Mark Taylor
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A 77-year-old Gardner man who had wandered away from home last week was found safe and sound by police about 10 minutes after he was reported missing.
Authorities credit their quick work to Take Me Home, a new database program by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office intended to help police find persons who have difficulty communicating because of  developmental or cognitive disabilities.
The program is specifically aimed at helping locate persons with autism, Down syndrome, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
It includes a database available to law enforcement that includes a person’s disability information, photograph, physical description, and family contact information.
Ilena Spalding, public information officer for the Gardner Police Department, said Willard Ruch was reported missing by his wife June just after 4 p.m. on July 7.
He had been missing for about an hour when his wife called police.
Within minutes, using information from the Take Me Home database, police found Ruch uninjured and within blocks of his home in the  600 block of North Mulberry Street.
“He was in good condition,” Spalding said.
Spalding said Ruch’s wife enrolled him in the Take Me Home program after he had wandered away from home on a previous occasion.
“This program is fairly new,” Spalding said. “At least we found out about it earlier this year. We have referred some people to the program. Anybody who has an elderly parent or someone they are concerned about, we give them the information and they take the steps (to enroll the person).”
Spalding said most Gardner officers are personally familiar with Ruch, but outside agencies such as the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, may not be.
That is when the information in the database comes in especially handy.
“They (sheriff’s office) have information that can be given to any officer, along with a photo,“ Spalding said.
“There is also additional information that is helpful for officers regarding the person’s (medical) situation whether it be Asperger’s or Alzheimer’s, how to relate to them better and maybe identify them faster.”
The Take Me Home program is free and available to all Johnson County residents.
For more information, visit the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Web site at