The Chester Chamber of Commerce has presented its 2021 Citizen of the Year award posthumously to Chester native and lifelong resident Don Welge.
At the presentation in late December, the award was accepted by Welge's widow, Mary Alice, and his two sons, Rob and Tom Welge.
Chamber President Bob Welker said the presentation of the award, which normally would have been announced at the Chamber's annual dinner in June, was delayed due to COVID.
"We're very grateful for Don Welge's many, many lifelong contributions to Chester, to the Chamber, to the entire area," said Welker. "We miss him greatly."
Don Welge was born and raised in Chester. After college, he returned to his beloved hometown and helped his family business, Gilster Milling, evolve into a major food manufacturing company, Gilster-Mary Lee, with customers across the county and around the world.
He was a member of the Chester Chamber of Commerce since the 1960s, serving as past president of the organization. He helped establish the P & C Development Corporation and served as its president.
The Welges raised their two sons in Chester, and Welge remained active in the lives of his entire family, including his four grandchildren.
Welge was an active member of St. John Lutheran Church in Chester and served on the school's board of education. He was an advocate for Scouting, serving on various boards since the 1970s. He held many leadership positions within the Scouting program and worked tirelessly on local projects, such as fund drives and the management of the Cohen Committee for the benefit of Scouts in Chester.
Welge was a charter member of the committee that organized the annual Fourth of July program on Kaskaskia Island and served on that committee for more than 50 years. He also served as director of Buena National Bank. In 2017 he was a national finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year program.
Welge's family and his many friends in Chester recall how he enjoyed talking to people on almost any topic and would often provide advice and assistance to other business owners in the community.
Even in his later years he did not slow down his schedule. He was involved in everything from the saving of the historic Landmark on the Chester Riverfront, to the establishment of a 7000 head rabbitry just outside Chester.
At the time of his death in April 2020, he was, according to his family, focused on the building of a new, safer and more efficient Chester Bridge, to serve both Missouri and Illinois for many years to come.
"He would be very pleased with recent developments on that subject," son Tom Welge said.
In making the presentation to the Welge family, Welker expressed his appreciation to the family, as well as the Chamber's admiration for the late Don Welge.
"We're very honored to receive the award on my dad's behalf," said Tom Welge. "He was a committed and involved citizen of Chester. He knew that communities like ours will only remain strong if their citizens freely give of their time and talents."