Don Welge, a giant of Chester business and in the community, has been named the Chester Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for 2021.
The award is given posthumously, as Welge died in April 2020, tragically the first victim of COVID-19 in Randolph County.
"The family is honored to receive the award on his behalf as he was a committed and involved citizen of Chester," said his son, Tom Welge. "He knew that communities like ours will only remain strong if their citizens freely give of their time and talents."
Don Welge was a lifelong resident of Chester. After college, he returned to Chester and helped his family business, Gilster Milling, evolve into a major food manufacturing company, Gilster-Mary Lee, with customers across the country and around the world.
He was very committed to Chester, as well as the entire region. He was a member of the Chester Chamber of Commerce since the 1960s, serving a term as president. He was a member of the Perryville Chamber of Commerce and also a past president of that organization. He helped establish the P&C Development Corp. and served as its president. He and his wife, Mary Alice, raised their two sons in Chester and he was active in the lives of his entire family, especially his four grandchildren. Don was an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Chester, and served on the board of education.
He was an advocate for Scouting, serving on various boards since the 1970s. He held several leadership positions, and worked tirelessly on local projects such as fund drives and the management of the Cohen Committee for the benefit of Scouts in Chester. For more than 50 years he was part of the committee that organized the 4th of July celebration on Kaskaskia Island. He also served as a director of Buena Vista National Bank. In 2017, he was a national finalist in the Earnest and Young Entrepreneur of the year program.
Don enjoyed to talking to people about almost any topic, and he would often advise and assist other business owners in the community. Even in his later years he did not slow down. He was involved in everything from the saving of the historic Landmark on the Chester Riverfront to the establishment of a 7,000-head rabbitry outside of Chester.
At the time of his passing he was focused on the building of a new, safer and efficient Chester Bridge to serve both sides of the river and the entire region into the years ahead. He would no doubt be pleased with the recent developments on that subject.
The Chester Chamber of Commerce cancelled its annual dinner and special award recognitions this year due to rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases when the dinner was scheduled. To honor and recognize the recipients, special arrangements have been made to present their awards at various venues.
Business Person of the Year, 2021
Linda Schafer is the Chamber's 2021 Business Person of the Year. Linda retired in May after owning and operating Schafer Child Care Center for 45 years. She was nominated for the award by Don Berry who introduced her at the First Baptist Church on Sept. 12 and the award was presented to her by Linda Sympson on behalf of the Chester Chamber of Commerce.
Don wrote: "Linda Schafer retired in May of 2021 after owning and operating Schafer Child Care Center for 45 years. Schafer and her husband, Dwain, bought Kinderella Child Care Center from Jean Grammer back in 1976. Schafer worked hard and maintained the center as a state-certified and licensed child care facility.
"In her 45 years of service, she cared for and gave instruction to hundreds of children and toward the end some of them were grandchildren of students Schafer had taught years ago. It is truly hard to realize how many young lives have been helped and enhanced by her endeavors."
When Schafer retired the center closed, leaving a void in the community.
"I sincerely thank the Chester Chamber of Commerce for the great honor of being named Business Person of the Year," Schafer said. "It has been my privilege to serve the families of Chester and the surrounding area. This award is a very meaningful blessing to me and a kind validation of my life's work with children."
She also thanked Don Berry for the nomination and his generous remarks.
Judy McFaddin, owner and operator of McFaddin's Kennels, and Kurt and Tammi Schroeder, owners and operators of Red Dot Construction and Rentals, were both recognized by the Chester Chamber of Commerce for 40+ years of outstanding business service.
• An award presentation will be scheduled with Don Welge's family in the near future. Red Dot Construction will host an open house on Saturday, Oct. 2nd, at which time their award will be presented. Also on Oct. 2, Judy McFaddin will be given her award at her business.