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Celeste Ditter spent years dreaming about what it would be like to meet her favorite musical group, the Backstreet Boys. So when the time came on Aug. 3, 2018, at Zappos Theater in Las Vegas, she was ready.

Ditter imagined playing it ‘super cool,’ chit-chatting with all five members, AJ McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell. She had envisioned them sharing some laughs and even singing a bit together. Then she entered the room where they were and Littrell happily greeted her. She had built up that specific moment in her head so much that it caught her off guard when it finally happened.

“Brian turns to me and says, ‘hey hun,’ and I started bawling,” Ditter recalled, laughing. “I just hugged him. I hugged all of them and said, ‘I just love you so much.’ That’s all I could say. Brian asked me my name, but I couldn’t put words together. I couldn’t remember what was happening, but they were so nice.

“It’s so humiliating.”

It’s a memory that will stick out in Ditter’s mind forever because she got to meet a music group she adores, but also because it was a rare occurrence in which she was shy and at a complete loss for words. Anyone who knows Ditter knows better – the longtime Columbus Middle School vocal music teacher is bubbly, outgoing, engaging and full of passion for music, her students and community.

Her choir room and adjacent office, the very same place her father, Fred Ritter, previously worked in as Columbus High’s vocal music director for decades, embody her personality. The main room has handprints of former students in various bright colors and several motivational posters are hanging all over.

In her office, there’s a bobblehead of herself her husband had made, as well as pictures of her family and of her infamous meet-and-greet with BSB.

“I do love the Backstreet Boys,” she said proudly, noting she’s seen them in concert four times so far.

Then there’s a wall that boasts note cards with little messages of thanks many of her former students left her. They were brought over from the high school on a day Ditter said wasn’t going the best and uplifted her. Those notes mean a great deal, but there’s one noticeable space where a card was removed. That one, written by late Columbus teen Trevor Luckey, is framed and sits on her desk. She put it there shortly after the 15-year-old boy passed away in January from cancer.

“Thank you for being such an awesome role model for me and one day I hope to be as caring and outgoing as you,” Ditter said, reading the note while tearing up. “You are such an amazing human and I just want to thank you for all those mornings we would come into the choir room. Thanks for doing all those wonderful things for me and everyone else.”

Ditter taught Trevor for three years (sixth-eighth grades) and watched him blossom as a person, singer and dancer, recalling his abilities in student talent shows, in the choir room and in various musical productions.

“He was such a special person to everyone who knew him. Trevor as a person was kind to his core, and he was a huge source of goodness in this world,” Ditter said. “He claims he wanted to be more like me, but it was really me who wanted to be more like him. Maybe I could just say the feeling was mutual.”

There’s no doubt Ditter is where she was meant to be – in Columbus, teaching, helping and uplifting others through song and spirit.

“She was directing and motivating kids back when she was ‘young’ young,” her father said, adding that Ditter loves seeing kids discover their talents and watching their eyes light up when they realize they can do something. “That’s her personality – very outgoing. She knows how to motivate young people … She can convince them they can do almost anything.”

MUSIC: ALL IN THE FAMILY

Ditter was born in North Platte but relocated with her parents and four siblings when she was just a few years old in the late 1980s when her dad got the job to be Columbus High’s vocal music director. Ditter, her older brothers Jacob and Alex, younger brother David and younger sister Brianna, were destined to be around music. Their dad, mother, Becky; and their respective families were raised in houses where playing and listening to music was essential.

“We were always playing music in the house,” Ditter said, noting classical and Christian music was mostly what they were all raised on.

A Ritter family tradition saw each kiddo select a different classical piece and make a skit or performance around it for the family to see.

“The home videos are so hilarious,” she said. “I thought other families were like this, but as I grew up, I realized it was not normal.”

Ritter said his oldest daughter showed glimpses of being a music educator from an early age, recalling how she would gather her two younger siblings and other neighborhood kids on the driveway to rehearse performances for fun, 4-H or Columbus Days.

“She would come up with these phenomenal plays on our driveway. She was directing and motivating kids,” he said, noting how she directed a group of kids to a victory at the lip-sing battle during Columbus Days.

