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April 25, 2013

BOB HULLINGER: Shopkeep had style, elegance

— With a gleam in her eyes, a smile on her face and a keen business sense guiding her, Mary Mast-Pier lived her life as an adventure ... and it was.

 The long-time owner of Mast Furniture in Greentown died last Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital at the age of 95, two years after she sold her store building and gave up her active role of guiding one of Indiana’s premier furniture stores. It was a business she loved and made flourish.

Make no doubt about it, Mary had an inordinate feel for the furniture business, but she mixed the importance of satisfying her customers with decorating skills and ideas that were innovative and pleasing to buyers locally and far from her Howard County base. Once a customer, the transition to friendship was a given, which made future visits to the store much more than a shopping experience.

While developing the business was dominant, the road was crowded with side journeys that fueled personal growth and made life exciting and complete. She was a young woman during the difficult years of the Great Depression, developed skills at several jobs, and eventually found her niche in her beloved store.

But Mary was about a lot more than furniture, although she certainly had the recipes for success in an era when women-owned businesses were not that common. She had perfect companions for the ride, with husbands Mark Mast and Fred Pier and daughter Sally Mower, each offering opportunities and support.

Mary loved life. She enjoyed conversations, laughter, good food, people, memories, and she was at her best recalling people.

One of her favorite furniture store-related escapades occurred on a slow Saturday when two men entered the store and browsed both floors, eventually making selections (with Mary’s help of course) to substantially fill several rooms of a house. The catch: delivery had to be made that day — outside Lexington, Ky. No problem. Workers loaded the truck, and with a driver who had never driven on an interstate, the delivery van headed out, followed by Mary and an associate to help with arranging the furniture, paintings and accessories.

A mid-winter visit last year to Chicago’s Drake Hotel, one of Mary’s favorite places when at the furniture mart, brought a smile to her face as she also remembered the Drake as where she and Mark spent their honeymoon. Recognized by friendly hotel management by her frequent stays, Mary showed the 1947 receipt from her honeymoon. Much to her surprise upon checking out, she found that management had again honored the 1947 rates.

As late as December, Mary was still holding court. Attending a women’s fashion show in Wabash, she found herself at the center of attention at an eight-person table ... doing what came naturally for the past 95 years.

Elegance. Style. Beauty. Smarts. Class. The Greentown lady had it all!

Bob Hullinger is a former Tribune writer and, of course, a Mary Mast-Pier fan. He may be reached at rdhullinger@aol.com.

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