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Sunday, September 14, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Friends Say Hiker Wouldn't Have Wanted Others At Risk -- Missing Man Described As `Five-Star Neighbor, Wonderful Person'

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

John Devine is a self-sufficient and gentle outdoorsman who would be deeply saddened to learn people had died searching for him, friends said yesterday.

Search crews have been looking for Devine, 73, since last weekend, when he was reported missing after a mountain hike in the Olympic National Forest. Friends and family have kept vigil at the home that Devine shares with his wife, Vim.

"He wouldn't want these people putting themselves at risk for him," said a neighbor who asked that her name not be used. "He would have said `back off.' I know that."

The Rev. Michael Kasting, Devine's pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Sequim, said Devine "is a quiet man, good-natured and cheerful, who has a great love for the mountains."

The Devines joined Kasting's church about six years ago after moving to Sequim to live in a community of retirees. Devine is originally from Minnesota. The neighbor said she believes he was an engineer before he retired.

The couple is active in the church, Kasting said, and Devine had been spending a great deal of time during the past year helping with a major remodeling of the sanctuary.

Devine had worked at the church with Greg Balzer, 46, a Sequim remodeler and the man who went into the mountains with him last weekend. Balzer reportedly went bowhunting in nearby Buckhorn Wilderness of the Olympic National Forest while Devine, an experienced long-distance hiker, climbed Mount Baldy.

Devine reportedly had food and water but wasn't prepared to spend the night outdoors. He was last seen descending the 6,827-foot summit Sept. 6.

According to Devine's friend, Balzer remained at the search scene all week.

Balzer is just one of many hiking partners Devine has had, Kasting said, although his neighbor said he often hikes alone. "He walks very fast," she said. "I can't keep up with him."

When Devine didn't come home, "a very big light went out of this neighborhood," she added.

Another neighbor, Brad Pringle, described Devine as "a five-star neighbor, a wonderful person."

Members of Faith Lutheran's prayer chain have been praying for Devine since last Sunday when they heard he was missing, Kasting said.

"He's a very humble man," Kasting said. "He wouldn't have wanted all these headlines and all this attention."

Sally Macdonald's phone message number is 464-2248. The e-mail address is: smac-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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