A massive search effort and community support brought Donald Wieberdink home alive
Significant numbers of law enforcement, emergency personnel and volunteers helped the search this week for Donald Leroy Wieberdink end positively as he was found alive in a rural Spicer soybean field.
SPICER — Relief swept over the hundreds of volunteers and emergency personnel when it was announced that Donald Leroy Wieberdink, who had been missing for a day and half, had been found alive Wednesday.
The massive community effort followed the 83-year-old Prinsburg man's disappearance while out for a bike ride Tuesday. Concerns about the day’s temperatures in the 90s and previous medical issues, like dementia, meant time was of the essence.
Smiles, tears and camaraderie followed the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a command post where volunteer searchers had gathered in Spicer that, while severely sunburned and dehydrated, Wieberdink was in good spirits and was getting medical attention for the harrowing experience over the last day.
“It is very difficult for our family to put into words the thoughts and feelings we have experienced over the past few days. However, what we can say is that we all woke up this morning with a feeling of overwhelming gratitude and shouts of praise,” read a statement by the Wieberdink family. “We are praising our Heavenly Father for keeping Don safe while he was away from us and for guiding the hearts and minds of those searching for him which allowed him to be found.”
The search effort that began Tuesday involved more than 30 government agencies along with hundreds of volunteers, including the Civil Air Patrol which sent out planes to search areas of interest.
Initially, the Wieberdink family notified the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office around 4:20 p.m. Tuesday that Wieberdink last had contact with his wife around noon that day, according to Sheriff Eric Holien.
Deputies then joined the family in their search efforts with Sgt. Dave Nester calling in all Kandiyohi County fire departments around 9 p.m. Tuesday to search their respective fire districts.
As Wieberdink is an avid bicyclist, known to travel for miles on his bike rides, fire departments from Stearns and Meeker counties, along with Meeker County sheriff's deputies joined the already 100 firefighters involved in the search.
When Holien arrived at the command center around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, he was briefed that two investigators were following leads and one was coordinating search efforts and acting as a point of contact while the Willmar Police Department and Kandiyohi County Rescue had also joined to search their areas.
Christian Aid Ministries Search and Rescue was then brought in to assist the Spicer Fire Department for more thorough searches of investigative leads.
During the fire department searches, deputies were checking prior known residences and other locations as more leads came in. A deputy was also assigned to stay with the Wieberdink family at their residence.
A request was sent to the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but no one was available due to the resources allocated toward St. Cloud civil unrest that evening.
Holien then requested help from the Civil Air Patrol for Wednesday morning and by 2:07 a.m. all Kandiyohi County fire departments had returned to their stations.
A briefing at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday explained actions taken to date and Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Sgt. Robbie Barnes was assigned command while deputies continued their search and rescue efforts and investigations resumed into leads and information.
Holien said that civilian volunteers had started search efforts on their own accord, and coordinations to do a mass volunteer search effort began.
At 1:30 p.m., a briefing was held at the law enforcement center with those involved in the search efforts, including those from Meeker County.
Permission was granted from Green Lake Bible Camp to use their grounds as a staging area and command post for the volunteer effort and by 4:30 p.m. emergency services were in place to register and assign volunteers into search groups.
At the time, Detective Sgt. Kent Bauman said the groups were going to do foot searches for previously covered areas because they wanted to be comfortable that nothing was missed.
Despite the high temperatures and length of time Wieberdink had been missing, the efforts never wavered from the goal of finding him alive.
Hundreds of volunteers showed up to help a community member in need, many of them seeing recognizable faces.
"It's unbelievable community support," said Rick Orred, who grew up in Spicer and had arrived to help. "Cars were around the block."
As volunteers stood in line and were assigned into groups, cheers from the crowd rose up as news that Wieberdink had been found was announced to the crowd.
Leeana Peterson and her mother Sue Peterson had found Wieberdink in their bean field on County Road 4 just east of Spicer.
Wieberdink was severely sunburned and suffered from dehydration but was in high spirits and receiving medical attention, according to a Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office news release at the time.
Holien said he was elated to have found Wieberdink alive and that it could not have been accomplished without everyone who stepped up and took roles in the effort.
The Wieberdink family thanked everyone involved in finding him and for remaining positive via a statement.
“We also feel so much gratitude for our community and the surrounding communities who showed up in such a big way. There were so many people praying for him, searching for him, and sharing information about him and this was so vital in order for him to be found. All of your kind words and gestures were so appreciated,” read their statement. “For those who were present at the Green Lake Bible camp yesterday, we can all agree that was such an amazing experience.”
“What we all witnessed yesterday was nothing short of a miracle and we give all of the praise to God for that. Don is a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and clearly a beloved member of an amazing community. So, please know that we are forever thankful and forever grateful for each and every person involved in bringing Don home safely. God is good all the time and all the time God is good,” read the statement.