HofH inductees believed in family, Ferry community

BY CONTRIBUTING funds for the Martins Ferry High School gymnasium, the Tolbert family agreed with the philosophy of legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes about “paying forward,” according to Victoria (Tolbert) Capuano.

“We didn’t want it named after us,” she added. “We just wanted to say to the system, ‘We’re behind you.’ We just wanted to give back.”

During an OSU commencement address in 1986, Hayes indicated he emphasized the importance of “paying forward” in almost every speech.

Now, the Tolberts are scheduled to be honored at the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor ceremony, slated April 25 at 2 p.m. at Martins Ferry High School. William L. Tolbert and his wife, Angela, now deceased, are among the HofH inductees.

Also to be honored at the ceremony are two deceased Ferrians, John Vrotsos and the Rev. Fr. Charles Mulhearne. The Citizens Bank is the HofH sponsor.

Vrotsos was a teacher and coach whose accomplishments included the introduction of the sport of wrestling at Ferry High. He also was selected for the school’s Wrestling Hall of Fame and for the OVAC Hall of Fame.

Mulhearne was president of the Martins Ferry Hospital Board of Trustees for 35 years. He also purchased the land that became the St. Mary Cemetery and was responsible for construction of the St. Mary School.

The Tolbert family has been involved in the Martins Ferry business community for more than 62 years. And, it all began with a small grocery store, opened by William in the 1940s, near the Purple Rider Stadium.

Although now retired, he is available to advise his children, who operate various businesses, and to correct their mistakes. His wife, the former Angela Amici, died in 1969.

The two honorees grew up in Yorkville, and William as an adolescent was in the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped in the construction of the Hoover Dam. After high school graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943 and served for four years in the Pacific theater.

Angela did so well in school that her teachers recommended that she skip a grade, and she later was valedictorian of the Yorkville High School Class of 1942. At OSU, she was graduated magna cum laude with master’s degrees in both accounting and education. She spent another year at OSU where she taught accounting.

The childhood sweethearts married in 1947, and they lived in a house connected to the family’s second grocery store on Eighth and Walnut streets.

“To them, their stores were more than a business. They were a way of life,” family members noted.

Their groceries were in operation for more than three decades, and sometimes, customers would telephone their orders to Bill and he would deliver the food, sometimes putting items in their refrigerators if they weren’t home.

In 1955, they opened The DeLuxe Novelty toy store and were pleasantly surprised when the toys sold out before the first Christmas of the store’s operation. Moved to a larger location in 1978, it now is DeLuxe Toy and Hobby, operated by Constance (Tolbert) Yeso and her husband, Michael.

Learning of the need for a nice clothing store for children, they opened The Young World. Their next venture was Fashion Manor, which has been managed by Capuano in recent years. She had a career in secondary education in Rhode Island before her parents asked her to return to manage the store.

Family members pointed out that the two HofH inductees expected their children to help out with the family business. Not only did it give them important family time, but it “allowed them to teach their children critical life lessons such as the importance of hard work, dedication and the value of a dollar.”

The grocery store closed in 1978, and the Tolberts concentrated on their downtown stores. Their eldest daughter, Pamela, who had been an elementary school teacher, and her husband, Paul Stecker, an engineer for American Electric Power, with guidance from her parents opened Stecker’s Department Store and operated it for more than 20 years.

Another daughter, Susan, worked as a certified public accountant for eight years with Price Waterhouse in Columbus, and she now operates her own accounting practice in Martins Ferry. Her husband, Joseph Dunbar, owns Dunbar Realty.

Pamela and Susan also help at times at their siblings’ businesses.

William L. Tolbert Jr., the youngest in the family, worked in Washington, D.C., as an associate director at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and his wife, Lisa, managed physician practices. Returning to Martins Ferry in 2003, he accepted a partnership with a national law firm, Jenner & Block.

His wife maintains his office when he is out of town and like others in the family, assists at their retail businesses throughout the year.

In the two honorees’ home is a picture of geese flying South for the winter. Family members pointed out the geese fly in a “V” formation because “the aerodynamics of the formation allow the geese in the rear of the formation to draft off the lead geese, thus lessened the burden of the geese in the rear of the formation. The geese then switch places, taking turns in the lead.

“As a result, they all share equally in the … task of flying South. … This is the philosophy of Bill and Angela Tolbert” as it illustrates their belief about their community, their family and their businesses.

Pokas can be reached at