A Circle of Life Tradition Continues with New TCC Sages Room

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Bright sunshine and 80-degree temperatures chased people to wherever there was some shade. Seniors, friends, volunteers, and representatives of the community’s favorite government officials gathered for the Grand Opening of the TCC Sages Room at the Topanga Community Center on Sunday, March 17. Spirits were high and no one complained.

“This is it!” said Gabrielle Lamirand, former Board Member of the Topanga Community Center. “This is the dream!”

Lamirand, a longtime TCC Board member, traveled from her current home in Berry, California in the High Sierras for the event and echoed the sentiment of a day that is devoted to all things senior and their new room.

More than 100 people, many in St. Patrick’s Day green, toured the light and airy space decorated with owl-themed artwork and a motto, “Wisdom Through Experience,” created by students at Topanga Charter Elementary School.

Guests nibbled on a beautifully presented buffet of veggies and dips, fruit, cookies, and other sweets, prepared by Karen Dannenbaum, Karla Morrison, and other volunteers who create the First Friday senior dinners. When the call came to move from inside the community house to outside in front of the new building, people sought out as much shade as possible as they settled into chairs for the speeches, numerous honors, and the grand finale ribbon cutting.

Tam Taylor, Vice President of the Canyon Sages, emceed the event and spoke of the five-year odyssey that turned into reality. One of Topanga’s volunteer stalwarts, Taylor was selected as the Topanga Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, and will be honored along with the Topanga Symphony, Non-Profit of the Year, and the Topanga Mercantile, Business of the Year, at the annual awards ceremony on Saturday, May 4.

As if the energy could get any higher, Melora Marshall, Ellen Geer, and Peter Alsop, of the Theatricum Botanicum took the stage. “When Will Geer and Herta Ware were “down there…,” Marshall began, pointing down the hill towards the Theatricum, and Geer and Alsop strummed softly in the background, “…and the music was up here, we were living side by side, and growing up in Topanga,” she declared as the trio broke into a rousing, sing-along rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” and everyone enthusiastically joined in.

Geer then sang a final verse of “This Land…” with new lyrics reflecting that seniors now have a “room of their own:”

This room is your room

This room is our room…

This room was made for you and me.


Taylor then welcomed to the lectern esteemed former Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who reveled in the warm applause from a loving community.

“It’s sure great to be back in Topanga,” he said. “Since I left office four years ago, I keep posted about what goes on here because one of my going-away presents was a lifetime subscription to the Topanga Messenger [now the Messenger Mountain News]. I like this place and would love to have moved here if it weren’t for the rattlesnakes! It’s one of the best kept secrets in the county if not the whole country.”     

Yaroslavsky then turned to the VIP speakers seated behind him.  

“In my last year in office, Susan Nissman, who’s a very smart woman, walked into my office and said we’re going to build this and need some money. This was my last gift in Topanga and now [the seniors] have a room of their own. We did a lot with this area and made progress without changing the character.”

He then reflected on the aftermath of the Woolsey fire in light of the fact that he and Nissman had spearheaded a County-wide initiative following the ’93 fire, for fire safety focused on the Canyon.

“It’s not an accident the fire didn’t come here because you have the most sophisticated awareness of the importance of emergency preparedness in protecting this special place,” he said. “Congratulations! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to help…it won’t be another four-and-a half-years before I come here again to feel the spirit and soul of this place. I won’t say this for the record, but it’s really my favorite place.”

Kelly Rockwell, President of the Topanga Community Center, greeted “friends, guests and volunteers,” and amused everyone with an original poem honoring those who worked on the project.

“Here is a monumental achievement that many said would never be realized,” she continued. “In this month of March, this annex would not be here if it weren’t for the women. We owe in large part great appreciation to our TCC treasurer, Franka Diehnelt,” who, she noted, donated her work as the building designer. “Thank you for your perseverance and knowledge of the process. This house is a work of art!”

Susan Nissman, former Senior Deputy for Yaroslavsky, first headed a fundraiser for the room, then became the project manager. She also spoke of the long-time project headed by women and was instrumental in getting the initial $211,810 L.A. County grant for the room and then helping to raise the cash to finish it.

“You know the work here is never done,” she said. “You will achieve the next big dream.”

“This is a huge vision of leadership,” said Michele Johnson, President of the Canyon Sages. “It is the happy ending of a five-year journey, thanks to Zev’s donation and later, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and our donors.

Tam Taylor then presented plaques to those who worked on the project: “Franka Diehnelt, who designed the building…three or four times…and Robin Soper, the contractor who put in many pro bono hours.” Others accepting plaques for their contributions were Shelley Coulson, Plan Expediter; Kelly Rockwell; and Susan Nissman.

Upon accepting her plaque, Nissman said, “Trust me, you don’t want to know the details of getting this done. I’d rather talk about the community and how we are all project managers in the tradition of coming together. I will raise a toast to the women and their menfolk who, brick by brick, built this community house and now the Sages Room right next to the Penny room. This is a true circle of life.

