February 7, 2023

A message board hangs on the wall outside the Antler Inn entrance Tuesday morning for mourners to add notes of appreciation and love for the late Clarene Law. Law, probably the best known woman in Jackson Hole, died last Wednesday at St. John’s Health. She was 89.
Longtime hotelier and former Wyoming legislator Clarene Law built a business empire in Jackson, and always credited family and employees.
Clarene Law and her husband, Creed, in 1975.
Clarene Law in her office at the 49er Inn, October 1991.
Jackson Hole High School intern Brie Richardson works with Rep. Law during the 1997 legislative session.
Manuel Lopez shares a hug with Clarene Law after a ceremony in August 2014 at Town Square, where Lopez was presented with the Power of Place award from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. Lopez, who had been a business partner with Law at Snow King Resort for about three decades, died of cancer less than six months later. Law died last week at age 89.
Clarene Law introduces former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the 49er Inn in August 2007. Law endorsed Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination the following year.
Clarene Law spent two years writing a memoir, “And I had Fun!” that was published earlier this year.
On Tuesday morning, flowers along with a banner and message board were placed outside the entrance of the Antler Inn to honor the memory of Clarene Law following her death Sept. 21 at the age of 89. Law had a career that included building, one piece at a time, one of the biggest lodging businesses in town and also serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives.

Clarene Law, photographed in her teal 1976 Cadillac and sporting matching sunglasses. The photo was taken for the Women in Wyoming series by Lindsay Linton Buk. Law loved and collected old cars.
Clarene Law grew up in a family that was always on the move chasing work, came to Jackson with near nothing and then, over decades, became the best-known woman in the county: successful, respected, honored.
Starting with one husband but depending mostly on her second, Law made a lodging business empire a piece at a time, was active in the Latter-day Saints, served on boards and committees and finally spent seven terms in the Wyoming House. It seemed she knew everyone and helped many of them, remembered the names of customers who considered her family, advised and encouraged everyone she met.
Law died last week at age 89. She survived a bout with COVID-19 in February 2020 but never fully recovered.
Her death came just months after she published a memoir of her life and times, a book in which she said she knew from her arrival in Jackson that she was finally home.
“The day I set foot in Jackson, Wyoming,” Law wrote, “it was mine.”
A message board hangs on the wall outside the Antler Inn entrance Tuesday morning for mourners to add notes of appreciation and love for the late Clarene Law. Law, probably the best known woman in Jackson Hole, died last Wednesday at St. John’s Health. She was 89.
For Clarene Law it was personal, said her son, Steve Meadows, who with his sister Charisse Meadows Haws manages the family’s six lodges and other interests.
“Her motivation was people, she loved people,” Meadows said. “She was always trying to help people. She personalized everything. That concern for the individual motivated her to do so many things.”
Daughter Teresa Meadows said hotel customers came back year after year and employees stayed for decades “because mom’s here, just to be with her.”
“She had a gift for making each person feel special, recognized and important,” Teresa said. “There’s been a parade of people who’ve talked to us, people who worked for her and she helped to become citizens who worked for her for 30 years who’ve talked to us … it’s amazing how many people thought of her as their second mother.”
As one person told Teresa, her mother “was exclusive to everyone.”
Her other daughter, Charisse Meadows Haws, said her mother “saw people who no one else saw, and she would help them.”
On the road
Law was born Alta Clarene Webb on July 22, 1933, to Clarence Riley Webb and his wife Alta Simmons Webb, in an Idaho community called Burton, though her birth certificate said Thornton, the closest real town, 3 miles away. Clarene was one of five children, counting an older brother who died within days of being born and a little sister who died at 5 of heart trouble after a bout of measles.
Law’s father was a road builder whose work took the family all over Idaho and sometimes to Utah, Nevada and Oregon. She remembered often being the new, temporary kid, living in a rented house or a trailer, being seen as “construction trash” by those with roots in places where the Webbs were passing through.
That way of living might have explained Law’s later determination to build and make a place for herself.
Longtime hotelier and former Wyoming legislator Clarene Law built a business empire in Jackson, and always credited family and employees.
