February 10, 1935 - April 25, 2022
Service Date: September of 2022
Former Lake City resident Bud McDonald died at Montrose, Colorado, age 87, after several years’ ill health on April 25, 2022, with his daughter, Christine, by his side. He had an eclectic career which included multiple terms as Lake City Mayor in the 1970s.
McDonald came from a ranching background, first at Powderhorn as a teenager and later at Camp Redcloud on the upper Lake Fork.
For over 50 years, he was revered as a knowledgeable hunting guide, his versatile local work career interspersed as an early superintendent of Lake City Water & Sanitation District, past Hinsdale County Undersheriff, and an early Emergency Medical Technician and ambulance driver dating back to the 1970s.
McDonald retired from his last career, maintenance driver for Colorado Department of Transportation on Highway 149 based out of Lake City.
He and his wife, Janet Miller McDonald, raised a family of three sons and a daughter in Lake City. Following Mrs. McDonald’s death in 2017, Bud relocated to Montrose to be close to family. He was a resident of a senior living facility, Spring Creek Chalet, at the time of his death.
Bud McDonald’s survivors are his daughter, Christine McDonald Mergelman, of Simla, Colorado, and his three sons, and their families: Harry and Barbara McDonald, Montrose, George and Tina McDonald, Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, and John C. McDonald, Montrose.
The list of grandchildren includes Brandon McDonald, Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Jessica McDonald McVey and her husband, David McVey, Colorado Springs; Tawna McDonald, Colorado Springs; Dustyn Mergelman, Hillsdale, Wyoming; Tiana Mergelman Brown and her husband, Kris Brown, Panhandle, Texas; Johanna Mergelman, Simla, Colorado; and Britney McGee, Lefors, Texas.
Other survivors are four great grand-children, Lincoln McVey, Jameson McVey, LeeAnn McGee, and Lylah McGee.
More distant surviving relation are Bud’s nephews, Dan McDonald, Loma, Colorado, and Doug McDonald, Fruita, Colorado; and a cousin, lower Lake Fork resident Helen Wilson Whinnery, along with her sons, Stan Whinnery and wife Janel, and Steve Whinnery.
In addition to his wife of 58 years, Janet Miller McDonald, Bud was predeceased by his parents, George Elmer McDonald and Esther Helen (Collins) McDonald; grandson, Austyn Mergelman, who died in 2013; brother, George E. McDonald, nephews Darrell McDonald and David McDonald, and parents-in-law, J. Ray and Doris Miller.
A September, 2022, memorial service is planned which, at his request, will also include a pig roast. Ashes of both Buddy and his wife, Janet, will be interred in the family plot at IOOF?Cemetery north of Lake City.
Universally known as Bud or Buddy and strongly disinclined to be called by his given name, Walter H. McDonald was a native of the San Luis Valley, born at Alamosa, Colorado, February 10, 1935.
His parents were George Elmer McDonald, a public service company employee in Alamosa, and Esther Helen (Collins) McDonald. Mrs. McDonald received her elementary teaching certification from State Normal School in Gunnison, now Western Colorado University, and taught 1st through 8th Grade students at a succession of single room schools in Western Colorado.
Fall, 1947, found Mrs. McDonald teaching at the single-room log school house at Powderhorn on the Cebolla in rural Gunnison County.
Not coincidentally, Powderhorn was also the home of Mrs. McDonald’s sister, Alice (Collins) Wilson, and her cattle rancher husband, Ralph Wilson.
As children, Bud and his brother, George, Jr., moved with the family to Grand Junction, Colorado, where Bud, a member of Central High School “C” Club, received his high school diploma in 1953.
The McDonalds lived in a rural location outside of Grand Junction, Bud and his brother, growing up tending a succession of livestock which included milk cows, pigs, and chickens.
As a precursor to his later careers, Bud was familiar with the lower Cebolla from carefree summers when he’d join his aunt and uncle to assist at their Powderhorn cattle ranch. It was the start of a life-long fascination with both cattle ranching and rural mountain living which began at Powderhorn and later transferred to Lake City in the Lake Fork Valley.
Following high school in 1953, an intermission took place as Buddy enlisted with the U.S. Army for three years, including a 13-month tour of service in Korea. For his enlistment, and prior to a return to cattle ranching, he received both the U.S. Army’s Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
After his release from military service, Buddy returned to ranching and was managing cattle at the old Croft Ranch, now Gorsuch, on Miller Flats near Gateview.