“We’ve been able to come together in the spirit of community to make good things happen,” Nissman continued. “Topanga continues to change us. We are small but very strong when put to the test.”

Receiving her plaque, Diehnelt spoke of donating her time. “I’m grateful that I was able to bring to vision this small house because I, too, will be a senior soon. I’d like to thank the Sages for saying yes to most of my suggestions (laughter). Without [contractor] Robin [Soper ] and his team, this house would not look like this,” she concluded proudly pointing to the building behind her.

“Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wishes she could have been here today,” said District Director Tessa Charnofsky. “You all should be so proud of yourselves for this incredibly beautiful facility. I read about it in the Messenger Mountain News and also that 40 percent of Topanga [residents] are seniors. I’m so glad you have created this and that I have the pleasure of honoring so many of you.” 

Certificates of appreciation and recognition were also given to the donors who supported the project from the beginning: Karla and Joe Morrison of Morrison Hearting and Air; the late Sherry Modell; Mohammed Alsi and Monica Temperly of Alsi Wood Floors; Allan and Sally Young; Robin Soper of Sound Structures, Inc.; Elaine and Doug Hanson; Steve and Leslie Carlson; and Beth Burnam and Monte Tomerlin.

Janet Turner, deputy for U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, said, “I love coming to Topanga because I always feel as if I’m being welcomed into a family. It’s amazing how much you care about each other. Ted is so appreciative of your effort to help seniors.”

Turner then presented a certificate of recognition to the Sages, “For your dedication to enrich the lives of Topanga residents.”

It was time for the ribbon-cutting ceremony as Yaroslavsky and the VIP speakers lined up in front of the TCC Sages Room door. On the count of three, Zev cut the white satin ribbon and, thus, the room was officially dedicated.

Canyon Sages—The Canyon Sages (canyonsages.com) is Topanga’s first and only social and service organization designed for Topanga’s older generation. Topanga is a community of more than 10,000 residents, 47 percent of whom are seniors. Until 2009, there was no senior organization and no dedicated senior center.

For more information about Sages activities, scheduled to begin the week of April 1 in the TCC Sages Room: canyonsages.com. To become a Sages member, contact Michele Johnson at (455) 1319. There are no dues.

About the Topanga Community Center—The TCC has been operating for more than 60 years. Ground was broken for the Community House in 1951, and after a decade of fundraising and building, mostly with volunteer labor, the House opened. It has always been a volunteer-run community center,and the centerpiece for activities in Topanga.


Welcome to the Topanga Community Center, friends, guests and volunteers,

We’re delighted to see you here, even those of you who’ve stayed away from us for years


Kelly’s Poem

We are thrilled to have you all join us in this monumental celebration

Of an achievement many said would never get to dedication.


Our House has a long history of being a bit revolutionary

Raising these walls from a festival literally built on a strawberry


That brought us all together to put a roof over our heads

Long before the office, finished kitchen, and line of storage sheds.


Ever since I first walked up this driveway (no, I didn’t drive)

I met the people who worked so hard to help it grow and thrive.


Some are here today, and deserve to be lauded for the contribution

They’ve made to build and establish this Topanga institution


They are the leaders of this house, and accept no pay or compensation

For the work they did and do preparing for the future (or past) generation


If you have ever served on the board here, I’ll ask you to rise and stand

And will you all please join me to give them all a hand


The folks who came before us to establish our club’s mission

Had visions of a thriving House long before this small addition.


And in this month of March, as we mark the achievements of remarkable women

This annex would not be here without them, in my humble opinion. 


Names that are now synonymous with this thriving place and Canyon Sages

You can find so many listed in the latest Mountain Messenger pages


Susan, Karen, Karla, Tam, Lee and Michele

Shelley, Stacy, Dayna, Nonie, and don’t forget Gabrielle


I’d be remiss not to mention one who fought to get this project built,

We owe in large part to our treasurer, the remarkable Franka Diehnelt


Thank you for your dedication, patience and perseverance

Understanding of the process and of course, building code adherence


Progress can be tricky, with many voices weighing in

About sockets, windows, walls and doors or…. table cloth linens


But we made it through and here we are, a new chapter about to start

This beautiful, welcoming open space, truly a work of art.


Now for the rest of the house, can we talk about some plans?

Susan, I know it’d all get done in your able, capable hands


I’ll nod Sound Structures, our donors, friends and supervisors

Thank you for your support and for being huge financial providers


Until we achieve the next big dream, you all know the work here is never done,

So we’ll mark today’s great milestone with a little bit of fun


Thanks for inviting me today have the opportunity

To welcome you all, invite you in and give thanks for this great community!



Flavia Potenza provided additional reporting.


Annemarie Donkin

Annemarie Donkin is a journalist who wrote for The Signal in Valencia, CA and was the Managing Editor for the Topanga Messenger from 2013 to 2016. She is thrilled to write for the Messenger Mountain News to continue the tradition of excellent community newspapers. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel throughout California, read, watch movies and keep bees.

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