"When a cop gets a badge in his hand for the first time, it's a piece of metal. When he puts it on, it's a living thing." - Walter E. Gist
If not for one man's intense passion for the law enforcement profession and its history, there would never have been this museum, for Walter E. Gist made it his lifetime mission to bring together our primary collection that has become the Silver State National Peace Officers Museum. It was 1954 when Walt Gist began his fifty nine year love affair of law enforcement history and his amazing wherewithal to collect what has become the Gist Collection.
Walt completed his tour with the United States Army and arrived home in the San Francisco Bay Area to begin seeking post military employment. He had tremendous photography skills and spent some time shooting newsworthy photographs for local newspapers until he was able to reach his goal of becoming a police officer. In 1953, he was hired as an officer with the Kensington, California Police Department, right there in the East Bay Area. He would complete a long and successful career after promoting through the ranks to Chief of Police.
In 1954, he was wandering through a flea market when he discovered an old police inspector badge on a table mixed with junk jewelry. The badge was sterling silver and hand engraved. He thought about the officers having worn this symbol of his profession and could imagine the pride they held and the experiences they had during that time. He rescued the badge, later discovering that it was a very rare Oakland PD Inspector badge. That old badge continues to be a part of the Gist Collection and is on exhibit with many other historic Oakland PD artifacts. That badge triggered a love affair with law enforcement history and the collecting of historic police memorabilia. That love affair lasted a lifetime.
Walt Gist as a young policeman in 1955.
Walt was forced to leave his law enforcement career much earlier than planned due to health issues. He moved Reno but still continued his collecting and research for the next thirty years. His passion ran so deep that he never missed an annual James Hoff Peace Officers Memorial ceremony until his last few years when he just could not physically make it. He never missed attending a local line of duty funeral because it was so important for him to pay his respects to those not able to complete their careers as he did. There, at all of these events stood Walt and his bride, Ellie.
Walt would take much of his mobile collection to the local community college academy classes to share his vast historical knowledge with the young recruits. He would bring it all out in public so others could enjoy what he had at every opportunity.
Walt passed away in 2005. He has left behind a magnificent legacy for the benefit and enjoyment of others. Did Walt Gist have a vision for his massive collection? Yes he did. He had always wanted his collection to be enjoyed by the public so that his passion for the profession could be shared with others. In response to his wishes, and just the day before Walt passed away, his son made him a promise that his collection would be kept together and would be seen by the public. That promise is the Silver State National Peace Officers Museum.