For half a century, Carl W. Buell hand-crafted European-style string instruments for people of all ages, from beginning music-lovers to symphony-orchestra members. Family members remember him...

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For half a century, Carl W. Buell hand-crafted European-style string instruments for people of all ages, from beginning music-lovers to symphony-orchestra members.

Family members remember him as a serious man, someone who possessed a gentleness that was not quickly apparent until he grew older.

Mr. Buell died of old age Nov. 4. He was 98.

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A longtime resident of Everett, Mr. Buell fashioned cellos, basses, violas and violins out of wood. He even invented his own varnish for his instruments.

“He was a very pragmatic person,” said granddaughter Colleen Horne of Williamsburg, Va. “He worked very hard for most of his life.”

Born in Idaho’s Palouse country, Mr. Buell left school at 14 to work in a lumber mill to support his parents. The family moved to Whidbey Island and Snohomish before settling in Everett.

Born Carl W. Bull, Mr. Buell changed his last name when he was a young man.

Mr. Buell married Maxine Degeus in 1924. They remained together until her death in the early 1970s.

Before he started his own business, Mr. Buell held jobs as an auto mechanic, car salesman — at a time when he had to teach most of his customers to drive — and construction worker. He then met an elderly man from Europe who taught him how to mold and mend stringed instruments.

Mr. Buell made violins in his own store, Buell Music, which he launched around 1940. In addition to selling sheet music, Mr. Buell repaired instruments for local high-school, college and symphony orchestras.

He went into semi-retirement in 1967, closing his shop but continuing to work from his basement at home.

Mr. Buell carved instruments until he was about 85. By then, he was having trouble seeing.

“He really took great pride in each and every instrument that he made,” Horne said. “He stopped making them when he decided he couldn’t make a perfect violin anymore.”

He remarried in the early 1970s. Mr. Buell and Billie Buell divorced in 1999.

“His interest was in providing all he could for his family and to give the best for them,” Billie Buell said of her former husband. “He didn’t work for glory or anything else.”

He and she remained good friends, Billie Buell said. She recalled walking into the nursing home and seeing him at his wheelchair during her last visit in August.

“He was not one to smile very much; he was a very sober man,” she explained. “He saw me and grinned from ear to ear and just made my heart melt. I went and kissed him on the head.”

His granddaughters also recall the change in Mr. Buell over the years.

“As a young man he was very stern and strict,” said granddaughter Gloria Gay of Everett. “As he aged, he mellowed.”

From the time she was 7, Horne remembers standing on a wooden crate and watching her grandfather chisel the wood, hand-carve the violins and string the bows.

“I loved the smell of the glue, the smell of the wood, the smell of the varnish,” Horne said.

Family and violin-making were just two of the things Mr. Buell considered important. “He dabbled in architecture, and he loved sailing,” Horne said. Her grandfather designed and built the house he lived in and a sailboat, the Marjune, he named for his daughters Marjorie and June.

Although he worked with his hands, Mr. Horne always carried something to read with him.

“My grandpa read the newspaper cover to cover every day, and to make up for his lack of education, he’d read the encyclopedia, cover to cover,” Horne recalls. “I think he felt it was very important to be informed of what was going on in the world.”

Gay said she feels grateful to have had a grandfather for 53 years: “Whenever you walked in the door, no matter what was going on, he was always glad to see you.”

Her cousin agreed.

“He was one of the few people in my life that loved me unconditionally,” Horne said.

Other survivors include his daughters June Buell, of Vancouver, Wash., and Marjorie Kellerman, of Everett; and four great-grandchildren.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 425-745-7809 or jhsu@seattletimes.com