“Mom was always driven,” daughter Charisse said. “Her history, going to 21 different grade schools, she lived a kind of itinerant life … she suffered discrimination from the kids at school and from the teachers themselves … permanence was important to her.”
Despite the wandering it was also a childhood filled with aunts and uncles and cousins, horses and dogs. Clarene felt, she later recalled, at ease in that older and rougher time.
“Back then little girls didn’t wear pants very often, but I did,” she said. “I was always a tomboy with a bloodspot on my knees where I’d fallen and scraped myself through my pants.”
Once, while playing, she got a whack on the head with a hatchet — child-rearing was more relaxed then — and her screams brought her mother running. There was no apparent lasting harm.
“The wound must not have been too deep,” she said. “I’m OK today, and I’ve thought pretty good most of my life.”
During one of the family’s stops, Clarene was one of eight students in a one-room, one-teacher elementary, and she estimated that before she reached middle school she’d attended 20 schools. She graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1951. She attended Idaho State College in Pocatello, were she met Franklin Meadows, known as Lin, and they married in 1953.
Her early married life mirrored life with her parents, with many moves as Lin Meadows went from teaching job to grad school to counseling job and around again. Clarene worked as a substitute teacher and court clerk, and also for a string of news organizations, including the Deseret News, United Press International, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and the Idaho Times News in Twin Falls.
In 1959 they came to Jackson, official population 1,437, after Lin was hired at Jackson-Wilson High School. Clarene worked at The Wort Hotel as a bookkeeper and auditor. But she had her eyes on something else.
‘Put her on the block’
In 1962 Clarene was at work at The Wort when she heard the owner of The Antler Motel tell someone he wanted to sell, was “gonna put her on the block.” Moy Nethercott and his wife Erma were asking $125,000 for the five hotel rooms and a dozen cabins on Pearl Avenue, a price Clarene later said “may as well have been the moon for me.” But she asked anyway; Nethercott said he’d take $20,000 down. On the salaries of a hotel bookkeeper and a school teacher — Lin had started at $5,300 a year — it didn’t seem likely.
“We didn’t have any money then, so we had to stretch food as far as it would go,” Clarene said of those years. “I never ate so many elk burgers with creamed peas in my life.”
But she and Lin came up with $4,000 themselves, borrowed $6,000 from his parents and $10,000 from Clarene’s folks, most of their life savings. A bank loan came into it. When they bought The Antler, a night’s stay could be had for $8.
The Meadows family, with son Steve and daughters Teresa and Charisse, made a home at the motel, living in the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment directly behind.
Her daughter Charisse remembers being in bed with her brother and “the night bell would go off, and she would get up and wait on whatever customer” had arrived late. Clarene would also run from the desk when the bell sounded at their gas station on the corner, rushing to pump gas. The Meadowses lived there until Clarene and Lin divorced in 1973.
But they had begun building. They demolished the Cash Saver Service Station at Pearl and Cache to make way for more hotel rooms. In 1972 they bought the neighboring Cedar Lodge Motel and Red Rock Lodge and made them part of The Antler; they bought the Old West Cabins, across the street, and later replaced them with eight motel units; they added the adjacent property, in 1967, where they built the family’s Topper Steakhouse, which later became Ranger Steakhouse, then a Sizzler, today the home of Pearl Street Market, with the family still owning the property.
Clarene Meadows became Clarene Law in 1973, when she married Creed, who had seven kids of his own living with their mother. It turned out the new couple were a good match.
Clarene Law and her husband, Creed, in 1975.
The Laws built the first phase of the 49er Inn in 1980 on four empty lots and added to it over the years. Later Clarene and Creed bought the 6 Bar K Motel and started Elk Country Inn; it soon included 42 cabins that the bankrupt Settlers Best Western in Worland sold to the Laws and that Creed trucked 250 miles to their new home; 24 are still in use.
In 2000 the Laws added Cowboy Village to the portfolio, the cabin tourist accommodations along Pearl and Flat Creek Drive, now run by Charisse and her husband, Curt Haws. Along the way, the old Alpine Motel and Snow King Motel were bought. The Town Square Inns businesses topped out in 2020 when Elk Country opened a new and impressive 22,000-square-foot main building, with 20 luxury rooms, under the direction of Steve Meadows and his wife Wendy, who oversaw much of the design of the building and directed the interior decoration.
