After 60 Wonderful Years
Joye Hanson looks back on
time at Country Paradise Motel
By Suzanne Dean
Mar. 29, 2018
GUNNISON—The sign that went up in 2014 outside the Country Paradise Motel in Gunnison pretty much sums up everything: “Closed after 60 years. Thank you.”
What started as a young couple’s plan to supplement their family income stretched through decades of two-lane traffic on U.S. 89, through the opening of I-15, through hundreds of guests, through cultural and economic change, through the husband’s sudden death and on for 27 more years until, at age 85, the wife posted the “closed” sign out front.
“The motel was a blessing. I don’t know what I would have done without it,” said Joye Hanson, now age 89, who was the embodiment of the business for most of those 60 years.
But looking back, she says, she doesn’t know quite how she did it all.
Her role went well beyond checking in guests, doing laundry, cleaning rooms and keeping books by hand.
“I trimmed trees, cut lawns, put in a sprinkler system and put up fences,” she recollects.
She even shingled the whole motel structure twice. Her husband, who had another job most of their married life, brought bundles of shingles to the roof. “I nailed them on,” she said.
“They had a happy home. There was a good spirit,” her daughter, Janet Haight of Mayfield, says of her parents. “That’s what brought a lot of customers back.”
Joye Hansen (yes, her maiden name was spelled with “sen” and her married name with “son”) was born July 4, 1928, the daughter of Lester and Alice Larsen Hansen of Mayfield.
Her father, a school teacher, lived to be age 100, while her mother lived to be almost 98 years old.
By the time her father died, her parents had been married almost 78 years, which was said to be the longest of any couple in Utah at the time. Joye hosted several of her parents’ wedding anniversaries at the Country Paradise Motel.
Joye’s husband, Ellis Gayle Hanson (he went by Gayle) grew up in Murray in Salt Lake County and was drafted to serve in World War II.
His parents ended up moving to Gunnison to run the Midway Market, a grocery store on the border between Gunnison and Centerfield.
Once after the war, Gayle and a cousin came to Gunnison to visit Gayle’s parents. While in town, the young men went to a dance in Mayfield. That’s where Joye and Gayle met. They were married Feb. 21, 1948.
The Hansons decided a motel would be a good way to help support a family. So about a year after their marriage, they bought the property where the Country Paradise Motel still sits on U.S. 89 at about 400 South in Gunnison.
Then they started building. “We just built a little at a time. We’d save a little money and do a little work,” Joye said.
Finally, they borrowed enough to finish the first phase on the east end of the property. It consisted of a combination home and office, four guest rooms and a combination laundry and furnace room. They never expanded beyond the four rooms.
They opened in 1953, the same year Janet, their only child, was born. “We had a new motel at the same time we had a new baby,” Joye said.
At first, they didn’t have a real sign. “Gayle just wrote ‘Open’ on a piece of wood and put a light on it,” Joye recalls.
But in an era before franchise hotels, in a time when people taking road trips drove along two-lane roads passing through town after town, the business thrived.
From the day the Country Paradise Motel opened until it closed, “We were never broke,” Joye said.
About 10 years after opening the motel, the Hansons expanded the complex to the west. They expanded their home in the center of the structure. They built a new motel office on the west side of their house and beyond the office a barbershop for Gayle fronting on the highway.
For nearly 15 years after the Hansons were married, Gayle worked for Valley Builders in Gunnison. He rose to district manager in charge of five lumber yards and became known for the elaborate floats he built each year to represent the company in the Fourth of July and other local parades.
But in the early 1960s, at age 42, he decided he wanted to work for himself and spent about a year at the Salt Lake Barber College to become a licensed barber.
Meanwhile, the Hansons completed the addition to their motel containing the barbershop. Gayle cut hair there for nearly 25 years. In the final eight years, he went back to Valley Builders and gave haircuts by appointment.
One of the keys to the financial success of the motel, daughter Janet says, was the Hansons never hired any help outside the family.
Every morning, as soon as the first guest left, Joye was in the room pulling sheets off the bed.
When they started out, clothes dryers didn’t exist, so after bedding was washed, she hung it on a clothesline. She ironed all the sheets on an Ironrite, an ironing machine operated partly by a foot pedal.
As a girl, Janet’s first job was emptying trash cans. Later she moved up to making beds and vacuuming.
By the time she was in her early teens, her father had taught her to count change back to customers, a skill, she notes, that not many people have anymore, now that computerized cash registers calculate the change due automatically.
The biggest satisfaction in running the Country Paradise Motel, Joye and Janet agree, came from interaction with the guests.
