For Valley Motel owner Jason Charlet, Rena Herl, or “Miss Rena,” as he calls her, has been a godsend.
Herl is manager of the motel. She took over running the business less than a month after Chris Boudreaux — Charlet’s childhood friend and business partner — was shot and killed March 28 at the motel by Lt. Glenn Wilson of the Meeker Police Department.
An investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation cleared Wilson of any wrongdoing. Wilson and fellow officer Mike Washburn were recognized for “brave action taken” during the shooting incident. Boudreaux had reportedly pointed a gun at Wilson and ignored repeated warnings to drop the gun.
About three weeks after the shooting, Herl moved back to Meeker on April 18 to take over the daily operation of the motel. Even though he had never met Herl, Charlet, who lives in Belle Rose, La., hired her sight unseen.
He hasn’t regretted it.
“Oh, God, yes,” Charlet said when asked if Herl had been the right person for the job. “Miss Rena got it back up where it needed to be.”
Charlet hired Herl after talking with her on the phone.
“She seemed like she was the right person for the job,” Charlet said Sunday from his home in Louisiana. “She didn’t let me down.”
Actually, Herl called Charlet about the job.
“My daughter (Jodi, who was working at Mountain Valley Bank at the time) was offered the job to manage the motel, but didn’t want to leave the bank,” Herl said. “She said, ‘Mom, that would be a great job for you.’ I said, ‘Yes, it would.’ So I called Jason. I told him, ‘I am the woman you want to hire for this job.’”
Turns out, she knew what she was talking about.
For the first time since the day after the shooting, Charlet returned to Meeker two weeks ago to meet Herl and see what kind of shape the 22-room motel was in.
“I was very pleased, definitely,” he said. “It’s amazing, the difference. I don’t have to worry about it. She handles the business right.”
Herl threw herself into the job, and the place needed a lot of work when she took over.
“I saw the place had become rundown,” Herl said. “It had not been maintained and cared for. The motel was in distress, financially, as well as the (physical) condition. But 18 years ago (when Herl had lived in Meeker), this was the nicest motel in town.”
There were reports Boudreaux was doing drugs. According to the autopsy, cocaine and methamphetamine were found in his system. The day of the shooting, police had been called to the motel at 723 E. Market because of a domestic disturbance.
“I’ve even had guests tell me that they knew he was on drugs,” Herl said. “All I can tell you now is it’s a happy place and they (the guests) feel welcome and they feel safe here.”
Boudreaux’s wife and two children returned to Louisiana after the shooting.
Asked about the fallout from the shooting and what effect it had on business, Herl said, “I think maybe it did hurt us for a little while. But I can only tell you where we are now. We have happy guests, and they feel at home here.
“We have a lot of long-term guests, because of the oil field,” she added. “The people who are here now don’t even know about it (the shooting).”
Herl and her husband, Joe (“a good, regular Joe” as Rena says), feel at home at the motel, too. They stay in the living quarters behind the office.
“We live here at the motel,” Herl said. “It’s a very nice large home, three bedrooms and two baths and a basement.”
For a while, though, after the death of his boyhood friend, Charlet wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the motel.
“Jason had said he didn’t know whether to sell the place or keep it,” Herl said. “At first, he was just going to sell it. But now he sees the place is improving and we can pay our bills. The business is sustaining itself. He is inclined to keep it.”
Charlet is an electrical and instrumentation inspector in Louisiana and has rental property.
When he visited the motel a couple of weeks ago, it reinforced his right decision to keep the business.
“He met a lot of the guests,” Herl said. “He went and saw the (remodeled) rooms. He said the aura is different now.”
As he was leaving, Charlet told Herl he was impressed with what he had seen. Herl recalled what Charlet told her.
“‘Miss Rena,’ he said in this wonderful Louisiana accent. ‘The guests just love you. I truly feel like you are my guardian angel. I know you’re there taking care of things. If you ever leave, I’m just going to sell it.’”
Charlet will be back again in December, for another visit, and he may bring his family.
“Tiffany (Charlet’s wife) said she never wanted to come back here,” Herl said. “Because last time she was here there was all of this horrible drama going on.
“I told Jason she needs to see the place,” Herl said. “It will not be the same place.”
The transition was hard on everyone, at first, Herl said.
“I’ve gotten all of the back bills paid, because things were behind, and Jason had no idea,” Herl said. “Not only did Jason lose his best childhood friend, but he had no idea the condition the business was in until Chris died.”
It’s taken time — and money — and lots of hard work to turn the business around.
“Miss Rena and Mister Joe are great people,” Charlet said. “They went in there and handled the business. I spent a lot of money, but they worked hard and got the place back where it needed to be.”
Herl said the arrangement has been a good fit.
“Jason supports me in everything I want to do here,” she said. “All I can tell you is I’m here and I’m happy to be here.”
And Herl has received plenty of community support, she said, mentioning people like Gus and Christine Halandras and Harry and Melinda Watt and L.D. Grove, all who operate motels or bed and breakfasts in Meeker.
“Any questions I have, I can call,” Herl said. “They have been great. The motel owners, we’re like our own little family. We take care of each other. Even the chamber of commerce called. They can refer people here again.”
Herl remembers when the Valley Motel was a nice place. In fact, she was a guest at the motel before, years ago, when Herb and Jan Hughley owned it. She wants it to be known as that kind of place again.
“It just had to break Hugh’s heart, the way the place had become run down,” Herl said. “He stopped by here the other day. He said if I have any problems, I can call him.
“This will get back to what it once was,” Herl said. “It just needed someone to love it and take care of it.”