Elden Butzbaugh

Elden W. Butzbaugh Jr.

Thursday, December 2nd, 1937 - Wednesday, February 17th, 2021
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With the Cooper's hawk, sixty mallard ducks, flock of white swans, a morning dove and a pair of cardinals all standing idle and ready to escort him up to the heavens, Elden W. Butzbaugh, Jr. died peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family on February 17, 2021.

Elden was born on December 2, 1937 in Benton Harbor, Michigan to Elden W. and Lucy Moore Butzbaugh. Elden lived a full, complete life, rich with love and everlasting friendships. He touched the lives of all whom he came in contact with. He attended the first Birthday parties of several of his best friends who remained his loyal friends to the end.

As a young boy growing up in Benton Harbor, Elden would walk from his home on Searles Avenue down to the Battlement Drug Store that his grandfather owned with his father's law office located above it. He also got in touch with his Southern roots when he took annual summer train trips to his mother's hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Elden quickly realized at a young age that yankee boys were deprived of ice cold Coca-Cola in the beauty parlors of the South. Spending time with his friends in Benton Harbor was more to his liking. Elden developed lifelong friendships with their own unique background: he fought the ravine kids every day before and after school with Bruce Conybeare; fished for perch and worked on motor scooters with Frank "Kingie" King; played football with Johnny Cake Null; went on double dates with John "The Greek" Andrews, attended car races with, and notably navigated a wasterskiing trip across Lake Michigan for, John Yerington, played tennis with Steve Findlay, and attended numerous Michigan and Purdue football games with his friends. There were too many friends and experiences to name them all, but each had their own story and carried a special significance to him.

Elden fell in love with the University of Michigan after taking trips to Ann Arbor with his parents and brothers on a two-lane road for the football games starting in the 1940's. He was raised a Michigan Man and then became a Michigan Man just like his father. And, Elden would tell stories about each Michigan game that he attended and knew the history and statistics of various players that he learned from his father. Michigan football games became a lifelong love and he passed on all of that knowledge and passion onto his own sons over the years.

As a teenager, Elden spent time as a camp counselor at the B-4 Ranch in Wyoming, attended Cotillion dances, played football and ran track; and was a member of school government. Elden graduated from Benton Harbor High School as a member of the Class of 1956. Elden took great joy in reminiscing about all of his experiences and athletic endeavors while in high school and Elden always looked forward to attending his high school reunions to see old friends.

Elden started out his collegiate studies at The University of Michigan, but that lasted all of one semester for reasons still unbeknownst to all of us given the numerous tall tales that were told over the years. Elden then attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania for a short time before finally enrolling at Western Michigan University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961. Attending Western Michigan University turned out to be the best decision of Elden's life, as that is where he met the love of his life, Judy Wise, while they both served on the student council. Upon his graduation, Elden first worked for Appliance Buyer's Credit Corporation in St. Joseph and then decided to attend business school, first at Northwestern University and then transferring to Western Michigan University where he earned a Master of Business Administration degree in 1963.

Elden and Judy married on July 20, 1963 in Manistee followed by a reception at the Wellston Inn owned and operated by Judy's family in Wellston, Michigan. Soon after being married, Elden became employed as a floor salesman at Montgomery Ward Inc. in Chicago. Deciding that following in his father's footsteps in a legal career was what he really wanted to do, and utilizing every ounce of his sales skills and unwavering persistence, Elden convinced the Dean of the University of Michigan Law School to admit him in the fall of 1965. Elden made numerous friends during law school which is surprising since he spent more time hustling unsuspecting persons in games pool at the Michigan Union than attending his classes. Some of his professors never recalled seeing him, and one even called on another student thinking it was Elden. Receiving high grades was not his priority, but he became the most popular student in his class. Elden graduated from law school with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1968 and began his legal career with Patrick J. Kinney, Attorney At Law, in St. Joseph.

After sharpening his legal skills for four years, Elden decided to start his own law firm, Elden W. Butzbaugh, Jr., Attorney At Law, located at 715 Ship Street in St. Joseph until moving his practice a few years later to 316 Main Street in St. Joseph where he hired Robert J. Ehrenberg. Butzbaugh & Ehrenberg Trial Attorneys was thus born. Elden took pride in taking on enormous risk and being a champion of the people. He met and represented people from all walks of life, using his own money to fund his cases and earning nothing if he lost, which was not often. He loved a challenge and became thoroughly educated in subjects to help him understand what happened in each particular case. He relished the underdog role and litigated against the behemoth corporations and insurance companies, often winning multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Elden appreciated his employees and their teamwork and insisted on speaking to them all every day before they left for the day just to make sure everything was going all right in their lives. Elden set jury verdict records in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties during his illustrious legal career. Elden also often lectured at the Institue of Continuing Legal Education and felt a duty to pass along his legal expertise to other budding attorneys. In addition to being a member of the State Bar of Michigan, Elden was a member of the American Bar Association, the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

