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In Memoriam: Bud Evenson, A True Door County Character

Bud Evenson’s last ski, with his son Chris (only his shadow can be seen here).

“I have had such a good life. At an early age I developed a faith in Jesus, and as a result God has always been the compass in my life. I had a wonderful wife, family and friends. BEAUTIFUL!” — Bud Evenson

Bud Evenson was so thoroughly Door County that he insisted on a slice of Al Johnson’s cherry pie at what turned out to be his last meal before dying at the age of 87 on Aug. 7.

“Bud Evenson was one of the happiest, happiest men I knew in my whole life. It didn’t make any difference what was going on around him. He was just a plain happy guy,” said Don Diekman, one of Bud’s many longtime friends.

All of those friends have adventure stories going all the way back to the 1940s of Bud waterskiing off the dock at Ephraim behind Gypsy, the 26-foot Chris Craft he owned and ran for a charter business with his lifelong friend Ranny Nelson.

“He and Ranny started waterskiing up here, years and years ago,” Diekman said.

Or Bud heading out on his sailboat into rough weather when everyone else was headed for shore, or Bud skiing and ski jumping on long gone Door County ski hills.

“He’s the only guy I knew who could ski uphill. He was strong,” Diekman said with a fond laugh. “And a good sailor. He had his own sailboat. When the weather was so bad you couldn’t take a party out fishing or sightseeing, that’s when Bud would go sailing. He’d be the only one out on the water.”

Going back even farther than the 65-year friendship between Bud and Diekman is the friendship Bud and Ranny Nelson shared from the age of 10.

“We met in Bible school in the First Baptist Church in Sister Bay. We became friends and have been friends ever since,” Nelson said. “Never had a big argument. Had a couple of little disagreements that didn’t amount to anything. He was a great guy. Very easy to get along with. There aren’t that many friendships that last that long, especially after being in business together. That usually does it. But we had a good time.”

The business revolved around the brand-new Chris Craft they bought in 1946 and called Gypsy.

“Waterskiing at that time was pretty new,” Nelson said. “All the young guys in Ephraim learned how to waterski behind the Gypsy. It would go probably 25 miles an hour, so you could get up.”

In addition to an adventurous spirit, Bud Evenson was also known for his deep faith.

“I always envied him, to have faith like that,” Diekman said.

“He never had to push his faith on anyone. He just lived it. And that’s how he ran his business. He was honest and ethical,” said Bud’s youngest child, Chris Evenson, who, with his brother Ed, now run the business their father founded, Evenson Laundry in Sturgeon Bay.

“What you saw was what you got with Bud, no fronts or airs about him,” said Ed, his oldest son. “He liked to keep things simple, was honest, hardworking and caring. Bud was not a bragger – he would let his actions speak for him. When out on the ski slopes he’d always say: ‘Let your skis do the talkin’.’ He would treat all people with respect and considered anyone he met a new friend to make. He was a Christian man in all aspects of his life, but would not push that on others unless they requested it. In my opinion if you didn’t like or get along with Bud, you were the one with a problem. Bud’s love of family and friends was a treasure to all.”

The middle son, Eric, lives in Maple Grove, Minn., and Bud’s oldest child is Susan Evenson Kotecki, a retired elementary school teacher who spent her teaching career in Des Moines, Iowa.

“He was such a man of great spiritual strength and moral fortitude and he was so kind to everybody, everybody he met,” Susan said. “I’m really very grateful that I can call him my daddy because he lived his life so full and with such love for his family and his church and for all of his friends.”

Another of his longtime friends was also his pastor.

“I knew Bud quite well – and it was my privilege to be his friend and pastor for 25 years,” said Pastor Cory Dahl of First Baptist Church, Sturgeon Bay.

“Our friendship grew stronger and sweeter in the past several years, and I’m sincerely humbled that he counted me among his close friends. The next to the last time I saw him, he squeezed my hand and said, ‘Cory, my brother…my blood brother.’ There was a genuine affection we shared that flowed freely. I will miss him,” Dahl said.

For those who had the pleasure of knowing him, Bud Evenson was part of the big picture of Door County.

“If you did business with him, you were his friend, not an account, which I did when I had Digger’s, the restaurant in Fish Creek for years,” said Digger DeGroot, office manager of the Fish Creek Civic Association. “He was just a wonderful person. I knew Bud for about 30 years. He was one of the true Door County characters. He was the kind of person, when you saw him, he lit up your day and made you feel good about living here. That’s the best way I can explain it. He gave you a sense of why you live here, because there are people like Bud. We’re all going to miss him. Every time you drove around Northern Door, you’d see Bud in his station wagon, checking out the scene. He was just part of the landscape.”

“I had a real good life with Bud,” said his oldest friend, Ranny Nelson. “Yeah, he was always happy. Always had a smile on his face, even if he didn’t know someone, he had a smile and his hand was out for a handshake. He married a good woman (Emily Westphal on Oct. 11, 1952; she preceded him in death on Aug. 16, 2008), and he had a good life. He had good spirits right up to the end. He was happy. He realized that he had quite a life.”

A service of Remembrance will be held at 3 pm Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the First Baptist Church in Sturgeon Bay with the Rev. Cory Dahl, Rev. Matthew Knapp, and The Right Reverend Paul Graf officiating. Inurnment will be at Bayside Cemetery. Visitation will be from 3 to 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the Forbes Funeral Home and from 2 pm Wednesday at the church until the time of service. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to First Baptist Church of Sturgeon Bay or The Door County Maritime Museum.