Many hands helped make Ritzer tribute a success

Ritzer Peace Garden

Danvers Teachers Association member-educators Diane Morey, Chris Hopkins and Tracie Ewing led the effort to establish a memorial peace garden to honor the memory and spirit of Colleen Ritzer.

Quietly and without fanfare, the members of the Danvers Teachers Association recently unveiled a peace garden at Danvers High School to honor the memory and spirit of their former colleague, Colleen Ritzer.

“We wanted to do something locally, through the union, to remember one of our members who was tragically taken away from us,” said DTA President Chris Hopkins.

“I wanted to create a space where people can sit together, reflect and follow through on the words of wisdom that Colleen passed on to us.”
— Danvers High School teacher Tracie Ewing

Ritzer, a young, vibrant educator and self-described "math nerd” who taught at the high school, was found slain outside the school in October 2013. One of her former students is being tried for murder in connection with the killing.

Tracie Ewing, a special education teacher and technical director for the high school theater troupe, took on the job of designing the garden. 

“I wanted to create a space where people can sit together, reflect and follow through on the words of wisdom that Colleen passed on to us,” said Ewing, who also serves on the DTA Executive Board.

In the courtyard outside the school’s theater and library, the peace garden features a bubbling water fountain and two benches with etched quotations that were two of Ritzer’s favorites: “Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind” and “Find something good in every day.”

Ritzer Peace Garden

There are two benches in the peace garden with etched quotations that were two of Ritzer’s favorites.

From start to finish, Hopkins said, the project has been a “real community effort.” While DTA conceived of the project and Ewing designed it, Danvers High School alumni and local landscaper Stephanie Halpin brought the garden to life. While the DTA and the district shared the cost of materials, Halpin’s company, D&S Landscaping, donated all of the labor. Halpin has also committed to doing seasonal maintenance.

The town’s Public Works Department and many others have also helped and continue to contribute their labor to the garden. Special education students enrolled in the high school’s life skills class are watering and caring for the garden on a regular basis.

Danvers High School Principal Susan Ambrozavitch, who enthusiastically supported the idea when DTA members presented it to her, described the garden as “a nice, quiet, peaceful way of remembering Colleen.”

“This staff has done an amazing job of coming together and supporting each other in a very positive way,” she added.

Diane Morey, a social studies teacher who is also a member of the DTA Executive Board, said she is committed to spreading the word about “anything good that has come out of this terrible tragedy.”

Using a lighthearted, upbeat tone, Morey live-tweeted from the annual Step Up for Colleen 5K Walk/Run last spring. She has also tweeted about the Colleen Ritzer Memorial Scholarship Fund, which benefits high school students who plan to pursue education degrees in college, and the new peace garden.