Luminarias burned brightly around the Lodato home in Alexandria on Friday night as neighbors remembered the beloved music teacher who was killed there a year ago, on Feb. 6, 2014.
Ruthanne Lodato was shot to death as she answered a knock at her door. One-time Alexandria resident Charles Severance is charged with her murder and those of two other prominent Alexandria residents, Nancy Dunning and Ron Kirby.
Neighbors who organized the candlelight tribute said they prefer to remember the way Ruthanne touched so many in the community through her music -- not the tragic way in which she died.
"She was somebody who left a deep impression on you," said neighbor and close friend John Kelly. "She was woven into the lives of so many people in the Alexandria community through music and the church... Today we look around and we see her life everywhere."
No where is Lodato's imprint more visible than in the Music Together program she led for two decades. In the mornings and late afternoons, hundreds of children come for 45 minute sessions in a classroom at Del Ray United Methodist Church.
Melissa Jarvis brought her toddler nine years ago, then was recruited by Ruthanne to become a teacher herself. She says in the painful days after Lodato's death, the teachers huddled and decided they were committed to continuing the program.
"We didn't know what the Lodato family would want, whether to keep it going or not, and they quickly made it known that they did, in her memory they wanted it to go on," said Jarvis.
She said the early days after Ruthanne's death were very painful.
"It was really hard last year when we resumed classes. We start every class with the 'Hello Song' and just getting through that song was very difficult," Jarvis said.
But it wasn't long before the joy of Ruthanne's music filled the classroom again. Teacher Kelly Cronenberg said she won't dwell on the Feb. 6 date on the calendar, the date Ruthanne was killed.
"I guess I don't mark my calendar in terms of when bad things happen. I always remember Ruthanne's birthday. It's same day as my daughter's birthday," said Cronenberg. "I didn't get melancholy because I'm still doing this on a daily basis. When the children come in it erases all those feelings of sadness."
The Music Together teachers said while they have kept the songs coming, it's the Lodato family, Ruthanne's husband Norm and daughter Lucia in particular, who have taken over the business side of the program.
"They are a really good team and they just never show signs of giving up," said Jarvis. "They are strong, determined, kind people and they are just full of love and encouragement."
John Kelly is a close friend and neighbor of the Lodatos. He said the family has been sustained during this painful year by the community support.
"They miss her everyday in so many ways," said Kelly. "The one thing they are truly grateful for is the love and support of so many people that Ruthanne touched. That has helped them get through some of the more difficult times."
Kelly says one of the hardest days for the Lodato family was when police linked Ruthanne's murder to the two others.
"I think one of most difficult moments was realizing other families in the community were connected to this tragedy and now they are drawn together in this legal journey.
A permanent tribute to Ruthanne Lodato has also recently been created. Some Music Together families commissioned a stained glass window at Del Ray United Methodist Church where the program is housed. It will be dedicated at a ceremony Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m.
"It's just a beautiful reminder that everybody who comes into this building will get to see and remember," said Jarvis. "The joy of music is lasting and Ruthanne's legacy is the same."