Joseph A. Gist, Jr.
Jan. 15, 1925-Dec. 20, 2017
Palo Alto, California
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Joseph Andrew Gist, Jr., former resident of San Jose and Palo Alto, passed away on Dec. 20, 2016. He was 91 years old.
Joseph loved to tell the story of how he was born on a cold, windy January night in Garland, Wyoming, in 1925. His father was so excited that he forgot to drain the radiator in the old Model T after fetching the doctor, and the car’s engine cracked that night! The family soon moved back to Oklahoma to escape the bitter cold Wyoming weather.
With his parents, older sister Lucy and younger sister Jeanne, Joe lived mostly in Oklahoma, also spending a few years in North Carolina while his father attended Duke University to become a Methodist minister.
The family lived through the years of the dust bowl and the Depression when he was a young boy. As a preacher, Joe’s father was lucky to have a job which also provided a house for the family! Joe remembered seeing lines of people waiting for food:
“We kids were in the back seat one day, as we drove along toward the west side of town. These men were lined up all the way to the end of the block, around the corner, and up to the end of the next block.
"We noticed that most of them had containers like a little bucket, and we asked, ‘Why are those people lined up?’ And our mom said, ‘They don’t have any food. When they get to the front of the line, they will get food and take it home. They don’t have any money.’
“It hurts me now, to think about it,” he recalled.
The Gist family moved to Clinton, Oklahoma, when Joe was 12. His father was the minister at the small Methodist church, and that is where Joe met Barbara Lou Mills, also age 12, who was the church organist. Little did they know that one day they would marry, move to California and raise a family together!
When he was 18 and fresh out of high school, Joe joined the Navy and spent several years on a destroyer during WWII, operating the sonar. He then spent nine months in Japan as part of the occupying force immediately after the war was over. He was usually the one assigned to keep track of the others when they went ashore, to be sure they made it back to the ship without getting into too much trouble!
Joe went to college in Chico, California, then hitchhiked back to Oklahoma a couple of times before winning Barbara Lou’s hand in marriage. They moved to Redding, California, where he was a school teacher and principal before the family moved to San Jose and then Palo Alto, where they lived for 35 years.
When first married, he and Barbara Lou would drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park every weekend, to enjoy the fresh air and sit by the lake. The very first thing they purchased, before they even had a car, was an upright Steinway piano for Barbara. They borrowed a truck to go get the piano and bring it home to their small, barely furnished rental!
A few years later, they designed and built a beautiful ranch-style home in Redding, at the edge of town, where children Barby and Herschel spent most of their childhoods. Joe was quite proud of the treehouse he built in the back yard, in which Herschel and Barby spent many happy hours!
During the Redding years, Joe and Herschel would occasionally rise at 4 a.m. to go fishing for trout at Whiskey Creek, just west of town. For a surprise gift for Barby’s 12th Birthday, Joe scored tickets to the Beatles’ first concert at the Cow Palace, San Francisco, in 1964.
Joe was very resourceful, could fix anything and often took his tools when he went visiting friends or relatives. He would take summer jobs in the early days, fixing everything from clarinets to washing machines.
The family would also pile into the car in the summertime to see the country, driving through many states and picking up antique tools or cast iron cookware along the way to add to Joe’s collection. The old, heavy army tent was pitched in all weathers as the family “roughed it” through their adventures. They saw Niagara Falls, the Smithsonian, Williamsburg, NY City, New England, Banff, Yellowstone and more.
Joe was able to complete his master’s degree at San Jose State University. He continued to teach in San Jose for almost 30 years, mostly 4th and 5th grade. He taught at Seven Trees, Santee and McKinley schools. Many of his students were immigrants, from many countries, and he was so proud of their efforts and abilities.
Joe loved to stay busy and had many skills and hobbies. He had a beautiful singing voice, could play a bit of piano and ukulele and enjoyed carving and woodworking. He composed songs and made a portable kitchen cart for his classroom, which was the envy of all the other teachers.
He had a special place in his heart for beautiful composition and literature. He loved Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Robert Burns and the classical music of many composers. Barby and Herschel remember how he would put one of his cherished albums onto the record player and wave his arms in bliss as the music filled the house.
Joe was challenged by dyslexia, way back before anyone knew what dyslexia was. He struggled with reading as a child, and did not really learn to read until his teen years. He had a photographic memory, however, plus unequivocal determination. In fact, he became a good writer!
He followed his interest by taking several writing courses at the community college, before retirement, where he was highly encouraged by his teachers. In his retirement years, he wrote 5 historical novels about the Gold Rush, the Wild West, and WWII.
After the loss of his beloved wife Barbara, he made the move to Redwood Villa in Mountain View, where he adjusted well and lived for 4 years in their welcoming community. Joe then moved to Bayview Villa in San Carlos for his remaining years, where he was again surrounded by many caring people.
Joe is survived by his son Herschel Gist, daughter Barbara Gist Hanneloré, sister Jeanne Hess and his nieces and nephews.
Condolences may be sent to P.O. Box 61838, Santa Barbara, California 93160.
A Memorial Service will be held at Wesley United Methodist Church, 470 Cambridge Ave., Palo Alto, on Saturday, March 25 at 1 p.m.
Donations are appreciated at either Wesley United Methodist Church - Mailing Address: 463 College Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306 (where Joe’s wife Barbara was organist for many years), or Pathways Hospice pathwayshealth.org.
Tags: veteran, teacher/educator