Patty Talen said she'll never get over the loss of her son, Peter, but it is comforting to know good things have come from his tragic death in November 2007.
In memory of Peter Talen, you'll find scholarships and smoke alarm ordinances, educational videos and fire prevention events. People who cared about Peter created them.
"In some ways it is like paying it forward," said Patty. "There are no words that they can say, or words that I would be able to say to them, but, you can do something."
Peter Talen, a former University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student, died in a house fire near the UW-Madison campus while visiting his younger brother, Andy, a UW student.
The incident gave rise to the Peter Talen Smoke Alarm Ordinance in Madison that went into effect Saturday.
The home Peter died in had multiple disabled smoke alarms. This new ordinance tightened up smoke alarm requirements for all apartment buildings and rental properties.
Peter's family spoke to the Madison City Council when support swelled for a better smoke alarm ordinance in 2007, and they were back again to speak when it unanimously passed in March 2009, Patty said. "In some ways we became the face of it simply because we didn't want anyone to go through what we did," she said. "If it can save one life, it is worth doing it."
Peter's name is on more that just the ordinance. UW-L now has a Peter J. Talen Memorial Scholarship that gives $1,000 to incoming freshmen who want to be theater majors. The scholarship, already awarded to two students, will last for 23 years, the age Peter was when he died, said Patty. Peter also was active in 4-H, so an endowment has been established for 4-H arts programs.
Some at UW-L's Theater Department, where Peter contributed so much of his acting talent, put their heads together to create the video that will serve as a fire education tool for students, said Mary Leonard, UW-L theater faculty member. They've interviewed Peter's friends and family who survived the Madison fire, as well as the Madison Fire Department. The hope is to tell a personal story that could be used at student orientation or sent to other colleges and universities to spread the message, said Leonard.
"This is about remembering Peter. In Peter's name, let's get out there and make people aware so no one else has to lose their son or daughter or sister or brother or friend," she said.
The goal is to have the video done in September, but it may be later, said Leonard.
With only a year and nine months gone by since Peter died, Patty said it is easier to lend support to initiatives than be an active force behind them.
"What is amazing to me is the number of people that do things in honor of our son because they care so much," she said.