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Service set for man last seen in Nevada wilderness

RENO, Nev. — Nearly a year after she was found on the verge of starvation in a stranded van in the Nevada wilderness, a Canadian woman and others will pay tribute to a husband who didn't make it out alive.

A public memorial service for Albert Chretien will be held Saturday in his hometown of Penticton, British Columbia, just north of the Washington border.

Rita Chretien, 56, was found weak but alive last May 6 in the rugged mountains of northeastern Nevada near the Idaho line. She stayed in the van for seven weeks, surviving on trail mix, candy and water from a stream.

But there has been no sign of her 59-year-old husband since he set out on foot in search of help on March 22, 2011, three days after the couple's van got stuck on a muddy road.

Intensive searches turned up no sign of Albert Chretien, and Elko County sheriff's investigators have said they believe he is dead.

"Rita and family have carried on with life and are not relying on finding remains of Albert," said family spokesman Hannah Hyland. "We think that more than ordinary efforts were made to find Albert."

The memorial service was scheduled after family and friends "very reluctantly accepted" several months ago that Albert Chretien could not have survived, added Hyland, a neighbor and close friend of Rita Chretien.

"The service represents closure," she said. "In her heart, Rita realized early on that Albert likely succumbed because of the weather. She has made peace with this."

The Chretiens owned a commercial excavating business and were headed to Las Vegas for a trade show. They left a highway after using their new GPS unit to find the shortest route, and ended up on a remote forest road miles from the nearest town.

Repeated requests to interview Rita Chretien were denied.

While she has been described as a private person who shuns attention, she has accepted invitations to give future motivational talks at a mayoral prayer breakfast in British Columbia and at a large church in Calgary.

Her life revolves around her three sons, five grandchildren, friends and church, Hyland said. A devout Christian, she believes her faith helped her survive.

"Rita is peaceful, and thinks, dwells on, focuses on happy things. She remains strong in her faith in the Lord," Hyland said. "She wanted to stay alive for her grandchildren, and whatever purpose God had for her in this life."

The Chretiens had been "sweethearts" since age 15 when they attended the same high school, Hyland said, and she has drawn strength for dealing with her husband's absence from her faith.

"She knows she'll see him again, and survives on hope and the wonderful memories of the life they had together," Hyland said. "Early on she knew he was in God's hands no matter the outcome."

Sheriff's officials remain hopeful a hunter or hiker will stumble on evidence of Albert Chretien. He set out with a cellphone and GPS for Mountain City, a couple of day's journey from the van.

The memorial service begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bethel Church in Penticton.