Friends, family remember folklorist found dead on Mount Toby


  • Mark Klempner appears on his YouTube channel, playing guitar and singing “You Can’t Keep Me From Loving You.” Klempner, who lived in Greenfield, was found dead on Mount Toby in Sunderland on March 3, 2019.  YOUTUBE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2019 11:01:40 AM

SUNDERLAND — Mark Klempner returned home last year after roughly a decade in Costa Rica.

The New York native settled in Greenfield — to be close to his two children, who had moved with their mother to Turners Falls — in the first half of 2018 and he quickly cozied up to his new environment, substitute teaching in Northampton and immersing himself in the local Jewish community.

“He was so happy to come back to the United States,” his sister, Diane Klempner, recalled. “He was just walking on air.”

But that euphoria was short-lived. On the afternoon of March 3, members of the Western Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team recovered a dead body two hikers discovered in a wedge-like area near a cliff face on the west side of Mount Toby in Sunderland. On Tuesday, the body was identified as Klempner. He was 63.

Diane Klempner, who lives in Schenectady, New York, said she was informed by a Massachusetts state trooper’s phone call that was followed up by a visit from a Schenectady police officer, who she spoke with for a while to help determine what happened to her brother. She said his death doesn’t make sense and she was told her brother had suffered a broken spine. The news of Klempner’s death sent shockwaves through at least two of the communities he called home at some point.

A funeral at Levine Memorial Chapel in Albany, New York, was scheduled Sunday for 11 a.m. A burial in Schenectady was set to follow. Mark had been involved with Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton since moving to western Massachusetts. Congregation B’nai Israel has planned a memorial gathering Wednesday, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 253 Prospect St. The service will include Minchah, an opportunity to share thoughts and reminiscences, and some light refreshments.

“We hope that this gathering will bring a measure of comfort to Mark’s family and healing to our community,” Rabbi Justin David said in a statement. “A number of people have asked what they can do to help Mark’s family. Over the past few days, Mark’s adult family members have been moved and comforted to learn how much of a home Mark and his children found here in the Jewish community of Northampton.”

Alan Singer is a member of the congregation and had lunch with Klempner about three weeks ago. He remembered Klempner as a quiet, soft-spoken man.

“He was a very bright, highly educated guy,” Singer said.

Buckland residents Janice Sorensen and husband Michael Hoberman became close to Klempner in the spring and summer, when they rented part of their home to Klempner , through Airbnb, for a few months. Sorensen said Klempner and Hoberman had a great deal in common – both being academic writers and folklorists extremely proud of their faith and heritage.

“His passion for his Jewish faith practice led him to immediately explore the Jewish community, which embraced him right away, as most faith communities will,” Sorensen said.

Klempner had written “The Heart Has Reasons: Dutch Rescuers of Jewish Children during the Holocaust.” He was also working on a memoir.

“Mark was an excellent writer,” she said.

Diane Klempner, 65, remembered a brother who lived a storied life. She said she and Mark were brought up in the Bronx and eventually moved to Schenectady. She said her brother was in a garage band as a teenager and “hero-worshipped Pete Seeger and John Lennon.” He moved to Boston before living in a San Diego commune. He later worked as a studio musician in Los Angeles and was employed at Disney World. Diane Klempner said Mark eventually decided to refocus his life, attending Cornell University and then graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met a woman he went on to marry.

Klempner and his wife moved to Costa Rica, where they divorced.

The Klempner family story is one of survival. Diane Klempner said their father “escaped Poland just before the Nazis invaded. It was like the last ship out.” She said her father had family in New York that helped them immigrate and assimilate, though relatives remaining in Poland did not survive the war.

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