Guest opinion by Clark Kepler: Ira Sandperl enriched character of Kepler's bookstore


The author, Clark Kepler, is the former owner and manager of Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, and the son of Kepler's founder, Roy Kepler.

By Clark Kepler

Ira Sandperl and my dad thought they could change the world. Turns out, they were right.

Political activism was my dad's passion, dating back to his time as a World War II conscientious objector. Bookselling provided him an income to raise his family. Ira, who died April 13 at the age of 90, was my dad's greatest friend and essential peace ally. Ira also worked for my dad's store, Kepler's Books & Magazines, for several decades.

Though, perhaps "worked" is not the right word.

Ira sold books like he lived his life: in his own time, and after his own fashion. It is better to say that he was present and engaged with everyone who entered. He suggested authors to read; nearly always Tolstoy. He entertained, he told stories, he inspired, he provoked, he enriched the character of the bookstore. To meet Ira was to feel that you were his friend. He was captivating. He transformed the lives of many young people. While dad was in the back of the bookstore conducting business, Ira was usually up front holding court.

Ira freely expressed his radical views on war, peace and the individual conscience amid an atmosphere of ideas and protest. He, as much as anything else about Kepler's, is the reason that young people flocked into the bookstore, out of curiosity and defiance of the authority figures who forbade them to go.

Ira and dad were great friends, but they weren't pals. They didn't bowl together, they didn't get together for poker night; they didn't play at all. They were brothers with a shared cause.

Ira's wry sense of humor and high-cracked voice inspired laughter from dad like little else could. On many evenings at the dinner table, our phone would ring and dad would answer, at first irritated by the interruption. Then he would start to chuckle, and my sisters and I knew that it was Ira calling and that dad wouldn't be finishing his meal with us. They would talk into the evening.

In the last decade of his life I saw Ira only occasionally as he was less mobile, with a broken hip that was the result of a bike accident. He was still taking his early morning breakfasts next door at Café Borrone, then visiting the bookstore. He would greet me and ask how I was doing, about my mother's well-being and about my young nephew, who was serving in the Army in Iraq. And, when I inquired about him, he would reply that he was, "undeservingly well." After all, he had his books and a few friends. He was content.

Flamboyant from the start, reclusive in the end, in the lives he touched and the hearts and minds he opened, Ira Sandperl did change the world.

Read John Markoff's obituary on Ira Sandperl.


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