Elderly man's body is found

Discovery made in field next to retirement home

Autopsy results pending

87-year-old had been missing for 6 days, family says

June 15, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Herman H. Lange left his Ellicott City retirement home for the last time June 8, walking down North Ridge Road, then treading along a rock-strewn dirt path.

There, the 87-year-old man began a 150-yard trek through a field of tall weeds and grass, toward several nearby stores just over a hill.

Early Sunday, authorities found Lange's body in that field, after a nightlong search with dogs.

Autopsy results are pending.

Jonathan Lange of Columbia partially blames employees at Heartlands Senior Living Village for his father's death.

"I think they need to take a look at their procedures," he said, upset that no one checked regularly on his father, who resided in the village's independent living apartments. "One reason you want a family member [there] rather than just an apartment is so they'll be checked on and someone will look after them."

Lange said employees were supposed to make sure that his father ate dinner each evening in the cafeteria. If he failed to show, he said, employees were supposed to notify family members.

A spokeswoman for Heartlands' parent company, Constellation Senior Services headquartered in Columbia, said employees are not required to check.

"Mr. Lange was an independent resident, and by its very name he was independent," said Tricia Lilly, the spokeswoman. "They are free to come and go as they please."

Jonathan Lange said his father often took long walks.

"That was against most of our wishes," he said. "There was no stopping him."

Residents and employees hadn't seen Lange since June 8. On Saturday, Kathryn Van Kroten, a Heartlands resident, called the Lange family and said she was worried about her friend. Van Kroten said Heartlands employees told her that Lange had gone on a trip with one of his sons.

"I knew something was wrong when he didn't wish me happy birthday," she said.

Jonathan Lange said he knew his father hadn't gone on any trips, and visited his father's room at Heartlands. Suitcases were empty and Tuesday's newspaper rested neatly, and unread, on a table.

"That's what tipped me off," Jonathan Lange said. "He always read the newspaper."

That night, Heartlands called authorities, who found the body about 5 a.m. the next day.

Lange, a rugged man known for his good humor, was born in Douglas, Ariz., in 1912, a week after the area achieved statehood. He graduated from Douglas High School in 1928 and won the state math test, which earned him a scholarship to the University of Arizona. Four years later, he earned a bachelor's degree in physics and married Judith Friedlander in 1933.

Lange moved back to Douglas, where he taught elementary school and later high school physics, his true passion in life.

After World War II, Lange moved to Phoenix, taught science at an elementary school and earned a master's degree in education. In 1956, he left teaching and took over his father-in law's painting and contracting company.

Eight years later, he returned to teaching at Scottsdale High School, retired in 1977 and managed several rental properties, which he owned.

In 1994, Lange moved to Maryland to be closer to his son Jonathan and soon began living at Heartlands. In September 1995, Judith Lange died.

Lange's friends at Heartlands said he was a quiet man.

"If he sat in the lobby for any length of time, he just fell asleep, sound asleep," said Earl Atzrott, another resident. "He was not a talkative sort of man. He was also [a] very, very, very slow" walker.

Almost daily, they said, Lange would walk to a nearby pond and watch the ducks and geese. Several weeks ago, he sat very still on a bench and watched as baby geese and ducks waddled toward the pond. Soon, two deer joined them.

"He said, `I just kept really quiet and still,'" Van Kroten recalled. "That walk was really worthwhile to him."

The weekend before his death, Lange watched his grandson Matthew graduate from Wilde Lake High School and attended a post-graduation party at his son's Columbia home. That Sunday, Lange joined his son in Annapolis, where Jonathan cleaned his 19-foot sloop and Lange chatted amicably with passers-by.

Said Jonathan Lange: "Mostly, he just enjoyed being with his sons, hanging out with his sons."

Lange is survived by his five sons, Jonathan of Columbia; G. David Lange of Chevy Chase; Robert Lange of Boston; Michael Lange of Lake Jackson, Texas; and Philip Lange of Rochester, N.Y.; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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