An engineer at heart, Elden developed a deep passion for automobiles and airplanes and anything mechanical. Although Elden crash-landed an airplane as a teenager in Plainwell, he still purchased and customized his own Cessna 182 Skylane airplane and loved to traverse the skies over Berrien County. Beginning with a 1928 Ford Model A and ending with the greatest vehicle ever made, the Chevrolet Caprice station wagon, Elden researched and drove his cars until their tires practically fell off. Throughout his life, Elden owned no less than eight station wagons, a Chevrolet Grand Leader van driven to myriad football games and family vacations, a drag racer Chevrolet Blazer, a custom-made Chevrolet Suburban, numerous Chevrolet Camaros and so many other Chevrolets all being purchased from his buddy, Frank Pastrick. Elden drove over to his "Grand-mo" Butzbaugh's home on many occasions to help her make various repairs, but she really wanted to see her grandson whenever she could.

Living up to his high school designation "Sweet As Sugar Candy", Elden never passed up an opportunity to eat dessert or sweets of any kind. His insatiable appetite for sweets regularly came with a New Years Resolution of "No Cookies, Cake, Ice Cream or Candy" once cited in the newspaper, but which may have lasted no more than a few days, if that. Given the amount that he spent on sweets, Elden likely could have alternatively used those funds to purchase his own Fannie Mae and Baskin Robbins franchises. But, by far and away his favorite treat was his wife's apple pie which he was sometimes known to have taken up to his bedroom and eat whole in one sitting.

Another one of Elden's passions was photography. He loved taking pictures of his sons and their friends in athletic events, regularly took couples' photos for The Cotillion, and was one of Southwest Michigan's pioneers in taking photos of Lake Michigan, the North Pier, and gorgeous sunsets which he dubbed a different painting every night. Elden took special pleasure in making duplicates of his photos and sending them onto his friends and loved ones for their own happiness and enjoyment.

Elden had a fondness for animals and nature. Throughout his life, Elden owned and cherished his dogs Bozo, Maize, Wolf, Fury, and Blue. Elden often drove out to his property at Tabor Farm in Sodus where he created his own nature preserve to see all of the wonderful creatures sharing his space. Whether it was a deer, raccoon, turtle or bird, Elden made his sighting the talk of the day.

Being the son of a piano teacher, music held a special place for Elden. If it had a beat, a strong vocal or just a simple theme, Elden loved listening to any tune and they encompassed a diverse array of genres including jazz, classical, country, folk, and rock and roll. The music inspired him. Every morning, Elden would play music while in the shower and then splashing on some Royall Lyme aftershave to energize him for the day ahead. Some of his favorites were Zippadeedoodah, Singing In The Rain, Hambone, Alright Okay You Win, Ragg Mopp, You Are My Sunshine, The Victors, Varsity and The Yellow and Blue. His family was able to play all of his favorite songs in Elden's final days, even taking some requests from his and his sons' friends. Some of those requests were new, interesting, and hilarious and Elden surely loved every minute of it. Elden assigned a song for each of his family members and those were the very last songs that he heard: Danny Boy, Mr. Touchdown USA (You Gotta Be A Football Hero), My Buddy, Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho, and Hey Jude. Right after he died, his family played Amazing Grace by Elvis Presley and recited the Lord's Prayer. Elden was finally at peace.

Among his other hobbies and interests were waterskiing, pleasure boating, fishing, walking on the beach, throwing the frisbee, collecting owls and driftwood, grilling cheeseburgers for his sons' friends, flying kites, and just about anything that seized his attention and curiosity.

On September 22, 1997, Elden suffered a devastating stroke that left him paralyzed. Although he was unable to still do many of the things that he loved, Elden carried an optimistic attitude and dreamt big. The biggest loss was that Elden's storytelling ability suffered. A few years later, having been introduced to the desolate, remote and stunning beaches of St. George Island, Florida by Big John Dewane in 1980, Elden eventually built a vacation home there where he looked over the Apalachicola Bay that sometimes treated him to a porpoise dance show, the pelicans and osprey, a son catching a fish off of the dock and more picturesque sunsets. Elden took it upon himself to bring along several of his sons' friends to the island for family vacations. A Parkinson's Disease diagnosis a few years ago further robbed Elden of some of his favorite activities, but he still found the time to learn new things to occupy himself and stimulate his intellectual inquisitiveness.

In his retirement years, Elden loved to head out to the farm country of Bainbridge Township and purchase the local produce in season; watch old westerns, cowboy movies, the boxing matches of Muhammad Ali whom he revered and adored, reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, and just about any Big Ten athletic event; smoke his pipe filled with Dunhill's My Mixture #965 while playing a competitive cribbage game; read books on a wide variety of subjects; watch the sunsets and fishermen on the North Pier; watch the cement tanker ships cruising down the St. Joseph River to arrive at port; listen to all of his favorite music; and ride in his station wagon around Benton Harbor and Berrien County reminiscing about his boyhood years and local history while pointing out where certain events in his life transpired to all who were there to listen.