As an indication of his later civic commitment, Bud trailed cattle during the day and periodically attended evening meetings as the designated treasurer of Gunnison County’s lower Lake Fork Gateview School District No. 28.
Buddy was attending a Gunnison dance with some of his Wilson relation when he made the acquaintance of Gunnison native Janet Miller. A successive graduate of both Gunnison High School and Western State College, Janet was also a teacher who, like Bud’s mother, taught at the Powderhorn school.
Following a brief courtship, Bud and Janet married at Gunnison’s Good Samaritan Church September 20, 1959, with Janet’s close friend, Alice Carpenter as maid of honor and Buddy’s brother, George, as best man.
Following a honeymoon tour to Mesa Verde, the McDonalds became life-long residents of the Lake Fork Valley. Buddy’s first ranch work after marriage was leasing cattle range from Colonel Hinkle at Redcloud Ranch on the upper Lake Fork.
After their Redcloud house burned in 1965, the McDonalds and their expanding family moved to Lake City, first to Cabin No. 3 at newly-built Ox Yoke-Riverside Resort in Wade’s Addition and later to the Chick Mendenhall house at Chick’s Trailer Park on north Bluff Street.
The McDonalds’ eldest son, Harry, was born in 1960, followed by sons George and John, born respectively in 1962 and 1963, followed by the youngest, a daughter named Christine, who was born in 1966.
For the majority of their married lives, Bud and Janet lived in an expanded mobile home at the southwest corner of 7th and Henson Street which is now the site of Lake City Community School’s soccer field. In more recent years they owned a home on Henson Street across from Hinsdale County Courthouse and lived in the upper floor caretaker’s suite at the old Rocking K, Wade’s Addition, owned by the Grappe family.
In a taped interview with Linda Pavich for Hinsdale County Museum in 2016, Bud and Janet recalled a virtual whirlwind of careers which Bud enjoyed during his years in Lake City.
Asked by Pavich what was his favorite occupation, Bud responded that while underground mining was a clear favorite, highlights in his life were his work as Hinsdale County Undersheriff with Sheriff Charlie Colopy in the 1970s and his work as superintendent, one of the initial employees of newly-formed Lake City Water & Sanitation District. Also high on Bud’s career list was his remarkable half-century work as a hunting season guide and outfitter assisted by his wife and sons. Each of the sons was indoctrinated into the outfitting business starting at about age seven, while Janet’s integral role in the business was getting up early and staying up late feeding and preparing sustenance for the hunters.
Janet, who shuffled her duties as outfitter cook with her day work — at various times Treasurer for Town of Lake City, Forest Service Clerk and Assistant Cashier at the Lake City bank — recalled she’d rise pre-dawn to prepare an early breakfast and clean the dishes, prepare to-go lunches for the hunters, then go to work, “then come home and do it all again.”
The nighttime regimen for Janet and family was typically to work until midnight, catch a few hours of sleep before the start of the new work day at 3 a.m. Smiling, Janet said, “I told myself it only lasts about six weeks.”
At its peak, McDonald Outfitters drew on the skills of a total of 17 horses and pack mules in their guiding business. Livestock was stabled for use in Lake City during the summer and fall months, and then relocated to Montrose for winter pasture. Guiding took place under U.S. Forest Service permit within a 30-40-mile perimeter around Lake City.
Early in his career as an outfitter, Bud worked in partnership with Charlie Colopy guiding hunters who were staying at G & M Cabins in Lake City. He and Charlie later enlarged their guiding business under a lease with R.L. Edmondson at Valley View Ranch north of town.
In many ways, Bud’s life is reflective of changing times in Lake City and the apparent ease with which he adapted to the town’s evolution.
After cattle ranching both at Camp Redcloud and years later leasing pasture for cattle at San Juan Ranch north of town, Bud’s career trajectory included commuting from Montrose winters for work as Blue Mesa Reservoir was constructed in the mid-1960s. Part of Bud’s acquired reservoir-building skills included high angle rope work as he and fellow workers scaled vertical cliffs which were to be inundated by the rising Gunnison River waters.
