PEMBERVILLE, Ohio - Mildred M. Beeker, 99, former owner of a landmark general store here, died Monday at Otterbein-Portage Valley Retirement Village, where she had lived for five years. The cause of death was not reported.
Miss Beeker owned and operated Beeker's General Store from 1950 when her father, Fred Beeker, the previous store owner, died, until 1994, when she sold it to Todd Sheets, its current owner.
In 1990, she was named Pemberville's First Outstanding Citizen.
"The store was her life," Mr. Sheets said. "She was a neat lady. She treasured not only [her customers'] business, but their friendship."
Pemberville Mayor James Opelt said people always ask him about Beeker's General Store when he travels out of the village, and the next question is, "How's Miss Beeker?"
"She had a gentle kindness about her and sometimes a stern look, but she always had the best interest of the customer or that little child in heart," Mr. Sheets said.
Mayor Opelt agreed.
"I think she is a Pemberville treasure and will always be," Mr. Opelt said.
"She touched so many lives. And that's why we consider her Miss Pemberville, synonymous with the village."
Miss Beeker had worked hard to preserve the store as a tradition, Mr. Sheets said.
She kept many of the store's original items, such as showcases, counters, and the scales. As for the stock, "It's pretty near the same as before," she said in a 1985 Blade interview.
The store, which has a bit of everything, operated largely unchanged for more than a 100 years, with the store building estimated to be about 130 years old. In December, 2002, the store was featured in Victoria Magazine and in August, 2003, on the Food Channel.
A native of Pemberville, Miss Beeker went to work at the store while still at Pemberville High School, helping her father, who owned the store solely and in partnership for 36 years after working there for 18 years for Zindler Brothers. After graduating in 1924, she continued to work there as a sales clerk.
After her father's death, Miss Beeker ran the store for years with one assistant and kept it open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and until 9 p.m. on Saturdays.
In a 1967 Blade interview, Miss Beeker said there were always people around to sit and talk, calling the atmosphere "accommodating." For years the place was a gathering point, complete with the original bench, on which people used to wait for streetcars to Toledo.
When The Blade interviewed her in 1990, she did not talk about business being good or bad but mentioned that she had had no help at the store since the number of customers began declining in the late 1980s.
She no longer carried fresh meat or produce but continued to sell farm-fresh eggs delivered by local farmers, just as her father did.
"These aren't coop eggs," she said. "The hens are outdoors scratching around."
Miss Beeker was a lifelong member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where she was a former Sunday school teacher, and a member of the Pemberville Historical Society.
There are no immediate survivors.
Services are at 11 a.m. today at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where the body will be after 10 a.m. today. Arrangements are by Marsh Funeral Home, Pemberville.
Tributes are suggested to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Bridge Home Health Hospice, and the Otterbein-Portage Valley Retirement Village bus fund.