Remembering ‘Mr. Havasu:’ Family, friends mourn loss of Butch Wood, city’s unofficial historian
Correction: Missy Wood and the late Butch Wood had four children, three daughters and a son. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said the couple had four daughters. Butch is survived by his wife, his son and two daughters. The story has been corrected.
If such a degree was available, the late Butch Wood earned a PhD in Havasu history.
Granted, he didn’t have the diploma from a university to prove it, but he surely earned that distinction just the same. Most everyone interviewed for this story agreed that Butch knew more about Lake Havasu City’s history that anyone.
Butch died Sept. 28 at University Medical Center in Las Vegas at age 70. He suffered a massive stroke at home in Havasu three weeks ago, fell into a coma and never recovered. Preceded in death by a daughter, he is survived by his wife, Missy, three daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
His family and friends expressed disbelief that a man who was so active, talkative and curious every waking moment is now quiet.
“He was always telling stories about Havasu,” said his daughter Ashley Wood. “Of course, we’d heard all of them. He would be so happy when our friends and other people came around. He could get his hands on someone new who would listen to those stories.”
“Those stories” were the result of years of research and study about Havasu. Butch lived part of it himself. His grandparents, Doc and Jewel Young, operated Site Six for years. As a youngster from Brea, California, he often visited what would become Lake Havasu City in the 1950s and early 1960s.
“I did a lot of fishing on the lake, exploring old mines in the hills,” Butch said during an interview with Today’s News-Herald in March.
His sister, Toni Willi, was along on many of those trips. She adored her older brother.
“He was my hero and was always there for me. Our mother died in 1964. He taught me how to play marbles, ride a bike, to write in cursive. I want people to know what a good person Butch was,” she said.
He moved to Havasu in 1965 and married Missy Brown in 1969. Butch worked for McCulloch Properties in maintenance and landscaping from 1965 to 1977. He maintained the Lake Havasu Hotel, the London Bridge, the island’s airport and a fleet of McCulloch boats, he told the newspaper.
Another Havasu pioneer, Lyle Matzdorff, met Butch in those early years.
“Butch was the one that McCulloch would call to launch his boat, and may put a few beers on the boat, too,” Matzdorrf said of the close relationship Butch had with Havasu’s founder, Robert P. McCulloch.
In the late 1970s, Butch joined the municipal water department. His responsibility for inspection and maintenance of the London Bridge continued when he joined the city. He resigned in 2011.
Retirement allowed Butch to dive full time into researching Havasu history. He also became a docent for the Lake Havasu Museum of History, a weekly role he continued up until his death.
“Butch was absolutely wonderful with visitors. He was so personable with them and would share anecdotal stories,” that brought Havasu’s history to life, said museum Executive Director Becky Maxedon. She added that Butch was meticulous and exhaustive in his research.
“No matter what Butch was working on, every detail was important to him. He was our go-to guy for information and photos. He was cheerful and enjoyed that work. Sometimes it was difficult, but he was tenacious.”
Friend and fellow researcher Dan De La Santos also witnessed Butch’s tenacity. The two men spent the better part of the last four years together researching the area’s history.
“He took the time to find out everything about Havasu that he could. He helped build the town and was passionate about it. Butch is best known for five years of painstakingly going through newspaper archives to catalog photos and information. He really was the historian of Lake Havasu City,” De La Santos said. “He found a lot of history people didn’t even know.”
De La Santos maintains the HavasuPioneers Facebook page; Butch was a frequent contributor.
“There’s so few people who have full-bodied knowledge of the town. He was trying to record information so it wouldn’t get lost,” he said, surmising that some of Butch’s most significant finds included the aqueduct archives from the conception of Parker Dam and locating original photos of the Colorado River before it was dammed up.
“He was happiest when he’d come across a new story about Havasu he hadn’t heard before,” De La Santos recalled. “He’d settle into a chair with a beverage and take notes. He was a great man to communicate with about Havasu.”
Toni Ade organizes reunions for Havasu pioneers. The most recent gathering was in March. She said Butch was a genuine and kind person.
“I don’t know anyone who had a bad word to say about Butch. He was an all-around good guy. Men loved him. Women loved him,” she said. “He will be remembered as ‘Mr. Havasu.’ There isn’t a fact about this town that he didn’t know.”
Butch and half the town showed up on Aug. 31 for the Golden Shovel football game at Lake Havasu High School. It was the school’s first game at the newly-renovated stadium. Butch told Ade that he’d never attended a local high school football game, even though he was a former high school varsity football player himself. Knowing Butch was a supporter of all things Havasu, Ade was surprised. Butch just shrugged.
“He said, ‘I had all girls.’ That explained it,” she said.
Butch and his wife, Missy, may have been parents to three girls (and one boy), but that didn’t stop him from showing them how to appreciate the great outdoors.
“In the early ’70s, we’d always go boating. He taught us how to ski,” said daughter Ashley Wood. “And we’d go camping in Williams every chance we got. It was something we did even after the grandkids came along. Dad would take the kids out on trails at night on the ATV to look for deer. He was a hunter, both archery and rifle.”
She said Butch was a giving man.
“His biggest happiness was making other people happy. For Christmas, Dad would say, ‘We’re not doing presents this year. Instead, we’re going to adopt some families.’ And he’d go all out to decorate the back yard with lights for the holidays. He wanted it to be magical for my mom,” she said.
“He literally gave 110 percent for everybody else. Did you know he was an organ donor? Even in the end, he took care of other people.”