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Chester chamber congratulates Gilster Mary-Lee for 125 years

  • In 2018, Tom Welge, left, received the 2018 Business Citizen of the Year Award from the Chester Chamber of Commerce, and Lee Hollaway received the 2018 Community Citizen of the Year Award. Welge is now president and CEO.

    In 2018, Tom Welge, left, received the 2018 Business Citizen of the Year Award from the Chester Chamber of Commerce, and Lee Hollaway received the 2018 Community Citizen of the Year Award. Welge is now president and CEO.
    Herald Tribune file photo

  • The main offices of the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., in Chester.

    The main offices of the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., in Chester.
    Herald Tribune file photo

 
Submitted by the Chester Chamber of Commerce
updated: 9/4/2020 11:34 AM

Gilster Milling Co. was founded in August of 1895 by the Gilster brother and sisters who immigrated from Germany to this region with their parents.

The company was involved in the milling and distribution of the soft wheat grown throughout central and southern Illinois.

The company grew through the first half of the 20th century, making several acquisitions, but the market for "family" flour began to decline through the 1950s.

Returning from college, Don Welge realized the company needed to change course in order to survive, and it began the production of cake and other baking mixes.

Unlike the flour business though, Don realized the company did not have the capital to be a "branded" company, so it made the decision to produce store brands/private label from that point forward.

The company became a division of Martha White Foods in 1961, and Mike Welge joined the firm in 1964.

The company grew organically and through acquisitions over the next several years.

In 1969, a disagreement arose between the Gilster Milling Division and the management of Martha White, and Don, Mike and 12 other key management people left and started Mary Lee Packaging in Perryville, Missouri.

The two companies competed fiercely for two years, but in 1971 they were put back together as Gilster-Mary Lee.

Today the company produces roughly 8,000 SKUs for grocery chains, wholesalers and food service customers across North America and other parts of the world.

Gilster-Mary Lee currently operates 14 plants in four states, employing 3,000 people.

The board of directors of Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. recently named Tom Welge president and CEO of the organization after the loss of his father and former GML President Don Welge, a victim of COVID-19 earlier this year.

Congratulations Gilster-Mary Lee for 125 years!