Music 02
Official Obituary of

James "Bud" Budge Darnell

September 25, 1942 ~ August 4, 2023 (age 80) 80 Years Old

James "Bud" Darnell Obituary

James “Bud” Budge Darnell, beloved husband, father, grandfather and “biggest champion of Cheboygan, MI”, passed away on August 4th, 2023, at the age of 80.   Born in Cadillac Michigan on September 25, 1942, the third of four boys, he was raised by his parents, Edith and Donald Darnell, in McBain, MI. 

It was in McBain, the small rural mid-Michigan town, where he was instilled with many of the qualities that made him the great person he was.  Bud lived in town with his parents and his three brothers, Bob, Dave and Don.  According to his stories, his childhood in this small town was filled with great memories of family, adventures with his brothers, and hard work.

Bud learned his incredible work ethic from his Father, and he was determined to work and earn his own way from a young age. Among other things, Bud worked at the local veterinarian’s office, painted gas stations and was very busy as custodian at the Presbyterian church.  He often mentioned getting up at 3am on Sunday mornings to go to the church to make sure the furnace was turned on so that the building was warm by the time church started later that morning.  His experience at the church was formative in that it not only was the foundation for his strong, lifelong faith in God, but also developed his natural talent as a leader.  He was encouraged by adult mentors in the church to become involved in the Michigan Presbyterian youth group, to which he was ultimately elected president during his senior year and afforded him the opportunity to travel to Tulsa, OK; Washington DC and New York City while in high school. Bud also played baritone horn in the band, sang in the choir and played basketball and baseball while at McBain High school.  

Edith, Bud’s mother, had a large influence on Bud.  As one of the few college-educated women in their small town, Edith stressed the importance of education to her children (and he, in turn, stressed that to each of his children and grandchildren). However, it was Edith’s influence on Bud’s social life that really made the biggest impact on his life. A big fan of his future wife, it was Bud’s Mom that urged him to ask Barb Smits to accompany him to a banquet in high school, and according to Bud…” the rest is history.”

Bud followed in his father’s footsteps and attended Alma College where he played in the Kiltie Marching Band and was an enthusiastic member of TKE fraternity. As Bud told it, he liked the idea of being a big fish in a small pond, and Alma was near Mt. Pleasant where his future wife was getting her education. He and Barb wed just before his senior year of college, and they began their life together in married housing on campus.

An avid music-lover and musician, Bud attended Interlochen Fine Arts Camp in the summer during high school and visited regularly as an adult. He played several instruments including the trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone horn, tuba, piano, and ukulele.  He supported and fostered this love of music in his children and grandchildren and encouraged any musical interest they had. As most people who knew him understood, Bud loved classical music. Often, when he and Barb were off on one of their many trips, whether domestically or abroad, they would search out the schedule of local concerts and found tremendous joy in listening to the talents of local artists. Since being in Cheboygan, Bud discovered and came to love the local gem that is The Cheboygan Opera House.  He loved that his beloved adopted town had such a wonderful entertainment venue that drew quality performers from all over to Northern Michigan. He felt so strongly about the Opera House that he made it the focus of his charitable giving to make sure this great place continues provide the area with high quality art and culture.

You can’t talk about Bud without sharing his long and very successful 30-year career with General Motors.  Bud started his career as a foreman at the GM plant in Lansing, MI, because when he was asked in his interview what kind of job he wanted, he replied ‘the toughest job you’ve got.’  A major step change in Bud’s career came when he and Barb made the life-changing decision to move their family to the East Coast as part of accepting a promotion to GM’s headquarters in New York City.  During this time, Bud also completed his MBA at Columbia University, an accomplishment of which he was very proud.  Bud came back to the Midwest serving in plant manager roles for General Motors in Detroit and Kansas City, and ended his long career with GM back in Detroit at the early age of 54, giving he and Barb plenty of time to enjoy a lovely retirement.

In 1982, Bud and his two brothers, Dave and Bob, jointly purchased and completely renovated what became known as Tamarack Lodge at the mouth of the Cheboygan River on Mullett Lake.  What was once a very rough, neglected place is now a beautifully restored, over 100-year-old amazing log-cabin home. Due to Bud and his brother’s diligence and hard work, this place became the center of our families’ lives, hosting countless holiday celebrations and summer-time vacations.  It is truly a special place and one that Bud loved.  He always said he wanted to live there for the rest of his life and often said there was not a better view in the world than the one he had looking out at beautiful Mullett Lake.

Over the years, although they remained very close, his brothers found their own places and Tamarack became Bud and Barb’s full-time home in 1997.  Both he and Barb dove headfirst into life in Cheboygan, becoming involved in many local organizations.  Bud was an active member of the Rotary, the Cheboygan Economic Development Group, the Cheboygan County Community Foundation, the Strive Program for Cheboygan High school students, and countless others.  He loved this town and all of the special people he met here.

Certainly the most important storyline in Bud’s life is his incredible relationship with the love of his life, Barb. When asked about his best friend, although he had several very close friends, Bud always said the very best was his wife, life companion, and strongest supporter, Barb. Having met in early-childhood, they knew each other most of their lives and have been together since they were teenagers.  This past June, they celebrated 60 years of marriage with their entire family on Mackinac Island. Their life was filled with love, family and adventure. 

Bud was very supportive and proud of his family and their accomplishments in both school and work. Family was always stressed as the most important thing in life, and our family’s home life was always rich and full.  Bud was also very proud of his adopted town and his life in it.  He loved the people of Cheboygan and was always willing to support those in need that were willing to work hard or needed a second chance.  Bud hoped that people would remember him as someone who loved to mentor young people in order to help them become the best versions of themselves. He did not want a building named after him…he wanted to be remembered for having meaningful relationships that impacted people’s lives.


Bud is survived by his best friend and wife of 60 years, Barbara, children Darcy Traynor (Carl) of Chicago, IL, Kathleen Garland (Robert) of Suwanee, GA, and Laurin Darnell (Julie) of Grand Rapids, MI.  Grandchildren Jack Traynor, Andrew Traynor, Sam Darnell, Matthew Garland, Kaitlyn Garland, and Brian Darnell.

A memorial service will be held at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Cheboygan, MI on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Visitation at 9AM, Service at 11AM and a reception to follow.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to The Cheboygan Opera House, either online at and mention “Bud Darnell Memorial”, or by check to the Cheboygan Opera House, PO Box 95, Cheboygan, MI  49721 (please note “Bud Darnell Memorial” in the check memo)

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Memorial Service
August 19, 2023

11:00 AM
St. Thomas Lutheran Church
332 N. Western Ave.
Cheboygan, MI 49721


Cheboygan Opera House
403 S. Huron Street, Cheboygan MI 49721
Tel: 1-231-627-5841


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