Colleen Ritzer dedicated her life to two passions: family and teaching. Her story is one that has inspired many. You are invited to learn more about the amazing impact Colleen had on the lives of so many.
“I hope when I’m older I can be half as nice as Ms. Ritzer.”
-Student of Colleen E. Ritzer.
Some chase a dream all their lives, never realizing their ultimate goal. Others, like Colleen Ritzer, discovered her passions very early in life and made it her mission to pursue that dream.
Colleen possessed an energetic intensity that is rarely seen, but greatly needed in the world.
As early as three, Colleen realized her love for helping others through the caring efforts of her favorite preschool teacher, who would also become her mentor and life-long friend. Watching her pre-school teacher open her students’ minds to the world of learning planted a seed with Colleen that would eventually blossom into a love for teaching. This interest grew throughout elementary and high school, but it was during her senior year at Assumption College in 2011, when Colleen discovered that teaching was not only the career that she would pursue, but also a calling.
The first glimpses of her gifts as an educator were discovered while performing the required student teaching phase of her college education. Colleen was asked to work with high school students who were struggling with math exercises. With ease, she explained complicated concepts in a way that the students could easily understand. Colleen experienced an incredible sense of purpose as she watched the students’ math skills steadily improve. During this time, Colleen’s decision to pursue teaching was reassured through the pride and confidence she demonstrated in and out of the classroom. For the first time, students looked to her, not as a peer, but as a leader – someone to guide them through the often personally and academically challenging period of high school.
Colleen’s transformation from student to teacher would provide her the opportunity to share those unique gifts and make a tremendous difference in the lives of her students.
As a teacher, Colleen exceeded expectations. She quickly realized the impact a teacher could have on the development of a young mind so she strove each day to share with students her passion and energy – to not only make learning fun, but to help students realize their own innate potential. With a keen ability to identify students’ strengths and challenges, Colleen’s reward was witnessing her students’ educational and personal triumphs. She possessed an instinct to determine the appropriate presentation of complex concepts that her students could easily grasp. Colleen was not only gifted as a math teacher, but was also a source of inspiration to others, living by the words, Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Students were greeted each day with Colleen’s beautiful, welcoming smile followed by an inspirational quote or picture of the day at the beginning of each class. Math was not just a required subject for her students in Danvers, but an opportunity to nurture them to be good, responsible and appreciate the goodness in their lives.
Outside the classroom, Colleen was often developing new creative and exciting ways to teach math to students. Much of this creativity could be summarized by one of her twitter posts: “Yay Math!” or her Twitter profile that stated: “Math teacher often too excited about the topics I’m teaching.” Teaching provided Colleen with a means to live a rewarding and fulfilling personal and professional life, which was evident through her passion for this work.
Colleen received tremendous support from other teachers, college professors, friends and family who, in times of doubt or struggle, would provide assurance and remind her of those unique gifts. And those gifts made a real difference in the lives of her students, many of whom didn’t like math until they had Colleen as a teacher. Colleen was not just a teacher to her students, but their mentor.
The difference Colleen made in such a brief period as a teacher was evident by the outpouring of kind and heartfelt testimonials following her passing as hundreds of students participated in vigils and other community events to commemorate and celebrate her life. A life defined by perpetual happiness and a light that can never be extinguished, her passing forged tight bonds throughout the community, in mourning and in celebration of the legacy of Colleen Ritzer.
While Colleen derived strength and personal fulfillment from her teaching career, she cherished spending time with friends, and more often, her close immediate and extended family. Her heart and soul were dedicated to the needs and love of her family. As she recognized the important role a teacher served for her young, impressionable students, Colleen cherished her roles as daughter and big sister.
When her brother Dan was born, Colleen cried; she wanted a little sister, not a brother but she quickly relished the role of big sister. Colleen would welcome a little sister, Laura, several years later. Colleen loved her little brother and sister, sharing a special, close relationship with them, becoming a role model. She always put the needs of others before her own and made family events a priority. Colleen was a constant presence at her sister’s hockey games and loved planning and participating in all holidays and family celebrations, always seeking a reason to have a family party or gathering.
Colleen’s parents, Peggie and Tom are often complimented on how they raised such beautiful and kind children. It was her parents’ love and support that would form Colleen into the person that she became and the love that she shared with so many during her 24 years. In return, Colleen provided to her parents the invaluable gifts of joy and pride, virtues all parents hope their children embrace. With the trust and confidence of her parents, Colleen, would spend many hours after school caring for her younger brother and sister. Those countless hours together would create life-long bonds with their big sister that will remain with Dan and Laura forever and be admired by those around them.
Regardless of the location, Colleen enjoyed spending time with those close to her. Whether it was simply spending time at home, summer vacations on the Cape and Seabrook Beach with cousins, trips to Disney World and visiting family in Florida or traveling to Vermont to spend time with her grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins, Colleen drew strength from her family’s love. And they from her. Colleen was content and found great peace spending time with family, no matter the location.
When her grandmother unexpectedly passed away from heart disease, Colleen, always the optimist trying to find the good in every situation, signed the family up for an American Heart Association Walk and established the family team ‘Footsteps for Bev’ in her grandmother’s memory. Colleen led this effort to “live in her light and keep her alive more than ever through the laughs and smiles that come from telling stories and memories.” Like her grandmother, Colleen’s heart was “too big for words to ever be capable of describing, and those who were fortunate enough to meet her and spend time with her were certainly blessed and touched by her presence.”
Colleen was also blessed with a strong circle of friends from grade school, high school and college to her peers at work, many of whom have been actively involved in planning tribute events in her honor. Content when they were together, Colleen and her friends would hop in the car with no particular destination in mind, enjoying their time. Whether it was dinners at the local restaurants, visiting friends’ homes, trips to Newburyport or cruising the Caribbean, they just enjoyed spending time together. That circle of friends was strengthened by Colleen’s inspirational words, positive attitude and bright smile that could brighten even the darkest of rooms.
That ever-present smile shared by Colleen was characteristic of an individual who had discovered and embraced happiness early in life through her calling as a teacher, daughter, big sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece, friend and mentor. She inspired and shared with many her passion for family, life and learning. She made people feel loved, comforted and optimistic. Colleen’s grace fulfilled her life and the lives of those who were lucky enough to meet her.
In 24 years, Colleen selflessly shared herself to better those around her. On Tuesday, October 22, 2013 tragedy struck. However, those that knew her and those that learned about her many gifts and love of life, continue to be inspired by her love and compassion as a teacher, sister and daughter. Reflecting on Colleen’s life, her cousin Gina shared, “Colleen missed her Grandma Bev so much and would say that ‘we are forever grateful for the time we had with her and will continue to find healing in the many memories.’ We should all listen to this advice. Be grateful for the time we had with Colleen, even though it was far too short, and begin to find healing in the many fond memories that we have with her.”
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. “
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Colleen E. Ritzer was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts on May 13, 1989. She was a 2007 graduate of Andover High School and a graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, class of 2011. At the time of her passing, Colleen was pursuing a graduate degree at Salem State College.