Ditter naturally developed her love for music and stressed she was never pushed into it. She said her childhood was great.

“One of the best things I had was a great, healthy family. Mom and dad took the time to help us grow, teach us to cook, even though I can’t really cook,” she said, chuckling. “Our parents were and are involved in our lives.”

She attended Highland Park Elementary when it was still around, though it closed the year she moved to middle school.

“The last concert of fifth grade, and the last song, and I had the last solo in the history of the school,” she said, noting former area music instructor Gloria Phillips had a profound impact on her early on. “I was so proud.”

HER CALLING

Ditter fell in love with music from a very early age and knew she was going to be a singer in some way or form. She didn’t hold back when it came to singing.

“I pursued it guns blazing like some kids do video games and sports. That was me with singing,” she said. “Sometimes I felt like a misfit because I pursued it so hard.”

She did it all, doing things like performing at her family’s church, Word Of Life, and on numerous honor and all-state choirs throughout the years. She also got involved with theater while in high school, earning the opportunity to direct a one-act play.

But admittedly, she never felt right telling people she wanted to sing for a living.

“People start asking you what you want to do someday and you feel kind of silly saying, ‘I want to be a singer,’ because I don’t know what careers there are,” Ditter said. “I knew if I did anything but music, it would fall short, so you start looking at your options.”

Then, the door to music education opened up. Ditter had family and friends who recommend she pursue music education over vocal performance as her major, noting it would be easier to catch up and switch to vocal performance if she wasn’t feeling education as opposed to the other way around.

One thing was certain, though: She was going to Doane University. She had long desired to go there, recalling how her heart would beat fast when she saw a picture of the campus.

“I knew it was the right thing to do,” Ditter said. “I looked at other schools, but I just knew.”

Four years later, she graduated with the degree and was ready to get out in the real world.

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A DITTER-RITTER UNION

It started out as the worst blind date she could have imagined. Ditter and her friend Hannah, both of Columbus High, were going out with two Scotus Central Catholic guys in 2002 – Scott and Ryan. As Ditter recalled, she, Hannah and Ryan were all “chatterboxes” and Scott was … quiet.

“I was super shy back then,” said her now-husband Scott Ditter, a loan officer at Columbus United Federal Credit Union. “I was an awkward 16-year-old boy.”

Their mini-golf trip in town was not going well, she noted, which prompted her and Hannah to concoct a story about how they had to go babysit. Later that night, Scott and Ryan would catch the girls in their lie. They hung out again and went on several more group dates. She was enjoying Scott’s company, but attempted to shake him off.

“I told him I was getting braces so he probably wouldn’t like me anymore and we could call it off. We could move on,” she explained.

But destiny intervened.

“He was like, ‘That's OK, I like braces,'” she said, laughing. “He wasn’t outgoing and he wasn’t talking to me a million miles an hour, so we must be a terrible match. But he was exactly what I needed. He truly is a great man.”

Things worked out well. They got engaged in 2006 and married on July 4, 2008. They now also have three children: Joshua, 8; Harrison, 5; and Lenora, 2. Ditter said being a wife and mom is very rewarding, adding that their children are the light of their lives and that their grateful to be their parents.

Scott said he is fully aware of how his now-wife perceived their first date, noting he was oblivious at the time. All he could think about was the potential ridicule from their peers who would notice how their last names rhymed if they ever got serious. He said he’s happy things worked out and that he’s married to a terrific woman.

“Luckily I got a couple of opportunities,” he said. “We’ve been married 11 years and she’s just a super nice person. People are drawn to her. She’s a good listener, gives solid, sound advice.

“And she’s a Godly woman – she tries to center her life around Christ.”

Ditter said her husband is everything she could have asked for, noting his commitment to their family and how he picks up the slack at home a lot so she can fully invest in her teaching and music.

The two also take pride in their wedding having an event status of sorts.

“The Ditter-Ritter wedding,” they both said proudly, in separate conversations.