The six lodges today include 477 hotel units, and employ up to 100 people during the busy summer season.
Dave Larson, a longtime friend and attorney for the Laws, said the couple had an old-style way of doing business. Today big money comes to town and buys big, and the owners are often not operators but investors never seen by local people. The Laws, he said, created their business before Jackson was a place for the rich, built what they had one odd bit at a time, renovating and growing, got up each morning and went to work.
Clarene Law in her office at the 49er Inn, October 1991.
“She had an amazing grasp of detail and a great memory and great organizational abilities,” Larson said of Clarene. While she was strong on the money and hospitality side, Larson said, Creed kept things in shape: “She and Creed, they were very good partners.”
“Mom was a business wizard,” her son Steve said. “Creed was the builder and the guy who fixed things.”
Clarene liked the people, the guests and partners and employees.
“Over many years my favorite thing to do has been to interact with our guests,” she said. “Of course you get some jerks, but 99% of people are not jerks.”
It could be a slog: “I’ve been in business in Jackson Hole since 1962 with my family,” she told the Jackson Hole Daily in 2015. “I suppose I’ll be saying ‘May I help you?’ at a desk until I’m 92.” On another occasion she said that “I work a shift at the desk every day.”
“Whatever I learned about business, I learned in high school,” she told the Jackson Hole Guide in 1987. “Whatever success I have, I owe to my family — the faith of my parents to lend me the money, my hardworking children, my husband and a very, very loyal staff.”
And, in keeping with the personal touch she was known for, Law said making a go of it was about making customers happy more than anything else: “’Service above facilities’ is my motto,” she told the Jackson Hole News in 1977. “I haven’t always had the best building, but I’ve always given the best service I know how.”
“Business has always been a game to me,” Clarene wrote in her recent autobiography. “And on the checkerboard of life, it’s a game I think I’ve played quite well.”
Stepping from behind the desk
Law’s colleagues in the small and close-knit business community agreed with her assessment of her abilities. Over the years Law found herself invited, persuaded or drafted to serve in just about every capacity for whatever civic organization needed help and could corner her.
Jackson Hole High School intern Brie Richardson works with Rep. Law during the 1997 legislative session.
Among her connections: treasurer and board member for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce; member of the Jackson Planning Commission; officer of the Jackson Hole Business and Professional Women; a founder and president of the Jackson Hole Resort Association in 1971, and then its associated central reservations system; a founding board member of the Grand Teton Music Festival; a member of the school board; a director of Jackson State Bank; president of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association; a board member of the charitable Community Foundation; a founder of the Wyoming Business Council. She taught Sunday School and was president of the LDS Relief Society.
Law was just about everyone’s “of the year” honoree: person, woman, boss, citizen, business person. In 1987 she and Creed won the Big WYO award, the state’s most prestigious travel and tourism honor.
Her public career reached an apogee in 1990 when voters sent her to the Wyoming House of Representatives. She promised when she first ran to focus on the economy and jobs, to build housing and support day care and schools, to protect scenery and wildlife. She served seven two-year terms, from 1991 to 2005.
Law found that she wasn’t always in step with her Republican colleagues, despite her basic conservatism.
Abortion was an issue she had trouble with: “It was a struggle for mom,” daughter Teresa said. “She was a faithful Latter-day Saint … but she wasn’t an absolutist, and it was something she wrestled with.”
Law was pro-life, but she said some Evangelicals in that camp “made my life miserable.” She also didn’t like the political power balance, and had “leanings that men shouldn’t be making decisions about women.”
Support for arts and education programs also set her apart.
Manuel Lopez shares a hug with Clarene Law after a ceremony in August 2014 at Town Square, where Lopez was presented with the Power of Place award from the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. Lopez, who had been a business partner with Law at Snow King Resort for about three decades, died of cancer less than six months later. Law died last week at age 89.
“She was sometimes very much opposed to the bulk of her party because of how important she believed those issues were for the state of Wyoming,” Teresa said.
