News and Tribune

March 9, 2014

PEACE IN THE GARDEN: Memorial planted in honor of slain Clarksville teenager

Tara Rose Willenborg remembered for passion, sense of justice


JEFFERSONVILLE — Though the days leading up to the memorial left her feeling lost and melancholy, Kelley Curran found peace in the midst of friends and family members who gathered at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ to remember the life of her late daughter.

It was just more than a year ago that Tara Rose Willenborg, at the age of 17, was murdered inside her Clarksville apartment. Today would have marked her 19th birthday, and Curran said the family has refused to allow her daughter’s birth date to go by unmarked.

On Saturday, a freshly planted memorial garden was planted in Willenborg’s honor near the front entrance to St. Luke’s in Jeffersonville. The comfort Curran discovered amid the more than 50 people that attended the service is the same solace the Rev. Don Summerfield of First Presbyterian Church wishes  others will find in the garden.

“We dedicate this garden today as a place of memory and hope — a place to remember not only Tara but all those that we have loved and lost, but also a place to remember God’s presence by our side, to give thanks for new life and growing things, and to hold on to the promise that love wins, for there we’ll find hope,” Summerfield said.

Curran and Tara’s father, Todd Willenborg, have suffered through dark days over the past year. Saturday was a celebration of Tara’s life and the impact she had on others.

“We’re celebrating her birthday. We’re celebrating her, her passions and sense of justice,” Curran stated in a letter that provided to everyone that attended.

Curran said it was hard for her to sum up aloud her feelings for her daughter and the reason for the memorial, so she decided to write a letter instead.

Tara’s sister, Colleen, has a March 18 birthday, and the two siblings often celebrated together. The St. Luke’s kitchen and dining room were toned with purple and pink — the favorite colors of Colleen and Tara — and Willenborg’s passions were showcased during the memorial.

She was a vegetarian and an animal rights activist, so it was only natural that the family invited Southern Indiana Rescue to set up a room at the church with puppies for adoption.

Tara, according to her mother, was a strong supporter of alternative education, and so Sudbury School of Kentuckiana was on hand to provide information about its campus.

Then there was the church itself, where members such as Kelly Khuri said they watched Tara blossom into a selfless young woman and an example for others.

“She was confirmed in the church. She sang in the choir, [attended] missions and church trips. She was very active and very close to God,” said Khuri, who helped Curran organize Saturday’s memorial.

Khuri said she couldn’t fathom the difficulty of transitioning from mourning the death of a daughter, to celebrating their birthday, and credited Curran and Tara’s family for their strength and courage.

Todd Willenborg said the community has been a rock for the family to lean on following the devastating loss.

“So many people have supported us in the last year in so many ways,” he said.

The garden was designed for free by Walnut Ridge, and is located near the entrance of St. Luke’s near the intersection of Maple and Walnut Streets.

Richard Hooten has been charged in Willenborg’s murder. His trial is scheduled for Aug. 14 in Clark County.