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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2011

Phyllis J. Wilhelm, 1931-2011: Merchant ran Toledo stores with husband

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON -- Phyllis J. Wilhelm, who with her husband owned and operated several neighborhood grocery stores in Toledo, died Saturday at the Fulton County Health Center. She was 79.

Her daughter, Stella Wilhelm, said she died of a heart attack.

Mrs. Wilhelm spent much of her life behind registers in stores she owned and those she didn't. The consummate people person, she was made for the job, her family members said, and she loved even the smallest details.

"She loved the cash register," her daughter said. "She loved to hear the ding."

Mrs. Wilhelm was born in Toledo on Oct. 1, 1931, and graduated from DeVilbiss High School. She met her husband, John Wilhelm, while working at a pharmacy. He asked her on a date, but she said he would have to meet her parents first, daughter Stella said. Mr. Wilhelm was impressed by her insistence on traditional values and vowed to marry her, which he did in 1951.

The pair owned and operated "mom and pop"-style carryout stores in the late 1950s and early 1960s in West Toledo, first on Dorr Street and later on Oakwood Avenue. Mr. Wilhelm, who previously was a butcher, prepared the shop's meat products and drove trucks, while Mrs. Wilhelm ran the store and served customers.

Mrs. Wilhelm loved to chat up her customers, son Jim Wilhelm said. The carryout stores served as the neighborhood source for everything from meat to beer, and Mrs. Wilhelm got to know those in the community well.

The Wilhelms sold their store in 1964 and moved to a 40-acre farm in Wauseon. For a time, Mrs. Wilhelm worked at an auto-parts factory, while her husband raised hogs.

Times were not always easy for the family; at one point, the barns burned down, her son said. But the Wilhems stuck together, and Mrs. Wilhelm continued to do her part, even working at a duck-cleaning factory for a time.

"They weren't people that cried into their milk," her son said. "They were workers."

But Mrs. Wilhelm never lost her good humor or her fun-loving attitude, and when Mrs. Wilhelm got the chance, she returned to the register, working at grocery stores and meat markets in Wauseon and Delta.

"She always had that in her blood," Jim Wilhelm said.

Surviving are sons, Jim and Joe; daughter, Stella Wilhelm; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren, and sisters, Mildred Hunter and Marion Chips.

A Mass will be dedicated to her memory at 8:30 a.m. Friday in the south wing of St. Caspar Catholic Church in Wauseon. There will be no visitation.

The family suggests tributes be sent to the Toledo Humane Society.

The Edgar-Grisier Funeral Home in Wauseon is handling arrangements.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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