A sea of pink engulfed The Park Sunday, bringing light despite the gray skies, as thousands of people sporting the color in memory of Colleen Ritzer participated in the sixth annual Step up for Colleen 5K.
"Pink. That is her color. That is the showing of her life," said Peggie Ritzer, as she read from a poem written by her 12-year-old nephew. "This color shows strength, determination, and smart. This color shows power. This shall never change."
As the Ritzer family — father Thomas, mother Peggie, daughter Laura and son Dan — took the stage before the first round of race participants began running the course, many people in the crowd of more than 3,700 got teary-eyed as Peggie spoke of their daughter and shared the poem from her nephew.
"We are all here today to celebrate Colleen's life and to carry on her legacy and passion for teaching and kindness," said Peggie. "You are all a part of making sure that Colleen will never be forgotten."
She said the sixth year of the race rounded out a total of nearly $240,000 to scholarship funds since its inception. To a roar of applause, she said an additional 10 students will receive scholarships from this year's race to pursue a teaching degree, totaling 48 students over the past six years. Several former scholarship recipients were in attendance Sunday to support the continuous fund that has impacted their own lives.
"This great sadness cannot go away, the memory will never go," Peggie continued to read from the poem. "You just have to pray that her soul will never be forgotten. You just have to remember you are not alone. ... You will always remember her in your heart. Her life will be wedged in your memory. This will always be true."
Ritzer was murdered in October 2013. Her killer, a student at Danvers High School, was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison in December 2015.
For the past six years, Ritzer's legacy has lived on in Andover, and her life and love for teaching has been widely celebrated by the community.
Girl Scouts from all over New England, teachers, Andover firefighters and Masconomet Regional High School's softball and baseball teams were among the many groups that showed up in large numbers for the race.
Christy Richards, president of the softball boosters at MASCO, said the two teams have supported the race since it started six years ago.
"Being a local school and Danvers being our neighbor, we like to show support," said Richards, adding the event is great for community building, and the support from the town of Andover is overwhelming.
John Young, a teacher at Pingree School in South Hamilton, ran in the race for his third year. Young participates in many races in and around the Merrimack Valley, but the Step Up for Colleen race holds a special place in his heart as an educator.
"Just as a fellow teacher and educator, I think it's important to support (Colleen's) life and memory," he said. "I know Colleen has affected a lot of people to take on that career."
Deputy Town Manager Michael Lindstrom and Selectmen Dan Koh and Alex Vispoli completed the 5K, and were among several town officials in attendance at the race.
The title sponsor of the race was Century Bank, with a group of 277 members on their team.