Family to honor mother with trail

RAPID RIVER – A trail dedication will take place Sunday to honor a Rapid River woman who recently died from burns suffered in an explosion while camping in Schoolcraft County.

Marjorie “Midge” Dutton, 67, died Oct. 1 at the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center where she was being treated for extensive burns caused when a gas stove exploded while camping with her husband, Richard, at Indian River Campground.

Richard, 71, continues to be treated at the downstate burn center and is expected to be released to go home in about a week, said his sons, Robert and James Dutton.

James said the explosion occurred while his parents were camping at the trailhead of the Pine Marten Run, a system of hiking and horseback riding trails in the Hiawatha National Forest between Manistique and Munising.

Midge was signed up to compete in a 25-mile, four-hour horse ride there on Sept. 28.

Their mother was attempting to light the camper stove to make coffee that morning when a gas leak must have caused the explosion, James said. Their father was in bed in the upper quarters and instinctively pulled a blanket over his head.

Neighboring campers immediately came to rescue the Duttons, who were flown by helicopter to Marquette General Hospital. Because of their extensive injuries, they were flown to the burn center in Ann Arbor.

More than 85 percent of Midge’s body was burned, said James, adding doctors had no hope for her survival and gave her a mortality rate of 130 percent. Richard was given an 80 percent mortality rate which meant he had a 20 percent chance of living.

“He’s expected to make a full recovery and may be released in about a week,” James said, explaining his father has been heavily medicated and under an induced coma. He underwent skin grafts on the back of both hands and one arm.

Richard has been able to communicate with his two sons, who are with him in Ann Arbor.

James, 39, of Dallas, Texas, is a member of the U.S. Army and was notified of his parents’ conditions while serving in Afghanistan where he was deployed in mid-September. Robert, 46, and his wife arrived from their home in Clinton, Iowa.

Their mother was on life support and unable to communicate when she died the night of Oct. 1, three days after the explosion; her family and friends were by her side.

The two sons said their parents were married for 48 years. Midge was from Oakland, Calif., where the two had met when she was playing in a band and Richard was in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Richard was born in Grand Rapids and graduated from Rapid River where the couple later moved in the 1960s. Their three sons also graduated from the local high school. Their middle child, John, died in 2006 at the age of 36.

Richard is a retired electrician and worked for Rapid Electric and Mead papermill. He has also been a volunteer firefighter and a emergency medical technician for Masonville Township.

Midge was very active in the community as well, the sons recalled. She was a member of the U.P. Distance Riders Club for more than two decades and participated in competitive and endurance horseback riding. Richard was her pit crew, supplying water and hay at pit stops along the trails.

Midge was also involved in founding the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association. She was a volunteer for William Bonifas Fine Arts Center youth projects, 4-H, church, and other community organizations.

“She was a great mother. She had a heart of gold,” said James. “She was a wonderful person.”

The two brothers are coping with their loss with the help and support of family and friends as well as knowing their father is recovering, they said.

Friends are caring for their mother’s three horses. Two family dogs, which were injured in the fire, are also being cared for by friends.

Midge will be remembered during a trail dedication ceremony planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Grand Island Trailhead, located on County Road 509, east of Rapid River. A portion of the trail will be named “Midge Ridge.”