Deaths | March 25, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - March 25, 2011


Oneida 'Mother' Branch

Oneida "Mother" Branch, 92, who for years collected and provided food and clothing for East Palo Alto's needy, died of natural causes March 22, 2011.

She was born in New Orleans, La., in 1918 and spent her teenage years in Chicago, Ill. She moved to California in the 1950s with her husband, the late Rev. James Branch, to co-found the St. John Missionary Baptist Church on Bay Road in East Palo Alto.

Soon after moving to East Palo Alto she became involved with helping those in need, offering shelter, food and clothing to impoverished families.

"She never was a rich woman but she never turned anyone away. If she didn't have what they needed, she located it," great-granddaughter Kymia Crum said.

Eventually she founded the East Palo Alto Community Service Center, running it from her home and getting other churches, schools and businesses involved with collecting and donating supplies for the poor, especially during the holidays.

"She brought the city together. She was an outstanding woman. I never met anyone like her," Crum said.

"We as a family will most definitely try to keep the center going."

She is survived by three sons: Erwin Babney, Whitney Babney and Nate Branch; 18 grandchildren; and 33 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be planned at a later date. The family asked that donations be sent to Jones Mortuary, 660 Donohoe St., East Palo Alto.

Ralph Kohn

Ralph Charles Kohn, 93, who managed Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park from the late 1960s to 1997, died Feb. 23, 2011.

Born in Oak Park, Ill., he was the oldest of three children. He graduated from Cornell College in Iowa.

According to his daughter, Twink Stern, he 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, he 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 him 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.

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.

He 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 him 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.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 9, at 2 p.m. at the Palo Alto Friends Meeting House, 957 Colorado Ave. in Palo Alto.

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


There are no comments yet for this post

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Choose a category: *

Since this is the first comment on this story a new topic will also be started in Town Square! Please choose a category that best describes this story.

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here