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Published: Wednesday, 5/9/2001

Woman drowns in creek behind her Van Wert home


MIDDLE POINT, Ohio - From this backyard, Leonard Stemen watched his wife jump on a golf cart and head toward a creek on their farm with an ear of corn to feed the raccoons.

When she disappeared over a steep embankment leading to Dog Creek, he knew his 75-year-old wife could be in trouble.

But by the time Mr. Stemen ran to the stream, there was little he could do to save Mildred Stemen, who was lying face-down in four feet of water.

“I don't know how she could drown that quick,” Mr. Stemen said yesterday, sobbing. “I drug her out, and I tried everything. It seems like I could do something.”

Mrs. Stemen drowned Monday evening.

Known as Dog Creek, the waterway behind the couple's Van Wert County home was not swollen at the time of the accident. But the water was unexpectedly deep, Mr. Stemen said.

The Middle Point and Van Wert emergency medical services were called by a neighbor who heard Mr. Stemen's frantic cries for help.

Van Wert County Sheriff Stan Owens said investigators have not been able to determine how the accident happened.

Mr. Stemen said his wife was in good shape, but she might have become disoriented on her way to feed the raccoons. He said she had been starting to forget things lately.

He said his wife was in good spirits Monday. She had picked up the mail and dropped off the newspaper on the porch for him to read before heading back with a treat for the animals.

Mr. Stemen said he kept an eye on his wife as she headed to the creek. He watched her as she stopped the golf cart about 25 feet short of the creek and got out.

Then she disappeared.

“I jumped in and worked and worked and worked to get her out,” said Mr. Stemen, 76. “I just can't believe that it happened.”

Mr. Stemen, a longtime livestock farmer and lifelong resident of Middle Point, said his wife of 54 years was well known and well liked in the village of 593 people.

Though she spent most of her time working on the couple's stockyard where they bred horses, she will be remembered as a caring neighbor and a loving grandmother to her three granddaughters, he said.

“She helped everybody all her life,” said Mr. Stemen, 76. “She would go to the rest homes and help and she would spend time with her grandkids.”

The Rev. Paul Miller will be presiding over Mrs. Stemen's funeral service tomorrow morning. He said people will remember her as a caring and thoughtful person.

“Caring about people and helping people, that has been her lifestyle,” he said. “She was one of those people who did not want credit for helping people. She just wanted to do what she could.”

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