Rabbit Ears Motel owner dies at 81

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Ron Koehler enjoyed a lot of things in life, but he had only two true loves -- his family and his motel.

Koehler, a longtime Steamboat Springs resident and owner of the Rabbit Ears Motel, passed away Saturday, March 6, 2004, from complications from lung cancer. He was 81.

An avid bowler, golfer, dancer and traveler, Koehler and his wife, Lyle, moved to Steamboat in 1970 to be closer to their granddaughter.

After selling his businesses in Butte, Mont., Koehler was looking for a new venture, and the motel business intrigued him. Three Steamboat motels were on the market in the early-1970s, and Koehler purchased the Rabbit Ears Motel in April 1971 despite advice to the contrary from a real estate agent.

"He picked this one because he had visions of putting units on the (Yampa) River," said his son, Greg, who has run the motel since 1987. "It was tough going to make a living in Steamboat in the motel business. We really weren't sure if we were going to make it."

Twenty years after buying the 20-unit, one-story motel, Koehler had transformed the business into a 66-unit, three building, two-story success.

"He was a man with great vision and foresight," said Bob Subr, a friend of Koehler's. "It's kind of a rags-to-riches story with what he did with that motel."

His dream didn't come easy; it took dedication and perseverance, family members say. Koehler's biggest battle over the years was fighting to keep the famed neon sign in front of the Rabbit Ears Motel.

The fight cost thousands of dollars in attorney's and maintenance fees, countless hours before the City Council and necessitated concessions along the way -- all for a sign that was purchased and installed by a previous motel owner.

"He was like a bulldog on a bone," Subr said of his friend's battle to keep the motel sign. "Right was right and he'd stay with it until the end."

Koehler's long battle was rewarded this past summer when the sign received historic designation from Routt County.

A funeral Mass for Ron Koehler is at 10 a.m. Thursday at Holy Name Catholic Church. A visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Yampa Valley Funeral Home, with a rosary service at 8 p.m.

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