“It is with great sadness that we must advise you of the passing earlier today of Don Welge after a short illness. Those who knew him certainly understood his love of the food industry, the company he helped build, and the relationships with customers, suppliers, fellow employees, and other business associates he established over his 60 plus years in the industry. He was also devoted to his family, church, community, and region. He had a wonderful life, good health, and was able to enjoy his work until his last days with us. Don would have expected us to continue at our work of providing safe, quality food products to our customers. So, that is what the entire Gilster-Mary Lee team will continue to do. He knew this work was extremely important given the current challenges facing our nation. On behalf of Don’s Family and the Gilster-Mary Lee Family, thank you for your support”
The 84-year-old Welge, died at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis. He had been airlifted there several weeks ago from Memorial Hospital in Chester as his condition declined. His death was attributed to complications of COVID-19.
In 1957, Don Welge, a great-nephew of the original Gilster family, joined the company. At this time, the Gilster Milling Company was still at the same $1,000,000 in sales. The days of the small, independent mills were numbered due to the advent of large automated facilities and the decline of scratch baking. Diversification was the only path to survival. At this time the manufacturer first moved into private label cake mix, drink mix, and potato products and expanded its operation to the nearby town of Chester, Illinois.