Family recalls life and times at demolished W.Va. motel

By CANDICE BLACK, News and Sentinel undefined

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. (AP) — Last week, the Washington Motel in Ravenswood was demolished, causing a family to reflect on their fond memories and experiences in the building.

Built in the 1950s, the Washington Motel was built to meet travelers’ needs with roads like Route 68 as popular means of travel. During that time, several “Mom and Pop” businesses were popping up along the main roads before the highways came through, according to Linda Yencha Nichols, whose parents Jack and Sharon Yencha owned the motel.

The Yencha family purchased the building around 1980, owning and operating it until about 2005 when the current owner took it over. During those years, Nichols, her sister, Julie Speece, and brother Mark Yencha said they made priceless memories with their family.

“My parents really took pride in it,” Nichols said. “It’s been very emotional. It was our home, basically. We grew up there,” Nichols said.

Speece said Jack Yencha went into the motel business so that he could spend more time with his family and both sisters said their time was well spent.

“My dad had worked in a plant and he originally bought the motel because he told my mom ‘I want to be there when my kids get home from school,'” Speece said. “That kind of shows you the family we had. That motel office was our home.”

Over the years, engagements, proms and graduations were celebrated within those walls and at one point, both sisters lived in the building at one time after Jack Yencha renovated the upstairs apartment as wedding presents for them. Speece said she and her husband lived there for a couple of years.

“As they’re tearing it down, the walls are full of memories. The floors were where we took many steps in life,” Speece said.

Being able to meet people from all different backgrounds was one of Speece’s favorite parts about her time at the motel.

“There were a lot of characters there. We had one trucker (who) came through from Louisville. He came every two weeks for several years and his name was Jim Botekin. My mom would make dinner for him and he became a really good friend,” Speece said.

Another frequent guest at the motel was a paranormal spirit the sisters named George after George Washington. Nichols and Speece said several times, they heard footsteps and noises in other parts of the building and there was no one there.

“Doors would slam. In those times after my sister was married and after I was married, a lot of different things happened,” Nichols. “It was never anything frightening, it was just mischief. But one of the unique characteristics of the ghost was that it would imitate voices.”

Speece said when she and her husband lived there, they heard old time music that seemed like it came from the walls. They also thought they heard Speece’s mother calling her name but nobody else was there; the motel closed two hours early that evening.

There was also a mysterious “Man in Room 8.” This week, Nichols drove by to see the demolition progress and noticed the only part of the upper end left was room eight.

“If it happened once, it happened a thousand times over the years and we still laugh about it today,” Nichols aid. “Every time we kids would get too loud or boisterous in the office, my dad would shush us and say ‘quiet down! There’s a man in room eight.’ He became almost as infamous as George over the years (but) we never saw him or heard him. He would always manage to show up when things got loud.”

Nichols said those types of experiences are what made their lives “so unique and memorable,” she said.

Aside from the paranormal activity, the motel was always bustling with the family members working together to maintain the business. Mark did the ground maintenance and Speece’s job was to clean the rooms.

“We all did our own thing and it was just a real family business,” Speece said.

Her experience at the motel taught Speece to be a people person and nurturer, values she said she also inherited from her mother.

“She was the perfect little hostess. It was almost like a bed and breakfast in many ways, we got to know the many people who were staying there and we cared about their lives,” Speece said. “If they were regulars, we got to know them and they were family.”

In its prime, Nichols said the building was a welcoming and nice place for people to come and ease their travel weariness.

“It was never a showplace by any means, but (it was) something my took took pride in, kept and maintained,” Nichols said. “As kids, we were blessed to be able to have our parents more involved in our lives and to watch them work and raise us together.”