Summers were typically spent back in Lake City contracting on heavy equipment with Joel Swank and part-time work on the county road & bridge crew.
Simultaneous with his Blue Mesa Reservoir work, Bud was also called in to assist in development of Lake City’s fledgling ski hill. While Joel Swank and Perk Vickers used bull dozers on the federal land to create envisioned swift downhill ski runs in what was christened “Lake City Winter Wonderland,” Bud and others were hired to fell trees and assist in installation of the repurposed Poma ski lift.
After the ski hill first opened in 1966, Bud was hired as ski lift operator for its first two winters.
Highlights in Bud’s local career included his contract work as an underground miner on a variety of high altitude mines in Hinsdale County. Particularly memorable was his work with Charlie Colopy and Billy Burke at the Pride of America Mine on Henson Creek, including one instance in 1964 when his jeep pickup was smashed by an unexpected mud and rock slide.
He and his brother George were also employed at different times in the 1960s at the Pelican Mine on Henson Creek, and for exploratory work by Roy Pray and the Jensen brothers, Carl and Julius, at upper Henson Creek mines above Rose’s Cabin and on the slopes of Engineer Pass.
Others working in area mines with Bud included his cousin, Wendell Wilson, Lawrence Colopy, and Lec McCloughan, the latter dying in an accident at the Pelican Mine in 1960.
In the early 1960s, Bud and Charlie worked a double shift, spending days working for Hinsdale Road & Bridge, and then in the evening reporting for work running a drift at the Ute-Ulay Mine. According to Colopy, “we were trying to make a living.”
Bud found contract mining remunerative in feeding his family. Unlike mine promoters such as Roy Pray with envisioned million-dollar strikes which typically failed to materialize, for contract miners such as Bud, the hourly pay was a steady and reliable source of income. According to Bud, his work drilling and blasting to open tunnels “may not have made money but it sure paid wages.”
Also enjoyable for Bud was his career as Hinsdale County Undersheriff working for Sheriff Charlie Colopy between 1972 and 1976.
Even prior to his work with Sheriff Colopy, Bud McDonald was among the corps of Hinsdale County’s first Emergency Medical Technicians. Bud and fellow students Burton and Patsy Smith, Charlie Colopy, and Ron and Lou Criley, spent winter, 1971-72, commuting to EMT?classes in Gunnison prior to receiving their certification as Lake City’s first EMTs.
Bud was also recruited as ambulance driver piloting the county’s newly-acquired ambulance, a 1958 Chevy Panel Wagon which was purchased in Alamosa. According to Charlie Colopy, the new ambulance “was not too well equipped but it served the purpose.”
Bud continued as volunteer ambulance driver from March, 1973, through early 1980 when he relinquished his role to newer volunteers.
Other than a gleaming used 1958 ambulance, equipment and funding for emergency medical personnel at that date was nearly non-existent and relied heavily on volunteers efforts. Tax funding was lacking at that date and was instead derived in part from fundraising schemes, including proceeds from friendly games of poker and chuck-a-luck which were annually conducted on July 4 and the fall Hunters’ Ball in the Armory. Bud emphasized that these were friendly games and “you’d nearly always win money.” In addition to the ever-popular chuck-a-luck dice game, part of the proceeds from Black Jack overseen by green-visored Smokey Swanson and Ron Criley was also the source of much-needed emergency services funding.
Asked for specifics on his EMT?and undersheriff work, Bud recalled tragic instances such as the recovery of the body of 16-year-old Cindy Pavich following a June, 1971, jeeping accident at El Paso Creek on upper Henson Creek. There were also fatal airplane crashes to which he responded, among them a man and woman and three small children who died in an airplane wreck near American Basin, and the September, 1971, single plane crash at Texan Resort which killed Guy Gravestock and Glen Cox.
Also tragic was McDonald’s assistance recovering the body of Tully J. Martin, 17, who drowned diving into the Lake Fork River below Crooke’s Falls in 1974. Searchers including Bud were unsuccessful recovering the body until the Park Service was called in and arranged to reduce water flow by temporarily installing an 18”-thick I-beam at the outlet of Lake San Cristobal. With water flow diminished, rescue divers were able to locate the body. As ambulance drivers, Bud transported the body to Gunnison, taking time out en route to stop to tell the boy’s parents that their son had been recovered.
