Longtime Martins Ferry businessman dies

Photo Provided THE LATE William Tolbert, front and center, is surrounded by his family in 2010 after being inducted into the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor. Tolbert died on Saturday.

MARTINS FERRY — William Tolbert, a longtime businessman, philanthropist and community-minded man, has died.

Tolbert, 94, died Saturday at home surrounded by his family.

Tolbert, who was born in Yorkville, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and became a sergeant after graduating from Yorkville High School in 1942. Following his service in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he came back to the Ohio Valley and opened several businesses in Martins Ferry and beyond.

Over the years he and his late wife, Angela, had a corner grocery store and butcher shop on Penn Street in Martins Ferry. Later they opened two more locations — one in Bridgeport and another on Walnut Street in Martins Ferry. Later they opened Deluxe Toy and Hobby, the children’s clothing store Young World, the women’s boutique Fashion Manor, Stecker’s Department Store and Ferry Realty, all located in Martins Ferry.

Tolbert’s children went on to continue operating the toy store, which remains in business today, and the women’s clothing store, which closed a couple years ago.

Surviving Tolbert are his four daughters, Pamela Stecker (Paul), Susan Tolbert-Dunbar (Joseph), Victoria Capuano and Constance Yeso (Michael); son William Jr. (Lisa). He also had 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

In the eulogy he wrote for his dad, William Tolbert Jr. said his father was “the best dad any five kids could hope for.” The younger Tolbert also said his father knew not only how to love, but how to let love in.

“I know love is sometimes an overused phrase, but my dad loved his friends and they loved him. My dad’s social network, as they say today, revolved around his customers at his grocery store. They were his friends really.

“He knew about their lives, their children’s careers, their exploits in sports. Some customers called in their grocery orders and our dad delivered to their homes. It was not uncommon for them to leave their doors unlocked and he would put items in the refrigerator or on their shelves. Let’s see Amazon do that. That is trust, my friends.”

Tolbert Jr. said his father once gathered a group of children and took them to a Pittsburgh Pirates game. He also helped people during hard financial times.

“Our dad gave us life, nurtured us, held us, fought us, shouted at us (like only a Marine sergeant can), kissed us and most importantly loved us unconditionally,” Tolbert Jr. said.

The elder Tolbert always took time to play with his children and teach them things, his son said.

“When we were with our dad, the world was filled with wonder. Every placed seemed amazing, and every day was magical. … Our dad gave us the greatest gift anyone can give a child: he believed in us, more than we believed in ourselves,” Tolbert Jr. said.

The elder Tolbert’s wife died 25 years ago. Tolbert Jr. said he and his sisters “learned to loved” by watching their parents’ marriage.

Capuano said her parents were always very giving of themselves, which was the best gift they could have given to her and her siblings.

“They had beautiful lives they had built together,” she said.

Tolbert was a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Martins Ferry. He was named a past Martins Ferry Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year. In 2010, he and his wife were inducted into the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor. One of his proudest moments was the dedication of the gymnasium at Martins Ferry High School as the William and Angela Tolbert Gymnasium, his children said. He also was recognized by the Ohio General Assembly for his deep commitment to the Ohio Valley.