Community members will have an opportunity to honor iconic volunteer station agent Kenneth Walden during his public memorial service held May 16 at 10 a.m. at the Tomball Historic Depot Plaza.
A handful of family members, friends and community leaders are scheduled to speak at the service, including Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan, Walden’s brother-in-law Joe Perkovich, friend Diane Holland and Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce. Walden’s memorial service will be relocated to the Tomball Community Center in the event of rain.
“Since he was a little boy, trains were his big love,” Walden’s older sister Karen Perkovich said. “He liked heavy equipment, trucks and trains—he liked drawing stuff like that. He was an artist—he did a lot of paintings and drawings that are donated and on display at the depot.”
In 2007 city officials with the Tomball Centennial Committee raised funds to move the train depot from its original location on North Elm Street to 201 S. Elm St. after it remained at Burroughs Park for 15 years. Walden, a retired construction industry worker, quickly volunteered to serve as the station agent. As part of his volunteer work, Walden hosted depot tours for residents and visitors on Sundays and also began offering tours on Saturdays and weekdays for special events within the past year, Karen said.
On May 3, Walden died of heart problems at the hospital after attending the Rails and Tails Mudbug Festival in Tomball. Karen said she visited Walden at the festival about a half hour before he was rushed to the hospital. Three years ago Walden experienced cardiac arrest, underwent open heart surgery and recovered in rehabilitation for several months, Karen said.
“He was doing so well—this was just unexpected,” Karen said. “I’m so thankful that Sunday I had gone in to the crawfish festival to visit with him for just a few minutes. He was with a [tour] group when I got there, and he acknowledged me. I stood and listened to his speech, and there was another group in the other room waiting. I’ll forever be thankful for that time that I at least got to see him.”
Hillegeist, who described Walden as the face of Tomball, said the chamber featured Walden on its annual magazine cover four years ago, and the issue was one of the most popular to date.
“He was a great asset to our depot and the community—everybody is just devastated. He volunteered all of these years and took care of the depot, and we have a lot of the things in there that he [helped] donate.” —Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan
“I’ve never seen anybody groomed so well,” Hillegeist said. “[Walden’s] beard was always perfect. He fit that role as someone who welcomed people to depot with lots of knowledge. He knew so much about trains. His passion was what was needed for a job like that. Someone can do a certain job and are not replaceable. Ken certainly will not be [replaceable].”
Fagan said city officials are accepting donations to help establish a memorial for Walden near the depot.
“He was a great asset to our depot and the community—everybody is just devastated,” Fagan said. “He volunteered all of these years and took care of the depot, and we have a lot of the things in there that he [helped] donate.”
Born in Florida in 1948, Walden moved to Tomball with his parents in 1967. For several years Walden worked at David Wayne Hooks Airport in Spring, which was owned and operated by his aunt Irma Hooks and her husband Charles.
In addition to his volunteer work at the depot, Walden worked as a truck driver for Tomball-based RAC Materials and also drove part-time for Clarence Brown with C. Brown Trucking until his death. Walden is survived by his sister Karen, his brothers Billy Walden and Fred Walden as well as his cousins Rick Cowan, Peggy Condon and Mary Piehl.
“[Walden] volunteered—he had a love for that,” Karen said. “That was his passion. He ate, slept and lived the depot and trains.”