The 79-year-old Seattle woman missing on a mushroom-hunting hike in Chelan County is a retired longtime Seattle University faculty member and administrator and a widely respected authority on mushroom identification.
Although friends worried about Hildegard Hendrickson’s solo hikes, they have every confidence in her judgment and abilities.
“She knows what she’s doing in the woods,” said longtime friend John Goldman. “But she’s usually very conservative and doesn’t wander very far from her car. That’s why I’m so worried.”
Search-and-rescue workers in Chelan County suspended their search for Hendrickson on Wednesday evening but planned to continue looking in the morning.
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The searchers have been combing a wide area near a trailhead on the Basalt Peak Trail, where Hendrickson on Saturday went on what was intended to be a day hike in search of mushrooms.
Chelan County Undersheriff John Wisemore said searchers were working shoulder-to-shoulder doing a “grid search” of the area within a quarter-mile of where the woman’s car was found.
“It’s been down to 39 degrees,” he said. “Not a good temperature, but not out of the realm of being survivable.”
Wisemore told The Associated Press that some tracks had been found that might be those of the missing woman, who walked with a cane or stick.
Hendrickson’s car, with her purse and ID inside, had apparently been at a trailhead since Saturday but was not reported as “suspicious” until Tuesday. Deputies, after finding her ID in the car, contacted family members, who said Hendrickson hadn’t returned from her Saturday hike.
The search began Tuesday evening.
Hendrickson worked at Seattle University from 1967 to 1996, as a faculty member and department chairwoman at the university’s Albers School of Business and Economics
An SU website says Hendrickson helped start the university’s MBA degree program. It says she was born in Yugoslavia to a family of German origin and came to the U.S. to pursue her education, earning her bachelor’s degree, master’s and doctorate at the University of Washington.
Many Seattle-area residents, including Goldman, know Hendrickson through the Puget Sound Mycological Society, a group of mushroom enthusiasts she joined in 1972.
Marian Maxwell, society president, said she had a passion for sharing what she learned.
The group’s website identifies Hendrickson as a trusted source for questions about identifying mushrooms, and she held sessions each Monday at the Center for Urban Horticulture at which anyone could bring a specimen to be identified — a way for hobbyists to learn whether the specimens they gathered were edible or poisonous.
Her absence from this week’s session was the first indication Maxwell had that Hendrickson was missing.
In 1997, Hildegard Hendrickson and her late husband, Monte, were winners of the group’s “Golden Mushroom Award,” presented to those who have helped strengthen the organization.
Maxwell said members of the group are holding on to hope that Hendrickson will be found.
“She’s a very strong person,” Maxwell said. “If there’s a chance of anyone being alive up there, after four days, it’s her,” Maxwell said. “She’s tough as nails.”
Maxwell said, “We did worry about her, because with her husband passed away, she does a lot of hikes alone. A lot of people asked her not to do that.”
A 2004 Seattle P-I article about the Mycological Society described Hendrickson as “a club legend” who kept detailed notes for decades on where she found choice mushrooms, even identifying the specific tree they were near. That article said she “walks the forest with an orange grocery-store basket slung over her arm, an old ski pole to poke at mounds of earth and a plastic whistle hung around her neck. (One blast means ‘Where are you?’ Two is ‘We have found mushrooms!)’ ”
Seattle Times staff reporter Jimmy Lovaas and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed
to this report.
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org