Her personality was suited to legislating, said friend and attorney Larson.
“She disliked conflict a lot and would always try to calm the waves, get people to come together and agree,” Larson said. “She was very good at that, and it stood her very well in the Legislature.”
And Law became an influencer.
Ruth Ann Petroff, a Jackson businesswoman who was one of Law’s successors in the House, said she didn’t think of politics until “Clarene asked me to run.” Petroff didn’t run that year, but did serve from 2011 to 2017, with Law as her campaign manager and, she laughed, “trading on Clarene’s name.”
“She paved the way for me because she was so respected by so many people in this state,” Petroff said. “When they knew she supported me, I immediately jumped up in their estimation and was able to command respect just by my association with her.”
That extended to her time in office, Petroff said. Law once came by the House floor for a wave-and-smile courtesy visit while Petroff was fighting uphill to carry a piece of tourism legislation. Petroff remembers that Law made her comments and, as she was about to leave, said, “’By the way, vote for this’ — my bill — and after that it passed overwhelmingly, no more work for me.
Clarene Law introduces former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the 49er Inn in August 2007. Law endorsed Romney’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination the following year.
“You can’t overestimate how beloved she was in the state,” Petroff said. “If people didn’t know her, they knew of her … she was formidable and people trusted her.”
Sara Flitner, a businesswoman and Jackson mayor for a two-year term starting in 2015, credited Law as a leader who inspired others, called her “an icon, a leader, a savvy businessperson.”
But Flitner said her idea of Law was as “friend, mentor, mother … so committed to making things better for her family and community.”
A book of life
In 2019, on the insistence of her family and with help from Laura Bush, Clarene Law began writing a memoir. It was published this year, 430 pages of her memories and philosophy, her advice on business and life (“Believe in yourself or no one else will”) and contributions from a crowd of people she knew and who sounded honored to be invited.
She also talked about things she loved outside her time in business in politics: the old cars and trucks she and Creed couldn’t help buying and fixing up, learning to drive a horse and buggy, her large and famous collection of broaches and pins and bolos — she was just about never without one of the flashy ornaments.
Clarene Law spent two years writing a memoir, “And I had Fun!” that was published earlier this year.
She devoted a chapter to the hundreds of employees who she said made things happen over the years. The big group included friends from old-time Jackson families, college kids, a lot of relatives of all ages and, especially in recent years, many immigrants, Mexican and other Hispanics mostly, who she credited for her own success.
Debby VanZant worked for the Laws for more than 40 years, first at the Ranger steakhouse, then at The Antler. Standing at the desk Tuesday, she said she’d been breaking the news to business partners and customers since Clarene’s death.
“It’s hard to come in the morning, to come in and know she’s not coming in, that’s hard,” VanZant said.
VanZant’s daughter Amanda Moore has a good 20 years in the business herself, started as a helper before she could legally work. “I grew up in this office,” she said, worked as a desk clerk, bookkeeper, Clarene’s assistant. She remembered Law coming in even after her health began to suffer.
“She had to be the middle of it, be with her people,” Moore said.
Clarene’s book is a big summing up of a big life.
“The book is incredibly like mom; it’s genuine,” said son Steve. “She’s not trying to mold her legacy, it’s her.”
The book is titled “And I Had Fun! The Life and Legacy of Clarene Law.” She explained the title, remembering going to summer camp as a kid and writing home to her mother:
“My letters always concluded the same, ‘And I had fun, Love, Clarene,’ ” she wrote.
The little girl’s sign-off was still the way she saw her life as she neared its end.
“Reflecting on my life’s journey over the past 88 years, I think, once again, ‘Yes, I had fun!’”
On Tuesday morning, flowers along with a banner and message board were placed outside the entrance of the Antler Inn to honor the memory of Clarene Law following her death Sept. 21 at the age of 89. Law had a career that included building, one piece at a time, one of the biggest lodging businesses in town and also serving in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
Contact Mark Huffman at 732-5907 or mark@jhnewsandguide.com.
Friends and family will be invited to a memorial service in coming weeks. Look for the event to be announced in this newspaper or in the Jackson Hole Daily.
Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He’s been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.
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