Worcester, where Ritzer earned her undergraduate degree in 2011, a memorial service was held in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The service included Scripture readings, recorded instrumental and vocal music from Assumption’s Chapel Choir, and a reflection by Fr. Dennis Gallagher, Assumption’s vice president for mission. Those present were allowed to come forward to light a candle in Ritzer’s memory.
One of Ritzer’s college classmates and fellow math majors at Assumption, Katelyn Mahoney, is launching a fundraiser selling hot pink wristbands, similar to the yellow LiveStrong wristbands, with the words “Find good every day” printed on them. The saying was one of Ritzer’s mottos in life. Proceeds from wristband sales will benefit the scholarship fund.
“As a high school math teacher myself, I have had a very difficult time accepting this tragedy,” Mahoney posted on Facebook. “It is important for Colleen’s legacy to live on.”
At Andover High School, grief counselors were made available in the aftermath of Ritzer’s tragic death on Tuesday, when one of her 14-year-old math students at Danvers High School stands accused of murdering the beloved teacher in a school bathroom and disposing of her body in the adjacent woods.
Andover Superintendent of Schools Marinel McGrath said a moment of remembrance was observed Thursday morning in honor of the 2007 Andover High graduate. On Wednesday, the field hockey team’s game against North Andover was postponed so the players could attend a candlelight vigil at Danvers High School.
McGrath said the Andover High faculty held a meeting Tuesday after school, which she said was “standard protocol when there is a matter that needs to be discussed.
“It is a time when the faculty and staff can reflect upon how the students and faculty are doing when there is difficult news to process,” McGrath said.
She added, “We have made our counseling staff available to students and staff who have needed assistance in dealing with this tragedy. We will continue to make counseling staff available to those who may need assistance.”
Local trauma expert Dr. Jayan Landry, co-founder and CEO of Trauma Intervention Program of the Merrimack Valley Inc., or TIP, which is based on Main Street in Andover, said parents need to talk to their kids honestly about the tragedy.
Many young people, including Ritzer’s students, her former classmates and friends of her two younger siblings are expected to attend Sunday’s visiting hours.
“Children are traumatized,” Landry said. “Parents play a vital role in their child’s successful recovery from a traumatic event like this one.”
Landry offered suggestions to help parents talk with their kids about the news. They included the need to reassure young people that they will be taken care of, loved and cherished just as they were before the traumatic event.
“Make it clear to your child that you are ‘in control,’” she said. “It is very frightening and confusing for a child to sense that parents themselves are disorganized, confused and anxious. If your own response to the event interferes with your ability to care, seek additional assistance.”
While Andover police are anticipating an overwhelming turnout for tomorrow’s calling hours and Monday’s funeral, police will be on hand to direct traffic and crowds. No street closures are expected, and police say there is ample parking around St. Augustine’s as well as at the nearby municipal lot at Memorial Hall Library.
“We know there will be a lot of people obviously going to this particular funeral,” Lt. Edward Guy said.
Donations to the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is being managed by Essex County Community Foundation, may be made online at https://secure.etransfer.com/EssexCCF/ColleenRitzerMemorialFund.cfm. Checks payable to ECCF/Colleen Ritzer Fund may be mailed to Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover St., Danvers, MA 01923.