Gilster-Mary Lee CEO to Speak at McKendree on April 24

Don Welge Led the Rise of Flour Milling Business to Private Label Manufacturer

Lebanon, Ill. — As chairman, chief executive officer and president of Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation, Don Welge leads a $925 million private-label food manufacturing company. He will be the featured speaker at McKendree University’s Wayne E. Lanter Lecture, which brings business leaders to campus to share their success stories. The free event will be held on Wednesday, April 24 at 6 p.m. in the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts.

After 100 years, the modern Gilster-Mary Lee has changed greatly from its flour milling roots. As the 19th century drew to a close, several ambitious brothers and sisters entered the flour milling business in Steeleville. The Gilster Milling Company, founded in 1895, purchased and milled local soft wheat and marketed its "family flour" under several brands, several of which gained huge popularity throughout the South.By 1900, the Gilster Milling Company had reached $1 million in sales.

Welge, a great-nephew of the original Gilsters, joined the company in 1957. At that time, the company’s sales remained at the $1 million mark.With the advent of large automated factories and the decline of traditional scratch baking methods, diversification was crucial to the company’s survival.  Gilster-Mary Lee moved into private label products and expanded its operation to Chester.

Today the company manufactures over 8,000 grocery products in nearly 500 different brands. It employs approximately 3,000 workers in 14 different manufacturing facilities across four states.  Its truck fleet delivers products throughout the U.S.  and Canada, and shipments destined for markets throughout the world.

Welge was inducted recently into the 2013 Private Label Hall of Fame, a select group of executives who have made significant and lasting contributions to store brand manufacturing, marketing and distribution.

He is the fifth participant in the university’s Wayne E. Lanter Memorial Lecture Series, established by the family, business associates and friends of the late Mr. Lanter, who grew a one-man trucking operation into a national logistics provider.

“All of the participants have been important and dynamic entrepreneurs in our area, who have started new businesses or have grown and changed existing ones,” said Dr. Frank Spreng, professor of economics. “Mr. Welge exhibits all of the best characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. He has grown and developed a small business into a giant operation, providing jobs and contributing to his community and his industry in many ways. We are fortunate to have Don Welge participating in the program.”