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St. Louis County: Idaho woman feeling fine after waiting in woods for rescue

A recent photo of Margaret Archuleta of Chisholm with her great-granddaughter Marley. Photo courtesy of Steve and Rita Raskovich

John Lundy

Forum News Service

CHISHOLM— When Margaret "Peggy" Archuleta realized she was lost, she didn’t take a chance of getting more lost.

The 84-year-old Idaho woman, visiting her daughter and son-in-law in Chisholm, sat down in a protected spot in the woods and waited to be found.

She waited more than 48 hours, through heat, humidity and a thunderstorm.

On Friday morning, family members celebrated as Rita Raskovich brought her mother home to Chisholm, in good condition, from Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing.

In a brief telephone interview, Archuleta was matter-of-fact about her ordeal.

"I feel fine now," she said.

Steve Raskovich marveled at his mother-in-law’s condition.

"She’s got a few scratches from lying on the ground for 2½ days," he said. "And apparently she only had two mosquito bites. Her heart rate and blood pressure were fine."

Jill Medland of the K-9 Emergency Response Team, Jill Manthey from the St. Louis County Rescue Team and Medland’s dog Kotta found Archuleta just after 6 p.m. Thursday in woods off McNiven Road just north of Chisholm, Chisholm police said in a news release. She had been missing since about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Medland and Manthey were among scores of personnel from a dozen agencies and rescue squads from as far away as Sawyer County, Wis., volunteers from Chisholm Kiwanis and "countless" Chisholm residents who participated in the search, the news release said.

"You would not believe the outpouring of volunteer work," Steve Raskovich said. "The whole thing was very well-organized. They knew what they were doing."

The adventure began innocently enough. Rita Raskovich was at work Tuesday afternoon; Steve Raskovich and Archuleta were at home. He was watching a movie before reporting for his shift as a press operator at the Duluth News Tribune. He had the air-conditioning on, he said, to fend off the unusual 91-degree heat. But Archuleta, used to the dry heat in the high Idaho desert, doesn’t care for air conditioning. She went outside, where Raskovich thought she was sitting on the deck. Instead, she decided to walk.

Archuleta has been diagnosed as in early stages of dementia, but that might give the wrong picture of her mental acuity, Steve Raskovich said.

"She’s sharp as a tack," he said. "I sit down every day before I go to work with her and play ‘Jeopardy,’ and she kicks my butt every time."

But Archuleta is new to the area, having arrived in Chisholm in June for a four-month visit. She had gone for many walks with Rita Raskovich, but not on her own. Although she doesn’t remember much about what happened, Archuleta said it boiled down to one thing: "I got lost and couldn’t find my way out," she said with a chuckle.

Steve Raskovich said Archuleta apparently walked down the alley next to their house, as she and Rita always would do, but became confused at a stop sign, turning right instead of left. That brought her across state Highway 73 and onto McNiven Road. She walked down the first drive she came to, still apparently thinking she was on the normal route. From there, she wandered into a wooded ravine before realizing she was lost.

Raskovich discovered within 15 minutes that his mother-in-law had disappeared, he said. Immediately alarmed, he went next door to his brother’s house to see if she was there. They followed her normal walking route in a van, without success. That began a search that would involve family members virtually nonstop for the next 48 hours.

Throughout that time, Archuleta was in a relatively sheltered place, Raskovich said.

"This is why I think God had his hand on everything," he said. "It was like a little cave, low-lying, with pine branches covering her, and she just lay down there and figured somebody would come down and find her. She was very well-protected from the elements."

Her wait included a thunderstorm that came through the first night — about 0.35 of an inch fell, according to the National Weather Service. It was scary, Archuleta said, and she got wet and cold. But she opened her mouth to benefit from the moisture.

She was relieved when her rescuers came, Archuleta said — and thirsty and hungry. After getting to the hospital, and upon hearing that volunteers had been providing the family with a steady stream of food, she asked for watermelon, two porketta sandwiches, some lunch meat and two Serrano peppers.

"When we have dinner together, she has to have two Serrano peppers or jalapeno peppers," he said. "That’s the way she was raised."

Thursday, the day she was found, was grandson Zach Raskovich’s 34th birthday.

"Zach was overwhelmed," Steve Raskovich said. "All he cared about was trying to find his grandma."

Her family from Idaho was already on their way, not knowing what to expect. Now, Steve Raskovich said, the family would have a "rejoicing family reunion," celebrating what they consider to be a miracle.

It’s not certain whether Archuleta will stay in Chisholm until October as originally planned or return to Idaho sooner. One thing is certain: On her next walk, she’ll take someone with her.

"Oh yes," Archuleta said with another chuckle. "I definitely will."

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