Ron and Lyle Koehler

A wedding with the world at war

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— It was October 1944, and 19-year-old Ron Koehler wasn't sure what tomorrow would bring.

"It's hard to imagine if you didn't live through it," Ron said of that period of time. "You didn't know what tomorrow would bring nobody did."

The one thing that Ron was sure of was that he had found the perfect girl, Lyle, and he wanted to marry her before he was shipped off to join the Navy.

While his eyesight had kept him out of most of the war, Ron knew his time was coming, and he didn't want to let Lyle, the girl he had met three years earlier, get away.

Joining the war effort was something he had wanted to do since World War II began, but before he was admitted, he met Lyle while dancing at Columbia Gardens in Butte, Mont. As America's involvement with the war grew, so did Ron's feelings toward his future wife.

"It was an amusement park in Butte," Ron said of he place he met Lyle. "They would bring in a lot of really big bands and dancing was big back then."

Ron said he saw Lyle across he room surrounded by a large group of men.

"She was pretty good looking and she could really dance," Ron said. "I knew I had to ask her to dance."

That was 57 years ago, and the couple has been dancing ever since, even traveling all over the country to attend jazz festivals. Both Ron and Lyle also enjoy playing golf and can be found on local courses on almost any summer day.

The couple has two sons, six grandchildren and enough memories to fill a wall in their home with photographs and mementos.

Unfortunately, the Koehlers' time on the dance floor has been reduced lately. Ron is recovering from knee surgery, but Lyle insists that the couple will be back on the dance floor and the golf course as soon as he recovers.

"He was a very good dancer," Lyle said. "I think that's what I remember the most about meeting Ron. He could really jitterbug."

The couple's romance continued to grow on the dance floor as groups such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman provided the tunes.

After a few years of dancing and dating, Ron and Lyle decided to get married. It wasn't a family affair or a huge church wedding. In fact, the couple wasn't even engaged.

The couple slipped away to Dear Lodge, Mont., to visit a justice of the peace. Once they were married, the couple headed to the dance floor to celebrate their wedding the same way they met.

"We just went to the justice of the peace and I think he got a couple of witnesses," Ron recalls. "There wasn't anything special about it, and once we were married, we danced the night away."

Less than a week later, Ron was shipped off to Seattle, where he started training to join the Navy's construction unit called the fighting CBs (construction builders). He never made it overseas but spent several months on the West Coast away from Lyle after the wedding.

"We didn't tell anybody at first," Lyle said. "We wanted to get married, but we knew that our parents would be mad."

Once Ron left, Lyle let the secret slip out. She admits that her parents were not happy, but they accepted the marriage.

A year later, after the uncertainty of the war had faded, Ron and Lyle went to Denver and repeated their vows in a church in front of friends and family.

Ron and Lyle had grown up in the copper mining town of Butte. They attended the same high school, but the closest they came to meeting was passing each other in the halls.

"I knew who he was," Lyle said. "But I don't think we were ever introduced."

After high school, Lyle worked at a local restaurant, the Beehive Cafe, and continued to work toward a college degree in business.

Ron worked a variety of jobs, including a stint with the Anaconda Copper Co., which was the largest employer in Butte.

After his time in the service, Ron returned to Butte, where the couple borrowed money from Lyle's parents and entered the retail world by buying the local Gamble's Hardware Store. Ron did get his broker's license but said he got his master's degree from the school of hard knocks.

"They are very devoted business people and have always worked hard to make their business succeed," youngest son Greg Koehler said. "They have applied that same dedication to their marriage."

The Koehlers came to Steamboat by accident back in 1970. While passing through Steamboat en route to Craig to visit eldest son Ron Jr. and a new granddaughter, they came across the Rabbit Ears Motel almost by accident.

Ron said the motel's owner was looking to sell, and the Koehlers were looking for something different.

"It was just good timing," Ron said. "We were passing through Steamboat and discovered the Rabbit Ears Motel. The owner was anxious to get out and we were looking for a change."

Greg, who now runs the motel, said his parents didn't know much about the motel business when they first pulled into Steamboat. But hard work and a little bit of lucky timing paid off for them. Looking back, Ron thinks it was the smartest move he would ever make outside of asking Lyle to marry him more than 50 years ago.

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