Taos school’s Sensory Pathway honors graduate’s spirit, memory


Two of Corrie Talken’s nieces and a family friend hopped, skipped, jumped and twirled with delight through the newly-created sensory path in St. Francis Xavier School.

Her parents, a former classmate and other adults who remember Corrie couldn’t help thinking how much she would have enjoyed blowing off steam in the same way when she was a student there.

The Sensory Pathway, a meandering trail of colorful vinyl decals permanently affixed to the floor in the school’s widest, busiest hallway, is a gift from the Pink Star Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in Corrie’s memory by her parents, Ron and Peggy Talken.

Corrie graduated from St. Francis Xavier School in 2003 — the same year as Jordan Tobar, the school’s current principal.

She was 25 when she died in a boating accident on the Gasconade River in 2014.

“Everybody remembers Corrie as a fun-loving girl,” said Mr. Tobar. “She was always in a great mood, she always had a wonderful smile. She could light up any room.”

This is Mr. Tobar’s sixth year on the St. Francis Xavier School faculty and his first as principal.

“I actually had a picture in my old P.E. office of Corrie and me when we were little at this school,” he said.

He believes Corrie and hundreds of other graduates as far back as eight generations are actively helping sustain the school with their prayers before God’s heavenly throne.

“We’re a school that thrives on our traditions and those who have gone before us,” he said. “While we’re always trying to move forward and improve ourselves, I think that’s something we always keep in mind and in heart — those who went before us and what they have done to make this all possible.”

Three kisses

Corrie Talken once posted on Facebook, “I’m finally ready in my life to trust God. I’m going to ‘let go and let God.’”

She died two days later.

Peggy Talken misses her daughter terribly but is certain that she is at home with God.

Corrie wanted to help people who are elderly, so she earned a bachelor’s degree in child and family development at Central Missouri State University.

She then served as activities director at Westphalia Hills Senior Living Center in Westphalia.

Every morning, she would stop in each resident’s room and spend five minutes visiting and listening. She would kiss each resident on the forehead three times.

That, according to her mother, meant, “I ... love ... you.”

Some were lonely. Some were sick. Some were confused.

“But when I sit down with them for five minutes,” she once stated, “that’s five minutes when those things aren’t bothering them.”

More than 2,000 people went to the visitation after Corrie died. So many people logged on to the funeral home’s website that it crashed three times.

“None of us had any idea that she had touched so many people,” said Mrs. Talken. “And she still is!”

“Spirit of Corrie”

The Talkens started the Pink Star Foundation in Corrie’s memory.

The nonprofit foundation raises money to help people in the Jefferson City area who are elderly or homeless — two of Corrie’s passions in life — along with other charitable endeavors.

“That’s the spirit of Corrie!” said Mrs. Talken. “That’s what we want to be made known.”

Money from the foundation has helped create a scholarship fund for one graduate apiece each year from Helias Catholic and Blair Oaks high schools; paid for fireworks at Westphalia Hills; created a fund to be distributed through the Salvation Army to help elderly people with their winter utility bills; and made donations to Project Homeless, the Special Learning Center, and a foundation that helps homeless veterans.

“We have an absolutely magnificent board!” said Mrs. Talken, nodding to board member Betsy Byers. “They work unbelievably hard and they sure keep me on my toes.” 

Last summer’s “Corrie’s Birthday Bash” fund-raiser for the Pink Star surpassed all expectations, “which allowed us to do a lot more things like this,” Mrs. Talken said of the Sensory Pathway.

Corrie loved St. Francis Xavier School, so the foundation’s board was happy to purchase the materials for the Sensory Pathway to help children channel their energy.

“Having this here means the world to us,” said Mrs. Talken, “especially now that our grandchildren are here and get to use it.”

The foundation also donated two sets of tuned bells to the St. Francis Xavier School music program, so the students can form a bell choir.

In appreciation, students gave performances at four local nursing homes. 

“That’s what it’s all about!” said Mrs. Talken. “The Holy Spirit and Corrie’s love.”

The Corrie’s Birthday Bash 2020 event is scheduled for Aug. 29.

Mrs. Talken also helped form a monthly support group for mothers who have lost children.

“You don’t ever get over it, and you don’t really ever get through it, you can’t make sense of it, so you figure out a way to live with it,” she said. “You learn to absorb this crushing pain, you learn how to survive.”

She used to imagine standing face-to-face with God, asking Him why Corrie had to die so young, and having God explain it to her satisfaction. 

“I don’t think that anymore,” she said. “I believe when I am finally in heaven with my Savior and with my beautiful daughter, I’m not going care about the ‘WHY.’ What I’m going to care about is that I survived the worst nightmare a parent can face with a stronger faith in God and His plan, that I listened to God and with His blessing and Corrie’s spirit and beautiful memory, took a horrible tragedy and turned it into something that helps people by spreading kindness.”

She’s grateful to St. Francis Xavier and the whole Taos community for helping Corrie become who she was.

“Good Catholic community! Good Church, good school, good people!” she said.

“Brain break”

At the Jan. 15 dedication of the Sensory Pathway, Mr. Tobar thanked the Talken family and the foundation for a gift that’s useful and fun.

With his wife at his side, Mr. Talken cut the red ribbon with giant scissors.

Father Michael Penn, pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish, blessed the pathway and prayed for all the children who would use it and for the people who provided it.

The hall filled with laughter as children stamped and jumped and twisted and balanced and bobbed and coasted backwards on their hands and feet through the meandering course.

“The whole basis behind this is to get kids up and moving,” said Mr. Tobar. “It gets their blood moving. It gets some of the energy out of their bodies and leaves them more focused and ready to go. I refer to it as kind of a brain break.”

Students get to use the Sensory Pathway only at designated times, in order not to disturb others.

“But I would imagine all of our students will want to go through it at some point,” he said.

Secretary Patti Wieberg has been at St. Francis Xavier School long enough to remember when Corrie Talken and Mr. Tobar became friends in kindergarten.

“Don’t get me wrong — they pulled some pranks,” said Ms. Wieberg. “But she could be such a delight — that smile, the sparkle in her eyes. I really miss her.”

Ms. Wieberg said getting to work for and with Mr. Tobar makes her proud.

“He’s one of us,” she said. “He went through school here. His family lives here and he’s come back, and I think it was meant to be. He’s doing a remarkable job. We’re very proud of him.”

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