It is with much sorrow that I read that Donn Fendler, of Lost on a Mountain in Maine fame, died on Monday at the age of 90.
For many that name means nothing. If you didn’t attend fourth grade in Maine, you probably never read the book or heard the story of the little boy who got separated from his hiking party and was lost on Mount Katahdin for 10 days. You should remedy that immediately.
At a talk in Gray at the public library last year, Fendler spoke to a packed house explaining that he was known for being a dumb kid who got lost. He used his Boy Scout knowledge, prayer and a will to live to survive. Years later he co-authored a book about his experiences. Last year the Manga book of his adventure was released as well. He showed us film footage and snapshots and personal memories at that event. I can’t imagine this happening today.
For those who never had the chance to meet this man, I’m sorry for your loss. He lived an outstanding life. When he was lost at age 12, he hadn’t lived more than 10 percent of his life. He went on to join the Army, have a family and travel extensively.
After that speech in Gray my family and I stuck around to talk to him. My son, who was about to get his Eagle award in Scouting, wanted to invite Mr. Fendler to his ceremony. Much of that conversation has been forgotten, mostly because we were awestruck at the large personality of this man, a living legend in Maine.
He couldn’t make it to the Eagle Ceremony because he had a family obligation that day, but he wrote to my son in his own handwriting about the honor of being an Eagle Scout and the expectations that would be placed on him. Donn never became an Eagle Scout himself, but made it to Life Scout. He did a lot with the Boy Scouts of America later in life.
If you’ve never had the chance to read the book, I highly recommend it. Some of the novelty of the book was knowing that this boy, now a man, was living a thorough life after being through such an ordeal. It’s still worth the read or re-read.
Donn was found after two weeks in the Maine woods, 16 pounds lighter, covered in bug bites, and thankful to be alive. Looking back, he said with a laugh that after that experience he was never bitten by mosquitos or flies again.
Rest in Peace, Donn Fendler. You have touched all of our lives.