MADE FOR THE CLASSROOM

After college, Ditter interviewed for several vocal music instructor jobs in Nebraska. She was seriously considering an opportunity in Grand Island when then-Columbus Middle School Principal Doug Kluth called and asked to see her the next morning, a Saturday.

“I’m all dressed up and he’s wearing jeans and a fishing sweatshirt,” she recalled of what she thought was an interview for what is now her current job. “He just asked, ‘what do I have to do to get you here?’"

Kluth was determined to get her to Columbus.

“I knew Celeste was high talent and I knew she worked well with kids and that she was exactly what I was looking for to help us with the vocal program at the middle school,” Kluth said, noting he knew her and her whole family well as Celeste was friends with his youngest daughter. “She’s a great person. She’s got great values, morals. I trusted her impeccably – she’s a high-quality person. She and all her siblings reflect the values their parents taught.”

Deep down, the CMS job was something she had wanted for a long time. She remembered driving past the old middle school after cheerleading practice and thinking about it as a teen.

“I would drive past it and have that little heart jump thing like I did with Doane,” she said. “It was only when I drove past the old middle school. I remember thinking about how I could connect with those kids through music and help them through a very young age, create lesson plans in my head. My heart was preparing me for a love of students at that building.”

She and Scott wanted to live in Columbus, so she accepted the job soon after it was offered in 2008. She relishes the role, noting she enjoys working with kids in middle school because they’re unique and deserve great attention during what is an awkward time in one’s life.

“I wish I could go back to my middle school years – nobody says that,” said Ditter, whose school jazz choir group, Vocal Tech, earned the Clinician’s Choice Award at the Nebraska Clinical Directors Association jazz festival, best middle school a cappella choir at the Nebraska A cappella Championships and Outstanding Middle School Musical earlier this year. “We sort of downgrade the value of a person that age.”

She’s still passionate as ever about music education after all these years. She understands the importance of traditional subjects like math, reading and writing, but appreciates how vocal music allows students to express their creativity. She works with them over the course of three years, so she doesn’t view her room as a classroom but rather a place for people to best express themselves.

“A philosophy I learned was that I don’t teach music to kids, I teach kids through music. The connection between you and the student is No. 1 and the connection that happens is because of music,” said Ditter, who leads efforts with the school’s talent show and CMS Musical in the spring. “Teaching younger kids - it means everything … This is us making art in live real-time with one another – having a responsibility of a line of music carried independently so that someone carries their line and together we make a choir. This is not just a class.”

NO OTHER WAY

Besides teaching and enjoying time with her family, Ditter likes going to the Y for workouts with Personal Trainer Marcia Grant, and recently started taking ballet classes. It’s something she has longed to do since she was a kid but got inspired to try it this year after Trevor’s passing. Trevor, among many things, was known for his love of and talent in dancing.

“He’s not here to do that so we got to keep doing it," she said. “He was also just fun. With Trevor around, we laughed a lot. As much as he loved singing, he loved dancing even more.”

Additionally, she performs with her father and three of her siblings as “VoiceHouse,” an a cappella singing ensemble that plays around the state.

She also got a little bit of redemption when it came to the Backstreet Boys. She recently went to the group’s concert in Omaha and had a chance encounter with one of its members, Howie Dorough. The security guard, for a reason she doesn’t know, prevented others from getting in on the conversation. It was another surreal moment for Ditter, who grew up with BSB posters all over her walls and choreographed performances to their CDs for kids to dance to in different events.

“An NSYNC album, you can take it. But I love the Backstreet Boys,” she said. “I probably had inappropriately crazy fandom (as a teenager). I had Backstreet Boys posters everywhere. My Mom thought, ‘we’re borderline worshiping right now.’”

Ditter and her family now attend 1C Church. Her faith remains a crucial component of her life every single day – no matter what she’s doing. Everything revolves around it.

“Being able to be a good teacher, a good wife or mom, friend or performing in VoiceHouse or whatever, it’s all just me constantly trying to live a life that brings glory to God and make it more about him and less about me,” she said. “It’s really cool to see successful things. I think there’s so much more to us than just doing things for us. I get to move the goodness. That’s what I love to do.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net

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