BY MATT TROUTMAN
---- — HONOR — A.J. Zirkel feared the worst.
The Homestead Fire Department assistant chief was one of about 100 volunteers on Wednesday tramping through the Benzie County back country on a search for Loyal Frederick, 83 — an Alzheimer's patient who went for a walk the day before and never returned.
Frederick, 83, likely spent Tuesday night outside, in the cold and rain, with only jeans and a hunter orange sweatshirt for warmth and his loyal coon hound, Suzzie, for company. Chances for a happy outcome seemed all but lost Wednesday afternoon until Zirkel spied hunter orange in the distance.
"Sure enough, it was Loyal (lying) down with his dog by his side," Zirkel said. "As soon as I got there and said his name, he said, 'Yes.'"
The rescue ended a massive two-day search after his family reported him missing Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Sheriff's deputies from Benzie, Leelanau and Manistee counties, local firefighters, state troopers, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and scores of civilian volunteers made a grid search through a six-mile square area around Frederick's State Road home by foot, all-terrain vehicle and air.
Frederick disappeared while embarking on a daily walk with his two dogs, Suzzie and Tucker. Frederick's wife, Joan, grew concerned when only Tucker returned; Suzzie, more loyal to her owner, was also missing.
"Suzzie is his best friend. We're thinking she stayed with him," said Frederick's granddaughter, Jodi Lyons, of Interlochen, shortly before he was located.
She said her grandfather suffered other health issues, including diabetes, and the family worried that another night spent in the cold rain would be his last.
Joan Frederick said her family and friends helped her avoid despair. She said their "whole family" — four sons, a daughter and 16 grandchildren — and many friends and acquaintances, spent the two days "hustling" through the forests and fields.
"It makes me feel wonderful to know we have that many friends," she said.
On Wednesday about 1 p.m. the massive effort paid off. Zirkel, who works with Frederick's son on the fire department, was searching through a section of forest near Pioneer and Fewins roads. He said he backtracked toward an area where a line of volunteers split off when he spotted Frederick lying face down on the ground.
Frederick appeared to be sleeping.
"He just said he was going out for a walk and was hungry and thirsty," Zirkel said. "The dog was freezing. She was shivering and hypothermic, and very happy to see people."
Frederick was transported to Munson Medical Center. His family expected him to be released Wednesday. Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said Frederick couldn't answer specific questions because of his Alzheimer's disease.
"His son asked if he slept in the woods, and he said, 'I think so,'" he said.
Schendel said the community made a "phenomenal effort."
"We had volunteers coming from the community all night long," he said. "The line of people never stopped."