The Butzbaughs are eternally grateful to all of those who stopped by the house to spend time with Elden in his later years, especially his good friend Jim Jeschke who brought him so many sports pictures over the years to conjure up old memories. Jim managed to rile up Elden during every visit and inject him full of vim and vigor to let him know that life was still worth living.

In addition to imparting all of his knowledge and stories upon everyone he shared time with, Elden was able to make an impact through charitable giving. Notably, in 1994, Elden and Judy made the contribution to Western Michigan University for the construction of the Trustee Fountain located in front of the undergraduate library. Elden also supported the American Legion Post 163, the Michigan Law Enforcement Torch Run, the St. Joseph Soccer League, and as a result of his support, was an Honorary Coach of the Western Michigan University basketball team.

Elden was a member of, and served various roles in, several civic organizations and clubs during his lifetime: The Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Chapter of Rotary Club International (the founder and Chairman of the Rotary Track Meet from 1974-1980), The St. Joseph River Yacht Club, President of the St. Joseph High School Football Boosters (during the 1988 State Runner-Up season), The Cotillion, The Victors Club and Presidents Club for The University of Michigan, The Western Michigan University Foundation and Gary Fund, the Fraternal Order of Police, The Elks Club, Michigan Steelheaders Southwestern Michigan Chapter, Phil Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, Martin Luther King Jr.Torch Bearer For Excellence, The Marquis Who's Who Publications Board, The Lawyers Club of the University of Michigan, and The American Cancer Society.

Elden is survived by his wife, Judith; four sons: Dan (Tara Henwood) of Ridgefield, Connecticut; T.D. of St. Joseph, Bud of St. Joseph, and Josh (Alexis Emlong) of St. Joseph. Elden is also survived by a brother, Benjamin (Betsy) F. Butzbaugh II of Lake Mary, Florida; and five grandchildren: Ben, Cece, Jude, Magnolia and Leonard. He is also survived by numerous brothers in law, sisters in law, nephews and nieces whom he cherished spending time with. Elden was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Alfred M. Butzbaugh.

A funeral service will be held on Monday February 22, 2021, at 1pm, at First Congregational Church, 2001 Niles Ave., St. Joseph. Burial will follow at Riverview Cemetery. The church will be live streaming the service through their website, Friends may visit with the family on Sunday, February 21, 2021, from 2pm until 5pm, at Starks & Menchinger Chapel, 2650 Niles Rd., St. Joseph. Out of respect for the family and guests in attendance, masks and proper social distancing will be required at the visitation and funeral. Memorial contributions may be made to The University of Michigan Law School, Western Michigan University Trustee Fountain or St. Joseph/Benton Harbor Rotary Track Meet. Those wishing to leave an online condolence may do so at

At a later date this coming summer, the family plans to hold an outdoor, festive celebration of Elden's life at his home on the North Pier.

Happy Trails, you old cowboy! Your family loves you and you left your mark in this world. Although you are gone, the memories will always live on. It sure was one hell of a ride. Good night and good luck in cribbage!

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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Sunday, February 21st, 2021 | 2:00pm - 5:00pm
    Sunday, February 21st, 2021 2:00pm - 5:00pm
    Starks & Menchinger Chapel
    2650 Niles Rd.
    St. Joseph, MI 49085
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Service

    Monday, February 22nd, 2021 | 1:00pm
    Monday, February 22nd, 2021 1:00pm
    First Congregational United Church of Christ - St. Joseph
    2001 Niles Ave
    St. Joseph, MI 49085
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
    The church will be live streaming the service through their website,


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Private Condolence

Chris Neuser

Posted at 06:39pm
My thoughts and prayers are with all of the family during this difficult time. God Bless.

3 trees were planted in the memory of Elden Butzbaugh

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Donna LeBeau

Posted at 02:48pm
I had met Elden through his profession as an attorney and I will say that he made an impression on me for which I will never forget him. Truly a compassionate man who had the highest standards in helping his clients and a great personality that just left one in awe and admiration for him. I am truly sorry for your loss and will keep the family in my prayers.

Donna LeBeau

Robin Zollar

Posted at 03:44pm
Judy and family, So sorry for your loss. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Please take care of yourselves.

Ferol Capizzo Allen

Posted at 11:40am
My sincere condolences to Judy and family. What a beautiful life he lived but a heartbreaking loss to you all. So sorry.

Hilda Raines Banyon

Posted at 06:22pm
Steve and I send our condolences to you and your family from AZ. I will cherish all the fun conversations with Eldon that we had over the years. Such a character!!! The obit is perhaps the most beautifully written I've ever seen. I could see all the love in every sentence. My prayers are with you sweet Judy.
Hilda Banyon

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