Longtime Kepler's manager Ralph Kohn dies at 93

Ralph Kohn was manager from the late 1960s to 1997

A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 9, for Ralph Charles Kohn, who managed Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park for about 30 years, from the late 1960s to 1997. He died Feb. 23 at age 93.

The memorial will start at 2 p.m. at the Palo Alto Friends Meeting House, 957 Colorado Ave. in Palo Alto.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1918, to a Methodist mother and a Jewish father, Mr. Kohn was the oldest of three children. He graduated from Cornell College in Iowa.

According to his daughter, Twink Stern, Mr. Kohn detested war and became a conscientious objector during World War II, spending the years working on the East Coast with children who had special needs. There he met lifelong friends Roy Kepler and George Haight, and formed a network of peace activists who spent their later years in California.

Following the war, Mr. Kohn joined the Merchant Marines on a freighter and worked as a ship hand. He traveled to Europe, Africa, and the Far East. This experience had a lasting effect on him, and he savored these years of exposure to people and politics, the family said.

When Roy Kepler asked Mr. Kohn to manage one of two Kepler's bookstores, he jumped at the chance to move to California. His family said he was proud to work in the Menlo Park store, largest paperback bookstore on the West Coast at that time.

He found a home on Cloud Avenue in Menlo Park and enjoyed sharing ideas with locals such as the family of Joan Baez, as well as Ira Sandperl and Nick Simon.

As he managed Kepler's, he became close to the Kepler family and when Roy's son, Clark, became the owner, the two of them became close, the family said.

He and his wife Irene became the keepers of Kepler's traditions, and each summer, hosted a taco party at their home so that former employees of the store could catch up with the extended family of Kepler's people.

He and his wife enjoyed driving all over California and Canada, and to Mexico, the family said. They also traveled to Europe and Vietnam.

Mr. Kohn stopped working at the bookstore after having a stroke in 1997.

The family expressed thanks to caregiver Lya Vale Cruz and Heartland Hospice for their care for Mr. Kohn during his final years.

He is survived by his wife, Irene Myers Stern Kohn; her children, Twink Stern and James Stern; five grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and his youngest sister, Shirley Kohn.

The family prefers donations to "10 Books a Home," which provides free in-home and in-school literacy services to children in East Palo Alto. Donations may be mailed to 1735 Woodland Ave., Suite 11, East Palo Alto, CA 94303; or made online at

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