David Karpeles, who co-founded the Karpeles Manuscript Library, was a Santa Barbara historian, scholar and entrepreneur, known for accomplishments that benefited Santa Barbara County and the nation.
His life began at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was born Jan. 26, 1936. He died there 86 years later, almost to the day, on Jan. 19, 2022.
“He led a fascinating and remarkable life that had a positive effect on everyone he met,” his family said in an email to the News-Press. “His intelligence, analytical abilities, creativity and humor was a gift to everyone who knew him,”
His family moved in 1942 from Santa Barbara to Duluth, Minn. He graduated from Denfeld High School in Duluth at age 17 and continued on to study at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, majoring in both mathematics and physics.
He served as a substitute instructor at age 19 at the University in Duluth.
He graduated cum laude in 1956 at the University of Minnesota Duluth, completing his studies for his bachelor’s in three years. He continued in mathematics as a master’s student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, while serving as a graduate instructor in the department.
Mr. Karpeles met his wife Marsha, while teaching in Minneapolis
“He got invited on a double date and agreed to go,” his son, Mark Karpeles, told the News-Press during a phone interview. “When they went to pick her up, it was dark outside. After talking with her parents for a few minutes, they left, but my dad really hadn’t gotten a look at her yet.
“As they walked away from the door my dad said to himself, ‘I need to see what I got,’ ” Mark recalled. “As he looked at her, he said, ‘She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, and I knew I wanted to marry her right away.”
“They were married for 63 years. But they were so opposite in so many ways,” Mark told the News-Press.
David Karpeles moved back to Santa Barbara as a research analyst for General Electric Tempo division in 1963 and began to teach mathematics at Santa Barbara City College and Westmont College while starting to work toward a doctorate at the University of California.
David received his doctorate in Biblical historicity and doctorate in history from Atlantic International University. He also received an honorary doctorate from State University New York.
While at General Electric, David proposed the use of the first operating optical character recognition program for handwriting.
He also developed an artificial intelligence program, allowing personnel to question a computer using unrestricted English language. The program analyzed the syntax of the question, determined the meaning and gave the appropriate answer.
David started investing in real estate in 1968. His real estate investments grew to more than 300 homes.
“This first one he owned was a small house on a large lot, out on the Mesa,” Mark said. “This is how everything started. It was his real estate investments that enabled him to leave General Electric and become an entrepreneur.
“He provided 300 single parents rental properties to tenants,” Mark continued. “When he sold the property, he always gave the tenant first chance to buy and offered creative financing opportunities. He probably helped more people become first time homeowners than anyone else in the Santa-Barbara area.”
David received an award in 1981 from California Gov. Jerry Brown for developing a plan for providing affordable housing.
And David started buying manuscripts with the profits he made from his real estate investments.
He went to the Huntington Library in the Pasadena area, and he couldn’t believe what they had to offer. So he talked to the curator to find out where and how to acquire manuscripts.
He started to bid on his first manuscripts between 1978-79 and won. That got him hooked. He bid on and bought manuscripts for more than 40 years.
As he began accumulating manuscripts, David decided that he wanted to enable the public to have viewing access to them and opened the first of the many Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums in Tacoma, just south of Seattle.
The flagship library is at 21 W. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara. The other libraries are located across the country, in cities varying from Buffalo, N.Y., to St. Louis.
David was constantly studying U.S. history and religion. He also owned a large map collection, which can be viewed in the manuscript museum in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The museums are open to both scholars and the general public with no entrance charge.
“We plan on keeping the museums going,” Mark told the News-Press.
The family noted David’s collection grew to be the largest privately owned collection in the world.
The archives include literature, science, religion, political history, music, exploration and art.
His goal was to stimulate interest in learning, especially with children.
“He was a very mellow person,” Mark said. “I never saw him yell in his whole life. If you said something he didn’t agree with, he didn’t say anything at all. He cared about everybody, and he wanted to help society, but he didn’t want to just give everything away.”
Mark said David loved to joke, never swore, never smoked, never drank.
“Whenever doctors asked him if he smoked or drank, he said ‘I have no vices but I have no virtues.’ That was his favorite saying.”
In its statement to the News-Press, the Karpeles family noted, “David was a loving husband and father. His contributions to society will have an everlasting effect.”
David Kareples is survived by his wife, Marsha, whom he married a year after they met in 1957 and who co-founded the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum with him; four children, Mark, Leslie (Szumowski), Cheryl (Alleman) and Jason; his children’s spouses, Joann, Tim, Bob and Jennifer and 10 grandchildren: Alexis, Kate, Nick, James, Michelle, Alan, Ethan, Alex, Henry, Isabelle. David is also survived by his brother, Elliott and wife Donnalyn.