By H. Haveman
When I met Susan Klopfer for coffee last week, she apologized, mentioning something about spring allergies as she dabbed at watery eyes. I hadn’t really noticed since I was fixated on the enthusiastic and easy manner with which she was telling her story. After listening to Klopfer talk about the books she’s written, places she’s lived, and items she’s collected over a lifetime, I doubt she’s the kind of person who has ever called in sick to work – allergies or not. When you’re passionate and doing what you love, nothing else seems to matter.
Susan and her husband, Fred, were originally from the West, but lived most of their married life in the Midwest, moving whenever Fred’s job as a psychologist would call them to a new place. Living in Indianapolis, and in smallish towns in Missouri and Iowa, they spent time in Texas and Mississippi, too, and enjoyed what life had to offer.
In each place Susan would reinvent herself, saying, “What do I want to be when I grow up here?” Never one to sit and wait around, she would go out and apply her skills to whatever was there that drew her interest. With an MBA and a background in journalism, most of the jobs she undertook were in the writing and reporting realm: a newspaper reporter in Branson, Missouri, an editor in Indianapolis, and a budding author in the Mississippi Delta.
It was during her time in Mississippi that her deep passions for civil rights and diversity were ignited. In 1955, Emmitt Till, a fourteen-year-old, African-American boy from Chicago, was visiting relatives in Mississippi. After reportedly flirting with a white woman, he was brutally murdered. The perpetrators were acquitted. Till’s death is considered one of the primary catalysts of the Modern Civil Rights Movement.
In 2004, the case was officially reopened by the U.S. Department of Justice. Susan was living in Mississippi at the time and started talking with many people who vividly remembered the events surrounding Till’s death. She was so moved that she began writing. She has since published three civil rights books and is wrapping up a book on diversity now. While learning, writing and speaking about civil rights and diversity are greatly fulfilling, Klopfer makes room in her life, and her home, for another passion.
While living in the quaint town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, the Klopfers occupied a 1923 Arts and Crafts home. Susan immediately fell in love with the house’s style and charm and began collecting art and furniture from the era to fill it. She amassed Victorian and Art Deco pieces and prints, many in their original frames, but those that stand out the most to her are the works of artists Maxfield Parrish and R. Atkinson Fox.
Parrish’s paintings are recognized by their vibrant, saturated hues and fairy-tale landscapes. His techniques create an almost three-dimensional quality on flat canvas. The bright colors remind Susan of the Southwest. Fox’s work is sometimes confused with that of Parrish. He, too, was an illustrator and painted beautiful landscapes and portraits.
Recently, when the opportunity came for Fred and Susan to move to Gallup to be nearer to their son and granddaughter, they jumped at it, planning to write life’s final chapters here. However, when asked about retirement, Susan practically laughed out loud as she shook her silvery-blond ponytail saying, “No, it’s not for us. We’ll die with our boots on.”
Fred took a job with the V.A. and Susan, as ever, has devised a way to maintain her own pursuits while adding to the business and activity of her new surroundings. Second Street Gallery, located at 104 South Second Street, will be opening its doors to the public at the end of April, with an official opening in early May. Susan affectionately refers to the block north of Coal Ave. as the “NoCo District,” where she will display her own vintage collection, featuring prints by Parrish and Fox, as well as some commissioned artwork from Quintana’s Second Street Framing.
This is a completely new kind of adventure for Susan, but the way she looks at it, she needed office space in which to market her books and plan speaking engagements, and if she’s got to be there, she may as well have fun and allow others the same enjoyment. While the space will be an art gallery, primarily, Susan invites visitors to sit and relax and drink a cup of tea. She plans to include other antiques and vintage jewelry in the space and hopes to put on poetry readings and host special music events periodically. Monthly Arts Crawls will be a blast!
Susan’s enthusiasm is contagious. She paused in our conversation to answer a call, and when she set her iPhone aside, I asked the question that was swimming around in my head since she started regaling me: How do you do all this? Write books, speak about diversity, become an antique expert, open a gallery? Susan smiled and leaned in slightly, as if she was about to reveal her secrets to endless energy and zest for life, and said, “The way to do it is just to do it.”