As the ragtime community descends on Sedalia today for the start of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, one member of the community will be missing. However, recent efforts from her ragtime “family” are working to make sure Tabitha Lazenby and her family are not forgotten.
Lazenby died in early April, leaving behind her 9-year-old daughter Haylie. Earlier this year she had been named the executive director of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation after being a board member and frequent festival visitor for many years.
The former La Monte School music teacher formed friendships with many of the ragtime performers, and clearly left a lasting impact. When performer Martin Spitznagel heard the news of her death, he said he knew he needed to do something.
“Tab’s death was a real shock to me and to the members of this community of musicians and music lovers who converge in Sedalia every year,” he said. “A phrase I’ve heard over the last five or six weeks is, ‘She was one of us,’ and I think that there’s a very strong sense among all of us that her loss left a profound hole, and all of us were generally excited for her new role as foundation director. She was somebody who would stay up with us musicians at the after hours, laughing and telling stories, cracking jokes; she was very much one of us.
“I felt a really profound sense of helplessness when I heard of her death. I became a dad 15 months ago and I knew that she had a young daughter. I am incredibly sad for Tab, but there remains behind this little girl that now has to do the unthinkable — not only get through this, but move forward. It was after really thinking about her daughter that I wanted to do something, I was tired of feeling helpless about it.”
Spitznagel lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., so he knew he had to come up with an idea that he could do from afar. He decided on an online fundraising campaign to create a scholarship fund for Haylie. Spitznagel said he thought there was “no better way to honor Tab’s memory than investing in Haylie.” He created the GoFundMe page within a week of Tabitha’s death, and with a goal of $10,000, more than $5,000 has already been raised.
“The outpouring of support was very striking,” he said. “As the organizer of the campaign, I would get an email every time someone would contribute. It was a nice dose of love and goodness every time. I would be sad all over again, but I knew there was this incredible support for her daughter.”
Spitznagel said donations have come in from not just ragtime performers, but local residents and even friends of friends. He said a friend of his shared the GoFundMe page on Facebook, and one of that man’s friends donated $100. Some of Spitznagel’s friends have donated simply because they heard he knew Tabitha.
“Tabitha was always a big believer in Thank You notes, so I am going to thank all of you on her behalf,” Tabitha’s mom, Cindy Kirby, wrote on the GoFundMe page. “I cannot express my gratitude to all you enough. I want you all to know that Haylie is doing well with her dad and step mom.”
He said he plans to continue spreading the word during the festival this week to those who knew Tabitha in hopes of reaching the $10,000 goal. Once completed, the money will be put into a 529 Education Savings Plan, which is a tax-advantaged savings account that can only be used for education-related expenses.
“My hope is to raise $10,000 — higher education is incredibly expensive and Haylie is 9 and in 10 years when she goes to use this, I would like to raise enough to make a meaningful dent that would actually help,” he said. “It’s still a drop in a bucket compared to what Tab gave all of us, but I didn’t quite know what else to do. We needed to do something tangible.”
To donate to the fund, visit gofund.me/lazenby.