BELPRE - The Belpre community joined together on Saturday evening to honor Marie Gustke for her nearly seven decades of service.
More than 100 friends and family of Gustke attended the event in the Rockland United Methodist Church fellowship hall.
"I was surprised when I found out about this," Gustke said. "I had no idea my retirement would mean this much to so many people."
Gustke, 86, owned four businesses in the city of Belpre during the past 66 years and retired in December after her final business, the Memory Mall, closed.
Not only did friends and family members tell stories of Gustke and the businesses she ran, but she was presented with the key to the city by Mayor Mike Lorentz and honors by Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine.
The event was sponsored by the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce and led by chamber member Dana Fouss, who told stories about Gustke and her husband Charles and read letters by their four children.
"When I heard Marie was retiring, I felt someone who had given 66 years of their life to an area needed to be recognized," said chamber member Susie Ashley, who organized the event. "I call Marie a pioneer entrepreneur because she paved the way for many businesswomen to come."
Gustke and her husband opened their first business, Gustke's Store Company, in Belpre in October 1946, following their wedding and his service in World War II.
Along with the original Gustke's, she and her husband purchased a foundering variety store in 1964 and opened Belpre True Value in 1981.
"We didn't want to retire and do nothing," Gustke said. "When my husband passed away, I tried to retire and just couldn't do it and opened the Memory Mall."
This final store, which was located in the area of Neff's Country Loft and Bob's Market, opened in 1998 and hosted as many as 20 vendors at a time with a variety of items from furniture to knick-knacks.
"The Memory Mall was similar to Gustke's," said Fouss. "The store had an unofficial motto of 'if we don't have it, you don't need it' and it was true.
"We are pleased to honor a pretty phenomenal lady who has given her life to help our community be a better place to live," he said.