Before I-15 opened, Joye said, “Anyone going from Salt Lake to the (national) parks in Arizona or California” had to pass here.
Snowbirds from northern Utah and Idaho headed to summer homes in southern Utah and Arizona. Tourists were on their way to national parks. Italians on motorcycles and Germans and people from India all traveled through Gunnison.
For most of the years the Hansons ran the Country Paradise Motel, customers rarely called for reservations. When people driving along the highway got tired, they looked for motels and stopped in.
“Often, they’d want to look at the room,” Janet said. Because Joye made sure rooms were immaculately clean, most of the lookers became stayers.
Across the country, many ma-and-pa motels along the back roads closed as freeways were completed. But because of repeat business, Joye says she never noticed a downturn when I-15 went through. “We were well established. We had our customers,” she said.
Among visitors to the Country Paradise Motel were LDS general authorities in town for stake conferences. Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson, all future presidents of the LDS Church, stayed with the Hansons. “And there were a lot of the Seventy and other authorities,” Joye said.
Once in a while, someone who was having difficulty stopped in. “We’d give them a room, we’d give them clothes, we’d give them food,” Joye said.
One family’s car broke down, and the family didn’t have any money. The Hansons let them trade a household iron for a room. Another time, a piano tuner tuned the family piano in exchange for lodging.
Only a few negative incidents occurred during all those years, Joye and Janet say. Once a couple got into an argument and the boyfriend tried to run over the girlfriend in the motel driveway. The Hansons called 911.
One tragic case involved a young man who was in town with his fiancée. The man had a drug history and wasn’t supposed to touch alcohol or drugs. But he did and went into a coma. He was taken to a hospital in Salt Lake City. The Hanson learned he had been pronounced brain dead and assume he later died.
“He was in town for his mother’s funeral,” Joy said. “He had just gotten engaged.”
The busiest times for the Country Paradise Motel were the pheasant hunt, the deer hunt and the Mormon Miracle Pageant. “We filled up for the pageant a dozen times,” Joye said.
Unlike many lodging proprietors, the Hansons didn’t raise their rate when demand peaked, such as during the pageant. They kept the same rate year round.
When they started in 1953, they charged $2.50 per night. A few years later, their rate went to $5 per night. The rate rose gradually, reaching $55 per night when they closed in 2014.
And while, for the most part, the Country Paradise Motel was a 24/7 business, the Hansons did take breaks.
Several years after putting up the wooden sign, they had a neon sign, visible from U.S. 89, that could be lit to say “Vacancy” or “No vacancy.”
“Sometimes, we’d say, ‘Put on the ‘no’ (for no vacancy) and let’s go,’” Janet remembers. Then the family went out for a movie and a hamburger.
Two times per year, one week in the spring and one week in the fall, the family closed the motel and went on vacation.
The biggest jolt the family ever went through and a turning point for the Country Paradise Motel came in 1986. Gayle, who had been mowing the lawn on the attractively landscaped property, came in for lunch and was suddenly stricken with a massive heart attack.
“He sat down at lunch, and five minutes later he was gone,” Janet said. Gayle was age 66, and Joye was age 58 at the time.
By then, Janet had left home. She had finished a master’s degree at BYU and was working out of state.
Joye decided to carry on alone. “I just love to work,” she explains.
During her final 27 years running the Country Paradise Motel, two of Janet’s sons, when they got to high school age, came to live with her and help her. Greg Harvey was there from 1990-1993, and Richard Harvey from 2003-2004.
“They helped me in every way they could,” she said. “They were the two best workers I ever had.”
In 2007, Janet, who was a corporate trainer at Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas, asked to be reassigned as a flight attendant so she could move back to the Gunnison Valley. When she isn’t flying out of Salt Lake City International, she is home and able to help her mother.
At age 80, Joye fell and crushed two vertebrae. “Then I kept wrecking vertebra after vertebra,” she said.
At 85 years of age, she decided to retire.
Although her daughter visits frequently, Joye lives alone, gets around with a walker and recently had some back surgery. “I’m taking care of myself, and that’s a job,” she said.
Reflecting on 60 years at the Country Paradise Motel, she said 98 percent of their customers were “wonderful” and 2 percent “I would as soon have sent down the road.”
Her only regret is that her beloved husband wasn’t by her side longer. “I only got to keep him for 38-and-a-half years,” she said.
Her bottom line is expressed by the final words on the sign she posted in 2014: “Thank you.”
Or as she puts it, “The Lord sure blessed me.”