THE LIVES OF HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS, LYN AND RICHARD SHERMAN TOOK DIFFERENT PATHS, UNTIL 35 YEARS LATER WHEN THEY REUNITED. HE HAD TOPANGA UNDERGROUND; SHE HAD CHAMPION BLOODHOUNDS.
Richard and Lyn Sherman gaze peacefully onto a spectacular view of the Valley from their deck high in the Topanga hills with the satisfaction that theirs are lives well lived.
He knows where all of Topanga’s water flows and helped send rockets to the Moon. He has also taken and archived thousands of photos of Canyon life.
She helped develop the TCEP Hotline, worked for the Actor’s Fund and travelled the world with her champion Bloodhound, Knotty.
As longtime Topangans, Richard and Lyn have led separate and interesting lives that merged in 1990 at their 35-year high school reunion in Columbus, Ohio.
Now, they are looking into the future for their next adventure.
RICHARD “DICK” SHERMAN
Let’s just say that if you turn on a faucet in Topanga and the water comes out, you can thank Richard Sherman and Topanga Underground, the company he founded in 1980 specializing in designing and installing septic systems, water mains and underground utilities. (Sherman and Topanga Underground was the subject of a cover story in Onsite Installer in Nov. 2016, http://www.onsiteinstaller.com/)
A longtime Topangan and “man about town,” Sherman has unofficially “retired” even though he still consults on jobs from behind a bank of computers at his Canoga Park office.
Many folks know him as the guy tooling around in his fully restored white 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and with his vast collection of photos of Canyon life, he is a frequent speaker at the Topanga Historical Society.
But folks mostly know him as the guy who dispatches those distinctive chartreuse trucks throughout Topanga, Malibu and Calabasas taking care of main lines and septics.
“I’ve been working around here since 1969, so I get calls for almost anything,” Richard said in an interview for the Onsite Installer. “I don’t need to do any advertising. People know we’re here six days a week. We look at 400 to 500 jobs a year. We do probably 75 percent of them.”
All told, Richard said it adds up to a business that brings in nearly $2.5 million per year.
Richard Sherman’s father, Hoyt Leon Sherman, was a renowned painter and fine arts professor at The Ohio State University until he had a stroke at age 80. Richard’s energetic mother, Racheal, taught voice and piano and became an artist later in life. His parents also taught Richard and his brother, Bruce, the finer things in life.
“We were dragged through half the museums of Europe,” Sherman laughed.
After graduating from a progressive high school in 1955, Richard said he “banged around for a couple of years,” in Ohio working at a gas station and other odd jobs.
“I feel school should teach you to think, not teach you things,” he mused. “We graduated from the school of ‘doing things.’ I tried a little bit of college at The Ohio State University; it didn’t work out.”
Then, in October of 1960, he and an old friend, Steve Grimes, headed to California for the Grand Prix in Riverside.
“I had a gal I was going to marry, Debbie, back in Ohio, but it took me two-and-a-half years to get back there and she had married another guy,” Sherman said. “So I took a job in a hardware store in Hermosa Beach … became the manager of the apartment house I lived in … and worked at Ray’s Hardware Store in Hermosa Beach but, boy, he was a fuddy-duddy.”
Later, through a friend, Sherman then took a job as a drill-press operator at Rocketdyne, a rocket engine design and production company in Canoga Park.
“I drove from Hermosa Beach over the Sepulveda Pass before the 101 was put in,” he said. “I got tired of the drive, so I moved to Topanga and rented a house in Glenview on Colado Way.
“I [later] became a cost analyst from 1962-1968 at Rocketdyne with the motto: “If you are going to do it, do it right or don’t do it at all,” he said. “I was way over-educated to do what I do my whole life, but I am very good at it.”
By the late ‘60s the space program was winding down as the United States headed to the Moon.
“I got bored. I was already in my late 20s and they laid off 16,000 people,” he said. “I worked on the F1 engines, the first-stage engines of the Apollo program; I was one of the expeditors that helped launch that stuff.”
Sherman was laid off from Rocketdyne in 1968 and shortly thereafter, took a job at a Topanga grading company working for Karl Ingram.
“In those days, my promise was that I’d do anything you wanted done,” Sherman said in a 2016 interview. “If I didn’t know how to do it, I’d go to the library and get a book and come back and do the job tomorrow.”
Sherman called his new company “Topanga Unlimited” because they did just about everything. He later changed it to Topanga Underground and it has remained successful ever since.
After getting his contractor’s license, Sherman became the “go-to” contractor who kept Topanga Canyon Blvd. open, especially during the devastating floods of February 1980 and every major canyon flood and disaster since.
Speaking of flooding, one of Sherman’s best stories is from a talk he gave at a recent meeting of the Topanga Historical Society where he showed some of his vast collection of photos taken since moving to Topanga in 1963.
According to Sherman, his favorite photo was taken during the setting of the boxcar bridge, which now straddles the creek near Highvale Drive.
In the photo, Johnny Nordine and “Boxcar Bruce” Sunkees are looking up at what Sherman presumes to be the crane they used to move the boxcar that was almost washed away in the last year’s deluge.
“We took a bulldozer and threw it down in the creek. You’d probably get arrested for that now. But nobody cared. It was 1971,” said Sherman regarding what has become a local landmark.
In the early 1990s, Sherman’s company was hired to install water mains for a housing development, mostly in Malibu, Topanga and Calabasas. By then, Sherman had acquired a Class A General Engineering license.
When Malibu became a city in 1991, he was contracted to install hundreds of septics to help the new city avoid the explosive growth that sewers would bring.
As a result of his business, visiting just about every property in Topanga, Malibu and Calabasas, for nearly 40 years, Sherman has had a real impact on the folks who live here.
“I like to be connected,” he said. “I’ve always been something else to my clients other than that guy who put in their water main.”
LYN SHERMAN’S STORY—“THE REST IS HISTORY”
Lyn Sherman’s story also begins in Columbus Ohio, where she grew up and attended the same innovative University School run by The Ohio State University with Richard.
“It was an interesting and diverse population, that mimicked the general population of Columbus,” she said. “It fostered a whole bunch of independent thinkers.
One of those thinkers was Richard Sherman, her high school sweetheart.
“I literally stood him up in the Senior Prom and didn’t see him again for 35 years,” she said.
Instead, Lyn married, had three children and moved to Ithaca, New York. Later, she attended Cornell, earned a BS and worked as a medical social worker.
In 1978 she moved to Savannah, Georgia to be near her sister.
“I worked as a hospital social worker in Savannah,” Lyn said. “It was an interesting job.”
Later, she took on a part-time job at a nature conservancy on Wassaw Island off the coast of Savannah.
“I worked as an assistant caretaker and commuted to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, to get a Masters in Social Work,” she said. “I worked as an addiction counselor living on the island on weekends and on the mainland during the week.”
Even now, she marvels at the image of her driving back and forth up the highway and getting stopped all the time because she had New York plates, which she finally changed.
“I must have presented quite a picture then with my long hair to my waist, driving a bright yellow VW bus painted with “Yellow Submarine” on the side and my Bloodhound, Triumph, in the seat beside me,” she laughed. “We lived on campus during the week and I picked up the boat to Wassaw Island at 8 p.m. on Friday nights.”
She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth in 1981 and went back to Savannah to work with addiction, mostly booze and heroin.
“That’s where I was when I went to my 35th high school reunion in Columbus, Ohio,” she said. “I went out of curiosity, Richard was there and being his normal, business self.”
Lyn said Richard didn’t even ask her out during the reunion.
“I went back to Georgia, he went back to California. One month later, I went to Sacramento for a medical conference and visited him in Topanga. Otherwise, I’d still be in Savannah. We went to Catalina on a friend’s big boat and the rest is history.”
When she moved to California in 1991, she signed on to work at Woodview–Calabasas Psychiatric Hospital for the addiction program until it closed in 1994. After Woodview, Lyn became the director of the Actor’s Fund of America for the West Coast Region Los Angeles.
“There are plenty of people in the entertainment industry who are addicted or have mental health issues,” she said.
As if that were not enough, during this time she flew most weekends to Jacksonville, Florida, to take care of her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.
All along, Lyn had always raised and trained Bloodhounds.
KNOTTY, WORLD CHAMPION BLOODHOUND
One cannot speak of Lyn Sherman without mentioning Knotty, her Bloodhound, who became a champion in 2000 when he was only nine months old and his show career really began.
“The game was on and we were off,” she said. “I was still showing and working in 2002, but I took early retirement at 62 and hired a handler. Knotty took off like a shot! The stipulation was that the dog slept on my bed wherever he was in the world every night of his life.”
From 2002 to 2005, Lyn and Knotty showed 48 out of 52 weeks out of the year. As a champion he then showed at Westminster in 2004.
According to a 2004 Topanga Messenger article about Knotty, writer Lee Michaelson described it thusly: “Topanga’s new star is Champion Heather’s Knock on Wood, a Bloodhound. But not just any Bloodhound—America’s best. On February 10, 2004 Knotty, as he prefers to be called, and his owner/trainer Lyn Sherman, topped off an impressive list of triumphs by taking “Best of Breed” at the Super Bowl of dog shows, the Westminster Dog Show in New York City.”
Then, as the Topanga Messenger reported in 2005, “Topanga superstar Bloodhound Knotty has added a new triumph to last year’s “Best of Breed” at Westminster. Knotty took “Best of Show,” at the prestigious AKC Eukanuba National Championships in Tampa, Florida, in January, 2005 as part of the triple crown of dog shows and Knotty’s prize was $50 thousand cash and a Suzuki SUV!”
“Knotty is still the top-winning Bloodhound of all time,” Lyn said. “His memorabilia will likely go to the American Bloodhound Club.”
One story Lyn and Richard each enjoy telling is when they were in a river cruising on the Seine in France. Everyone was lining up for dinner and a woman in front of Lyn noticed all the dogs on her sweater. “Do you like dogs?” she asked Lyn.
Lyn said she did and the woman asked, “Do you know Knotty?” Richard told the woman that Lyn was actually Knotty’s mom!
Well, word got out that “Knotty’s mom,” was on the boat and everyone went wild. Many on the boat had heard of Topanga and many more had heard of the “Inn of the Seventh Ray!”
After much traveling, including circumnavigating the globe with Knotty, the Sherman’s are at home with their two remaining Bloodhounds, Jezebel and her goofy son, Elwood.
Oh, and don’t forget who actually runs the house, their grey striped cat, TJ.
Being an Ohio, New York and East Coast gal, Lyn Sherman originally found life in the West to be quite the experience.
“Coming from Savannah, it was the most bizarre place I had ever seen,” she said. “Driving up from PCH to the rock formations, Savannah was lush but driving up Topanga Canyon Boulevard, there was nothing green, just blue sky and the fog banks felt like I had moved to another planet. I was totally disoriented. We moved to a house on Robinson Road and paid our rent to [nudist colony owner] Ed Lange up at Elysium Fields.”
FIRE, FLOOD AND EARTHQUAKES!
“We were living on Robinson Road during the 1993 Old Topanga fire and the 1994 Northridge earthquake which completely threw me,” she said. “Then, there was a lot of rain. I told Dick, I won’t live where there is fire danger, earthquake AND floods!”
So, in March of 1995, the Sherman’s moved to a custom-built geodesic dome on Skyline at the top of the canyon where there is no flooding, although it is a fire risk
As a result of the 1993 fire, Lyn became active in the newly formed Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (TCEP) with Pat and Jack Mac Neil and Fred Feer.
“From the beginning, we all brought different things to the group,” Lyn said. “My training was that I had started two hotlines for Cornell University and for a rape center in Richmond, VA. We wrote scenarios for fire, earthquake, mudslides and anything that could happen in the Canyon. We held training sessions at the Topanga Fellowship Church and helped found Arson Watch.”
Meanwhile, with his heavy-duty bulldozers, Richard and his crew were busy cleaning up Topanga Canyon Boulevard and all of the roads damaged by floods throughout the years.
Yet, living on the side of a mountain in fire and earthquake country may not suit them for long, now that they are both 80.
“We are going to be leaving the canyon in the future; this is sort of my life in Topanga winding down. I’ve retired,” Lyn said. “He may keep his office but we will eventually end up in the Portland area to be near my daughter, Louise, and her children.”
To my dear friends Lyn & Dick…Deborah from Ohio here. I’m not certain where this reply will land, I just wanted to say what extraordinary people Lyn & Dick are; clearly accomplished in many ways, also caring, compassionate, kind people. Great article! I wish for them always very best! Deborah
RIP glad he met his wife and was happy. I saw him last 2009. Always a fine man.
Really interesting couple, and excellent article!