Less tragic but still vividly recalled by Bud was a Montrose man charged with vehicle theft who was arrested while in bed with three women in an upstairs room of the Elkhorn Hotel. Another particularly unnerving event was the sheriff’s dept.’s response to a dead sheepherder, his eyes still wide open, leaning against a tree at Capitol City in 1971. Simultaneous as he leaned over to inspect the dead body, the new-fangled sheriff’s dept. radio “let out a squeal,” Bud recalled, “and I jumped about mile high.”
On several occasions, Undersheriff McDonald was required to transport prisoners to other jails, including the correctional facility at Buena Vista, Colorado, where the usually unflappable McDonald admitted to “feeling kind of uneasy” when he joined prisoners eating in the prison mess hall.
During his years with Hinsdale Sheriff’s Dept., Bud recalled that marijuana was just beginning to be a factor in police stops. When marijuana was found, “we seldom wrote a ticket and instead just threw it away,” he said.
Both Charlie Colopy and Bud McDonald retired from their respective roles as sheriff and undersheriff at the conclusion of Colopy’s term as county sheriff in 1976. An interest in local law enforcement remained in Bud’s blood, however, and in 1986 he sought election as Hinsdale County Sheriff on the Republican ticket.
In his election campaign, Bud noted “I am physically able to perform the duties of Sheriff, including long trips into rough country by foot or horseback.”
His campaign literature included, “I believe that our laws are the same for tourist and resident, rich and poor. Everyone should be treated the same. You might not always agree with me, but you will always know where I stand, and I will treat everyone fairly.”Although he defeated Frank Wilcox in the August, 1986, GOP?primary, he was ultimately defeated in the ensuing November general election by Burton Smith.
Shortly after installation of its underground water mains and sewer pipes, Lake City Water & Sanitation District hired Bud McDonald as superintendent, the water district’s sole employee. Bud’s work with the district from May, 1973, until he resigned and was replaced by Burton Smith in 1978, entailed oversight of the water treatment plant which at that date was a relatively small facility located on town property on Henson Street, including the site of today’s Lake City Area Medical Center.
Bud’s work for the water district included adding minimal amounts of chlorine to the water system, scraping screens at the water treatment plant, and excavation and installation of water and sewer taps.
One of Bud’s greatest challenges as Water & San Supervisor came just a few months after he was hired, in July, 1973, when the Hidden Treasure Dam on Henson Creek failed, sending tons of rock, mud and mine debris cascading down Henson Creek and into the Lake Fork River. As water supervisor, Bud recalled that the river turned black immediately following the dam washout, prompting a shut down of the town’s water system. Army National Guard was called in with emergency supplies of potable water which was hauled in on tankers and in fish stocking trucks supplied by state game & fish.
Bud recalled that as Henson Creek was necessarily discontinued as a source of water, the town’s water tank on Water Tower Hill was filled after a hasty reconfiguration of water pumping lines sourced from the non-polluted Lake Fork above Henson Creek.
Other, less lethal challenges faced by McDonald as Water & Sanitation supervisor included one instance when some unknown miscreant placed a dead skunk in the town’s water tank. Remaining calm in even this stressful situation, he recalled that he shut off water lines to the water tank, then emptied and thoroughly cleaned the tank before refilling it.
After that experience, he said, access to the water supply tank was securely padlocked.
Bud’s municipal contributions to Town of Lake City also included his election to multiple terms as Mayor of Lake City. He was first appointed mayor filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of Al Goodwin in December, 1970, and continued in the mayoral post until April, 1980, when he retired and was replaced by Robert E. Hall.
He was also an active member of Lake City Volunteer Fire Dept., in 1974 serving as the fire department’s vice-president with other officers which included Richard Davis as Fire Chief, Ed Clark, President, Ron Criley as Secretary, and David David, Treasurer.
In his later years and while still continuing McDonald & Sons Outfitters, Bud worked on the local CDOT?maintenance crew maintaining Highway 149 both to the north and south of Lake City. After years preparing hunters as outfitter, Bud was accustomed to the early hours which began at 4:30 a.m. when he’d head north on winter days to clear snow on Highway 149 or, alternatively, check for snowdrifts on Slumgullion and Spring Creek Passes.
He officially retired from CDOT in April, 2005.