Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

April 24, 2014

'She knew how to lift spirits'

Remembering a great listener, confidante and best friend

By Judy Wakefield

---- — She was supposed to be turning 25 years old on May 13 and most likely celebrating by hanging out with her BFF (best friend forever) to giggle about that cute guy in her singing group whom she was too shy to ask out on a date.

Colleen Ritzer was a bit old-fashioned about dating and she was solidly old-fashioned about friendships as she was loyal and committed.

That’s what Ritzer’s best friend, Jennifer Berger of Andover, misses the most as she along with others continues to mourn her best friend’s tragic death last fall.

Berger said “Colleen the teacher” seems to garner the most attention in tributes, but the pretty brunette with a great smile, who taught eighth grade in Stow for a year before getting the job in Danvers High School, was so much more.

“The people who mattered most to her really mattered, like her friends and family,” Berger said. “Her birthday is near Mother’s Day and we always worked around that for her birthday celebration ... she really loved her mom and her whole family.”

She also cherished her friends.

“She loved to write and would always text me inspirational messages during my busy tax season,” said Berger, a certified public accountant who works at Price Waterhouse. “... She just knew how to lift my spirits. I miss that.”

The two girls met in kindergarten at Sanborn Elementary School and were in the same class every year there except for fourth grade. Together, they went on to West Middle School, then Andover High School, both graduating in 2007.

That’s when their educational lives parted — with Ritzer heading off to Assumption College in Worcester and Berger settling in at Bentley College in Waltham. But their friendship endured.

“Colleen had a car so she would come to Bentley and we always had fun,” Berger said.

There’s a lot Berger misses about her best friend — including their girls nights when they just hung out, laughing and eating junk food. She said the two knew each other so well that finishing each other’s sentences happened a lot because each always knew what the other was thinking.

“I miss our long walks, because Colleen was a great listener, the best listener I have ever known, and she never judged,” Berger said. “I could tell her anything and get it all out.”

Berger sad she has no plans to attend the trial of now 15-year-old Philip Chism who is charged with the murder of Ritzer, his math teacher, at Danvers High School. But she has her opinions of the case.

“I trust the justice system. .... I know he’s just a kid, but, yes, he should be tried as an adult. He chose to do what he did and he could have chose not to do it,” she said.

But Berger said she prefers to focus on the positives in the aftermath of the horrible tragedy. She said the Step Up for Colleen memorial 5K honoring Ritzer on May 4 is a great example of how people are remembering her best friend.

“It’s so great to see the support,” she said. “It’s another reminder of Colleen and I hope she is always remembered.”

The night before Step Up for Colleen, Berger said a group of Ritzer’s friends will meet up and most likely have dinner in Newburyport, as Ritzer enjoyed that seaside city. She imagines they will laugh and cry a lot as they share stories of their friend and her life that ended much too early.

A sad reason to gather, for sure. But the group will work hard to stay positive as Ritzer would want that, Berger said.