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Monday, September 14th, 2009

History book about St. Marys police chiefs underway

By Janie Southard

St. Marys Police Chief Gilly Gerstner, who served a total of 38 years, said the. . .

ST. MARYS - History can fade away if no one writes it down. Two law enforcement officers are attempting to save the history of the town's local police department with a memory book of former police chiefs.
Officers Mark Ernst and Kim Reier are tracking down former chiefs through friends and relatives who can remember when.
"I've heard a lot of stories around the office here about the old days and I always thought someone should be getting this down. Because I collect police patches, I send to various departments to trade patches ... That's how I got this book from England," Ernst said as he pulled out an 81/2 -by-11 pictorial history of the Fife Constabulary in the United Kingdom.
"It's quite fascinating and what I had in mind. So I put the call out for pictures and stories of the old days," he continued. "There has been a great response."
Gilbert "Gilly" Gerstner was police chief in St. Marys for nearly four decades (1927-1964) so most of the history revolves around the Gilly days. One of the stories Ernst came across told how Gerstner was nearly thrown off a Ford coupe by Paul Daniels, a forgery suspect trying to escape arrest. Details from this incident were taken from a St. Marys newspaper article that ran in the early 1930s.
Daniels already was on the road in his Ford leaving his father's home when Gerstner arrived in his own police car to arrest Daniels, whom he stopped along the road.
The chief jumped on the Ford's running board and commanded Daniels to drive to the police station. Daniels sped off with the cop still on the running board. As he approached the railroad crossing on East Spring Street, Daniels tried to sideswipe the concrete in an attempt to dislodge the police chief.
Gerstner quickly flattened himself against the side of the car, which saved him from the cement post but, unfortunately, made him a close target for a punch in the nose, which Daniels delivered.
Gerstner pulled his gun and ordered Daniels to stop the car and he and his companion, Charles Marsh of Springfield, were ordered into a highway truck that had been following Daniels.
Both were locked up back at the station and that business was concluded before lunch.
"Gilly was the chief when the Dillinger gang robbed the bank here back in the 1930s," Ernst said. "Someone told me Gilly got a call that his old classmate Charlie Makley (one of the Dillinger gang) was back in town. Gilly and another officer picked up their shotguns and left the police station, which was across the street from the bank building, to look for Makley. Later they knew that had been a trap to get them out of the office."
Gerstner once said his "heaviest blow" as chief came when his classmate at a St. Marys school returned to town and robbed the bank, referring to Makley.
Gerstner retired in 1964 and died at age 70 in 1965 at his home at 219 S. Wayne Street.
"We got a lot of information and pictures from Gilly's son in Dayton," Ernst said, adding he's received a lot of old photos including the police motorcycle with sidecar and info from the officer who rode the bike in the 1950s, Stan Pierce.
So far, the lineup of chiefs includes, in chronological order: Frank Seibert, Ferd Miller, Gerstner, Jim May, George Henderson, Larry Schieltz, Bill Applegate, Kerry Roode and current Chief Greg Foxhoven.
Before Seibert, Ernst said, there were various town marshals and merchant police.
"We're working on the book as we can," he said.
The plan is to make the finished book available to current and retired officers and maybe, someday, to the public.
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