Theresa Anna Taken passed peacefully in her home on October 19th, 2020, lovingly surrounded by her family, after a long and courageous fight with a rare neurological illness, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP).
She was born in Edgewood, Iowa, on January 21st, 1943. A spunky Iowa farm girl through and through, her intellectual curiosity and her love of exploring led her to live in Chicago, New York City, Hawaii, and finally San Francisco, where she lived with her beloved family for 49 years.
Theresa's love for fun and adventure was perhaps only matched by her profound kindness towards everyone she met and the tenacity she brought to helping and fighting for the marginalized and unseen. After attending the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, she set off to Chicago to become a social worker, working with foster care children and helping to place them in safe and caring homes. She never forgot the children and people that she met and worked with as a social worker and would talk of them years later with the same concern and decency she brought to her work through the years.
Theresa had a great affinity for exploring and experiencing different places and people, and so after fastidiously saving up "half of every paycheck" from her work in Chicago, she devised a trip that would take her around the world for 7 months, starting in San Francisco and ending up in New York City. In between, she picked her way across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, traveling to many of the great cities of the world, including Taipei, Tokyo, Bangkok, New Delhi, Karachi, Baghdad, Beirut, Tehran, Jerusalem, Rome, Barcelona and Paris, and always made a point to experience the authenticate/local culture of a country and city, and meet as many locals as she could. Most of all, she had fun, never came across a bakery she would not stop to visit, and relished being free and untethered as she traveled the world on her own.
Ending up in New York City after her travels, she stayed for four years, working in social work and licensing family daycare homes in the South Bronx. She often talked about the Puerto Rican women that she met through her work, marveling at how much care and love they brought to their jobs as daycare mothers, even though they themselves had little. Many an hour was spent with these ladies at their kitchen tables, talking and drinking Puerto Rican coffee with condensed milk, a favorite of Theresa's.
Ever the student and learner, Theresa moved subsequently to Honolulu, Hawaii to pursue a Masters Degree in social work (MSW). She always said her years there were some of the best of her adult life. As was her way, she embraced the aloha spirit, loved Hawaiian culture and became a blonde!, spending countless afternoons at Ala Moana Beach floating around in the water. It is in Honolulu where she met her beloved husband Don of 42 years, though she had already decided by that time that she wanted to go to Law School, which would take her on to San Francisco as University of Hawaii did not have a Law School at that time. Her and Don maintained their relationship long-distance for over year, until Don was discharged from the Marines and followed her out to the city by the bay, where they made their home and built their family together in the years that followed.
She worked full time in social work in Contra Costa County while going to law school. A quick cat nap after work carried her through her evening classes. She loved the simple, fun and silly things of life, and had such good times with her many friends in San Francisco, who became her extended family, meeting many of them at Mary Elizabeth Inn, and women’s boarding house where she first lived in the city. Her zest for life always saw to it that she knew, better than anyone, about all the "goings-on" about town, with anything offering good food being her favorite. She traveled up and down California, to Mexico and South American to learn Spanish.
She worked as an attorney for the San Francisco Public Guardian for 17 years on behalf of those who were being neglected or taken advantage of because of their age or mental capacity. It was the perfect continuation of her social work career, as her aim was always to help those she felt might be left behind or forgotten.
One of her great joys in life was being a mother to her beloved daughter Emily, even retiring early at the age of 55 to spend more time with her before she left for college. She loved Emily fiercely and unconditionally, and brought so much creativity, fun, and imagination to raising her. She always believed her job as a parent was to give her daughter “roots and wings”, as she thought it so important to give children unconditional love to ground them, but also allow them to go off into the world free and strong.
Theresa was deeply connected to her Catholic faith and believed there were many paths to self-peace and perfection. Her faith, though strong, was understated, choosing to honor God through her actions and deeds, and her feelings towards and treatment of others. She lived that belief deeply and fully all the days of her life, which drew so many people to her and her wonderful spirit.
Her family was so important to her, always skipping other vacation destinations to come back and see her relatives in Iowa, especially those that were older. She is preceded in death by her grandparents, Ben and Annie Taken and Sebastian and Emma Schirmer, her parents Bob and Ida Taken, her godmother Gertrude Holz, her brother Wally Taken (Arline), and brother-in-law Delmar Schnipkoweit.
She is survived by her husband Donald Vertz of 42 years, whom she knew and loved for 50 years. Her daughter Emily Taken-Vertz (Marci Levine), her sister Barbara Schnipkoweit, brothers Almore Taken (Betty), Larry Taken (Sandy), and brother-in-law Richard Vertz (Joyce). Nieces Theresa Catchpool, Jennifer Kritz (Keith), Sally Taken, Kelly Taken (Mike Gross), and Jennifer Vertz. Nephews Jason Vertz (Brenna), John Schnipkoweit (Vanessa), Rob Moore (Sue), Joe Taken (Patti) and countless friends across the country and the world.
Her family requests that donations be made to the Brain Support Network (www.brainsupportnetwork.org/donate) in lieu of flowers to support research for PSP and other neurological illnesses affecting individuals and families throughout the world.
Funeral Mass: A funeral mass and celebration of her life will take place at St. Agnes Parish in San Francisco, where she was a parishioner for over 40 years, on Monday, October 26th, 2020 at 4:30 pm (6:30 pm Iowa time). The service will be live-streamed for those who are not able to attend in-person by going to the San Francisco St. Agnes Parish website (saintagnessf.org) and clicking on the “St. Agnes Livestream” button on the homepage to be directed to the church’s YouTube channel.
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