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Donn Fendler, 90; as child he survived Maine ordeal

Donn Fendler chatted with a young reader at a book signing in Bangor, Maine.Michael C. York/AP/file 2011

PORTLAND, Maine — Donn Fendler, who as a boy survived nine days alone on Maine’s tallest mountain in 1939 and later wrote a book about the ordeal, has died at 90.

Fendler collaborated with Joseph B. Egan on a book, ‘‘Lost on a Mountain in Maine,’’ which was required reading for many fourth-graders in Maine. He also enjoyed visiting schools to tell his story.

He died Monday in Bangor, Maine, after being hospitalized for failing health, family members said.

‘‘He loved Maine. He loved kids. He loved telling his story to kids to help them keep their cool if they get lost,’’ his niece, Nancy Fendler, said.


Fendler said he used techniques learned as a Boy Scout to survive on Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

As a 12-year-old, Fendler got lost while hiking and made his way down the mountain and through the woods to the east branch of the Penobscot River, where he was found more than 30 miles from where he started. Bruised and cut, starved and shoeless, he’d survived by eating berries. He had lost 15 pounds.

He never seemed to tire of recounting the tale to children.

‘‘I tell every one of them they have something inside them they don’t know they have,’’ he told The Associated Press in 2011. ‘‘When it comes up to a bad situation, they’re going to find out how tough a person they are in the heart and the mind — it’s called the will to live.’’

Donn Fendler was honored by President Franklin Roosevelt with a medal after surviving nine days alone on Mount Katahdin. AP file 1940

Fendler lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, but had a summer home in Newport, Maine, the town where his family, from Rye, New York, was vacationing at Sebasticook Lake when he got lost.

Many feared the worst when Fendler became separated from the others on Katahdin, setting off a search by state troopers, National Guardsmen, paper mill workers, loggers and guides.


He later received a medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House, was honored with a parade and featured in Life magazine.

Fendler’s twin, Ryan Fendler, said the trauma of spending so many nights lost in the woods didn’t lessen his brother’s affection for Maine. He and his brother celebrated their 90th birthdays together in August in Maine.

‘‘He had a great heart and a great sense of humor,’’ Ryan Fendler said, describing his brother as a natural-born athlete who beat the rest of the party to the top of Katahdin before starting down on his own.

Ryan Cook, who’s working on a movie adaptation of ‘‘Lost on a Mountain in Maine,’’ posted a video on Facebook announcing the death.

‘‘Donn Fendler’s legacy will live on forever in the state of Maine, not only because of his story and the book but because of the character of the man he was, and how deeply he cared about other human beings, especially children,’’ Cook said in his online tribute.