The matriarch of Giesche Shoes stores in Glen Ellyn and Geneva is being remembered by family and friends as a gracious, personable woman who loved meeting people, serving the community and traveling.
Phyllis R. Giesche died Thursday at her Lombard home from complications of Parkinson's disease. She was 86.
"She was a beautiful person inside and out," said Stuart Stone, second assistant chief of the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Department, who has known the Giesches since 1948.
"Both Thor (her late husband) and Phyllis cared about the community and they gave back a lot over the years," he said.
Born in Chicago, Phyllis studied liberal arts at Knox College and married Thor Giesche in 1944.
She loved traveling, playing bridge and ballroom dancing, her son Gary said.
"A little-known fact about my mother is she and my father rode motorcycles all over the country, touring national parks and historic sites for weeks on end," Gary Giesche said.
Russia and China were Phyllis and Thor's favorite places to visit when they were not working at one of the shoe stores, attending shoe shows or buying handbags and leather goods.
"My mother was unique in that she loved interacting with people," Gary Giesche said. "She loved interacting with customers here in this business, which she helped build with my father over the years."
Giesche Shoes started as a business before 1900, Giesche said, and has been run by three separate sides of the family. The chain had seven locations over time, including the remaining two stores in Glen Ellyn and Geneva, as well as shops in Downers Grove, LaGrange, Libertyville, Naperville and Lombard's Yorktown Shopping Center.
"She was somewhat of the matriarch of the family," Mike Formento, executive director of the Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce, said about Phyllis. "She was somewhat of an icon when you walked into the business, she always had a presence in one way or another."
Phyllis Giesche is survived by sons Gary, Brian and Gregory; daughters-in-law Cindy and Margaret; granddaughter Stephanie; and step-grandchildren Stacy, Paige and Evan. She was preceded in death by her husband, Thor, who died in 2005.
Visitation is scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, at Leonard Memorial Home, 565 Duane St., Glen Ellyn. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at Leonard Memorial Home with internment at Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside.