Hands Across the Ball Field

By Lynda Pasco

A Western barbecue on March 9 provided the kick-off for the Topanga Community Club's first annual "Cattle Drive" membership campaign. The event was a relaxed, sunny spring day in Topanga.

Approximately 200 people came to enjoy the tri-tip and bluegrass music. There was a soccer game, children jumping in a moon bounce castle, egg toss competition as well as barrel and three-legged races.

Sizzling to the sounds of the barbecue were fiddlers in the band Squirrel Heads, who were later joined by guitarist Alan Boivin and friends.

VOL.26 NO. 6
March 21 - April 3, 2002



No, this is not an alien welcoming committee. It's a circle of gratitude for the ball field and the volunteers who created and maintain this spectacular place for sport and for events like the Topanga Community Club's great Cattle and Membership Drive and Western barbecue.

As always, the Community Club's good cooking was widely enjoyed. Barbecued tri-tip, chicken and hot dogs came with cornbread, fresh fruit, chili and salads along with homemade apple pie, brownies and cookies for dessert.

In all, 12 new members were recruited and 24 people renewed their memberships in the Topanga Community Club, formerly known as the Topanga Woman's Club.

The event was also a celebration of the ball field with its beautiful new bleachers and those who have made it the invaluable community resource it is. So there were signups for Topanga Youth Baseball Association's T-ball and 5-pitch teams, and tributes to Topangans who have contributed to the ball field.

Grading contractor Tom Hogston and builder Randy Just, who was recently named Topanga Citizen of the Year with wife Linda Hinrichs, received special recognition for their roles in creating and improving the ball field.

Hogston spoke about developing the ball field and read a long list of people who have helped over the years.

"The stories he told brought back memories," said Lisa Villaseñor. "The ball field is an ongoing project, a community effort."

In a dramatic moment of tribute, everyone, all the "cow hands" present, were asked to join hands in a giant circle around Randy and those who have dedicated so much to the ball field.

Randy playfully kicked around a soccer ball with several of those in the circle. People came to him, expressing congratulations and support.

"It was a beautiful event," said Jackie Safonov.

Anyone interested in participating in upcoming events or in joining the Topanga Community Club should call and leave a message at (310) 455-1980 or should write P. O. Box 652, Topanga, CA 90290.


The Last Roundup at Will Rogers


A court ruling upheld State Parks' order eliminating horse boarding at Will Rogers State Historical Park. Boarding at the historic stable may be permanently eliminated.

By Tony Morris

Superior Court Judge Terry B. Friedman issued a decision on March 8 which calls for the removal of horses boarded at the stables of Will Rogers State Historical Park by April 5. The ruling is expected to be appealed by the horse boarders, represented by attorney Eric George.

The director of California Department of Parks and Recreation, Rusty Areias, issued a notice to horse boarders in October calling for removal of 45 horses from the park within 90 days. Horse boarders immediately objected to Areias' order, solicited more than 3,000 signatures from the public opposing it and organized a legal effort to delay their eviction.

They were successful in postponing the original December eviction deadline, but now they will have to be out by April 5.

If State Parks has its way, protection of the historic stable at Will Rogers Park will take precedence over its use for boarding horses and the structure will never again be part of any future boarding operation at the park, according to William Abbey, deputy attorney general representing State Parks.

At the March 8 hearing, George argued that director Areias' order was not justified because it was not in compliance with the state's General Plan for the park. Arguing that since the park is operated as a public trust, operation of equestrian activity such as horse boarding cannot be changed without public input. George said that 10 horses at the park were available for use by the public in programs which include riding lessons for the Foundation for the Junior Blind and Ahead With Horses.

Abbey said the director's order does not violate the general plan because it is not "arbitrary or capricious" or lacking in support.

"Our position is that we do not violate the state's General Plan. We are not razing a building. It's still a state historic park devoted to Will Rogers.... All we are doing here is the temporary suspension of horse boarding."

Abbey said a newly formed Equestrian Advisory Committee for the park, which includes several horse boarders, will make a report in May on the appropriate types of equestrian activities for the park.

Arguing that horse boarding was only one part of the equestrian presence and only one part of Will Rogers' life, Abbey said: "He was also a statesman, radio personality, political pundit....There was no horse boarding when Will Rogers was living there."

Abbey quoted a statement regarding the park made by Will Rogers' son Jim Rogers before he died in April 2000. It read: "Horse presence is not that important in the whole interpretation of Will Rogers' life."

Abbey also cited problems with the boarding operation including damage to the historic property and the natural environment and excessive demands for park personnel and public expenditures to support the current situation.

George said that there is a fundamental disagreement between the state and the horse boarders. The public should have a say regarding equestrian presence and not the state or an advisory committee, he said.

George said that "a select group has been chosen" for the advisory committee and that the public does not have sufficient access to the process.

As for need to conduct an environmental review, which was among the initial reasons given for evicting the horses, George said, "There have been years of problems. It has been a shifting target environmentally."

In explaining his decision to uphold the State Parks' order to remove horse boarders, Judge Friedman said that the horse boarders had not addressed comments by Rogers' family members stating that they would not bring action against the state if equestrian boarding is terminated. The judge quoted a statement by Rogers' grandson, Chuck Rogers that read: "I, and my siblings, support the state's decision to stop the boarding of horses."

Judge Friedman ruled that State Parks had not abused its discretion or violated the law by ordering a temporary removal of horses.

He said the general language of the 1944 deed, by which the state acquired the Rogers' property, does not require boarding and the state's General Plan includes many activities that will continue even if the boarding of horses is discontinued temporarily.

Friedman suggested that horse boarders participate in the work of the Equestrian Advisory Committee. Noting that the matter before him had taken on such importance and emotion, the judge said: "Horses are beloved. I love horses too."

He denied George's request that another stay be granted to allow time to file an appeal.

Historian Randy Young, and the Will Rogers Cooperative Association, which operated the boarding stable before a private concessionaire was brought in, have long maintained that the many well-to-do horse boarders at Will Rogers park have benefited from a state-subsidized operation. Young said use of Sate Parks personnel time and maintenance costs for the facilities used by private horse boarders has come at the expense of other public facilities. For example, he said the park store, where visitors could purchase souvenirs relating to Will Rogers' life, was closed as a consequence of the demands placed on park personnel in maintaining the horse boarding operation.

The Will Rogers Cooperative Association paid for installation of a fire alarm system at the Rogers' main house when it was noted by park personnel that there was no functioning system in the house.

Of all the State Parks in California, said Young, "Never has so much been spent for so few."

He welcomes the expected appeal by horse owners because it will afford the WRCA an opportunity to provide complete details on the actual costs of the horse boarding operation. The WRCA expects to introduce evidence in support of State Parks' order from park managers and superintendents regarding the political pressure involved in the operation which Young says "reaches all the way to the highest levels" of the state. Young used an old cowboy saying about "getting lassoed in your own rope" to describe what he thinks will come out about the boarding operation in an appeal of State Parks' decision.

What would Will Rogers say about the recent developments at his beloved ranch? It's safe to say, the media would beat a path to his door for a few choice words from the man whose aphorisms drew a vast audience on the radio and were read every morning in the daily newspapers across the country.


Stella Varnum Is Going, But Not Quietly


Stella Varnum is losing her Lower Topanga home, and her dog.

By Susan Chasen

Stella Varnum has lived in Lower Topanga for 45 years in a house her parents bought after their home in Santa Monica was slated to be torn down for apartments.

If not for State Parks' plans to tear down this house to create open land, she would be staying on for the rest of her days.

"I expected to stay here until I turn my toes up," said Varnum, 72.

Instead, however, she just spent the $500 she was saving for her "cremation money" on a deposit on a mobile home in Simi Valley.

Varnum was 25 when she and her family moved to Lower Topanga. She initially lived with her brother Bob, who was better known as "Wylie" of Wylie's bait shop and who died in 2000.

In 1956, she moved with her parents, Pauline and Olin, and her two daughters into one of the few houses on the south side of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Her parents helped raise her daughters, while she worked at Labtest Equipment Corporation, building spectrometers and working her way up to assist in the engineering department. Her daughters grew up playing in Topanga Creek and later baby-sat for the children of Lower Topanga.

In 1973, the landowner, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, notified her family and the other homeowners in the neighborhood that they had to move their houses off the property in 60 days or turn them over to the Club.

"Sixty days was in June," recalled Varnum. "My father died in June." She and her mother never considered moving their house.

From then on, however, the house remained entirely her family's responsibility.

"The Club never put one dime into this house," said Varnum. A new water heater, a new roof, anything and everything was their responsibility. Even property taxes were divided up and charged to residents, according to Varnum.

But now, with State Parks wanting the entire Lower Topanga community out by July 1 and some of her neighbors moving away, Varnum accepts that her future has changed. Without her friends, Varnum feels insecure.

"I had no intention of moving," said Varnum. "If none of this would have happened, I would have had my neighbors close by. I don't want to live here on the hill all by myself....I don't want to be out here all alone."

On the bright side, she's happy to be leaving behind the rattlers on her doorstep and the fire hazard.

But that doesn't mean she is not upset about a bungled relocation process which has cost her several better housing options closer to her daughter in Moorpark. She would have missed the place in Simi Valley too, if not for her own $500 deposit.

"I feel really abused," said Varnum. "I haven't made any trouble for anybody....I just think that what the Parks people are doing and what the relocation people are doing is really, really terrible."

What they are doing, in her view, is cutting her out of her fair share of relocation assistance.

According to Varnum, the relocation people originally said she would receive $70,000 to $100,000 to find a new home. State Parks recently announced that an average of $80,000 would go to the residents.

Varnum and her daughter Susan Delgado believe Varnum's house is above average for the neighborhood. It's a three-bedroom house surrounded by beautiful open land. They think her willingness to consider a mobile home unfairly reduced her compensation to $65,448.60.

"That didn't mean she wanted them to look at a mobile home," said Delgado, to calculate her comparable housing costs.

Finding Varnum a three-bedroom rental home in the Topanga area would have cost the state much more.

"If they're going to have rules, they should abide by them," said Delgado.

"Try to do this on this amount of money when you're 72 years old."

Living on Social Security, Varnum's reasonable monthly rent was calculated at about $350, though she actually pays $500 now. To reach the $65,000 figure, $350 is subtracted from $1,900 - the rent for a mobile home at Top O' Topanga. The difference, $1,550, is then multiplied by 42--the number of months the state will pay the difference in rent. Using these round numbers, the total comes to a little over $65,000.

But Varnum does not think the two-bedroom mobile home in Top O' Topanga is comparable. And, said Varnum, "Even if I had wanted it, it's not available."

She called Top O' Topanga and was told it was rented six days before she received the paperwork about it from the relocation company.

Varnum said she was expecting at least $10,000 more, based on the earlier estimates. Now she is worried that State Parks plans to reclaim any surplus after her purchase of the $62,000 mobile home in Simi Valley. A letter from State Parks to the escrow company demands return of any surplus.

The relocation representatives, said Varnum, are "as tight as a tick" and act like the money is coming out of their pockets.

"I've worked all my life," said Varnum. "Where is this money going? Who's paying these people?...I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to use a four-letter word and I'm not a four-letter word user."

Neither State Parks nor Pacific Relocation Consultants in Long Beach could readily state the amount the state is paying for relocation services. Eventually Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said an original contract was about $350,000, but other expenses might be covered in the contract as well.

Varnum worked from age 18 until her retirement in 1994 when the company she worked for moved to Massachusetts. She might have gone back to work then, but she was needed to care for her brother Olin who died of cancer in 1995. A year later, her mother died of cancer.

She has lived alone, except for her dog Max, a stray she took in in 1997, ever since.

Now, Max has cancer.

"You would think that I had enough cancer in my family," said Varnum. "And now I'm losing my little dog and I'm just heartbroken.

"I've been really, really treated unfairly by the Parks people....They have dragged their feet until all the good places are gone," said Varnum. "I want to move. I'm ready to move. I'm packed."

Varnum expected three choices from the relocation company, but only received one.

The only choice other than Top O' Topanga from the relocation company, said Varnum, turned out to be a wild goose chase to a "ritzy" Newbury Park mobile home community that would not have accepted her based on income alone.

Her move to Simi Valley will mean loss of her doctors who are in Malibu and Santa Monica. No options were offered that would have provided her continued access to her medical services. Even after spending all her state assistance on her new place, she will still have to pay $550 in rent, $50 more than now.

All her pictures are down from the wall, her homemade grape jam, made from the grapes she grew on her property all these years, are packed.

"Packing up 45 years of stuff is rather difficult. But I'm getting there," said Varnum. "It's a lot smaller. I'm going to have to get rid of some furniture."

There is a lot she will miss in Topanga.

"I have the most wonderful grapes," said Varnum. And there are her poppies and the gigantic purple-flowering shrub.

"I have the most beautiful poppies every year. Between the purple and the orange, it is just gorgeous....You should have been here a week ago. The robins were here. There were thousands of robins. Every year they stop in here."


PCH Wall to Begin Construction

By Tony Morris

Caltrans has announced that the $5.8 million slope repair project at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon Boulevard is scheduled to begin construction on March 18. The project is expected to be completed in approximately one year. It involves the installation of a steel soldier-pile retaining wall along the hillside adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway and two tiers of tieback restraints to increase the stability of the hillside. In addition to hillside work, the pavement on PCH will be repaired with the highway's lane configuration returned to its pre-slide condition. Caltrans will provide two lanes for northbound and southbound traffic by reducing the width of the center median.


Car Fire on Entrada

At about 9 a.m. on Monday, March 11, a Ford Aerostar van on Entrada Road burst into flames, sending pungent fumes and black smoke into the air over the center of Topanga. The driver and two passengers were able to get out before the fire erupted, but were shaken by the incident.

Firefighters arrived quickly on the scene, just above the Dead Horse parking lot, and put out the fire.


Lady Luck Smiles on Sherry


Sherry Dumas, office assistant at Topanga Elementary won $75,000 on "Big Spin."

By Kathie Gibboney

Good luck, defined by Webster, is a combination of circumstance or events operating to bring good fortune to a person. Such was the case for one Sherry Dumas, jovial office assistant at Topanga Elementary School. It seems Sherry believes in the lottery kind of luck and purchases tickets when cashing checks or buying groceries, not all the time but enough to keep her hand in. Sometimes she wins a little and trades the tickets back for more, hoping for a larger win. Last November on a lunch break from school she secured some Scratchers at Fernwood Market here in Topanga. Sitting with Donna Miller, the elementary school plant manager, and activating the tickets she was thrilled to find one that read: "TV TV TV." It did not mean she had won a TV, but rather that she was one of the very few to now have a coveted chance at something called "The Big Spin,"a televised roulette-style game of chance guaranteeing a monetary prize of at least $1,750.

Sherry Dumas has worked at Topanga Elementary School for almost two years. She has four children, including five-year-old twins, and beams with a mother's pride while displaying their pictures. Her nurturing personality shows in the way she interacts with our children. She knows them all by name and is a warm presence when a student wanders into the office with a problem, whether it is a tummy-ache, bee-sting, lost lunch money, or the ever popular forgotten homework. In the times I have been present she has juggled phones, tracked down the janitor, comforted children, attended the principal (or those acting as such), accommodated my request and smiled through it all.

In recounting her "Big Spin" experience she becomes animated, her honey brown eyes glowing as she takes me along on the adventure.

She turned in her winning ticket and was told she would get her try at the big wheel in about three months. Indeed the day finally came, and she and the other winning contestants where put up at the Glendale Hilton Hotel the night before the contest. That added great excitement to the event and Sherry, though nervous, was feeling positive after rubbing a winning contestant's chair for residual luck and having had a dream in which she was playing the game and saw the number "3." There were 10 contestants, but only one would progress to the wheel. Sherry wanted the number "3" position among the players but it went to another. When accorded the number "8" spot she put a positive spin on it, realizing it placed her third from the end, counting backwards. Two of the 10 were allowed to progress after being awarded the golden nugget by pushing a lever. Our Sherry was one of them. It's now between her and one other player. Sherry has about 20 relatives cheering her on, and the MC has to ask for quiet. The contest this time is to end up with a certain amount of balls--not more than 10 but more than the other player's. The other player got six and Sherry has only three. She knows she has to collect more balls to beat her competition, who has decided to stay at six. (Are you following this?) She draws, gets five more balls to make eight and wins the chance to spin. The relatives go wild.

The wheel is big and beautiful. Each slot brings abundance. Once you reach the "Big Spin" the least a player can win is $2,000. The most is $3 million. Sherry is feeling faint but knows she has to "hold it together." Nothing seems real now. Sherry remembers the advice of her brother-in-law" "Grab that wheel and spin it as hard as you can!"

And there it goes! The wheel spins and is now in the hands of Lady Luck. Around she goes, passing slots allocating triple wins, $6,000...until it comes to land. Yes it is--$75,000! Congratulations Sherry Dumas!

I've tried to capture the excitement of the event but you can view it for yourself on March 23 at 7 p.m. on Channel 9.

We return to Earth and I ask Sherry if the winnings will change her life.

"Well I won't have to stress over bills," she confides.

Sherry is delighted to now be in a position where she can spend a little more time with her family in Reseda. She says she will not have to work over the summer now and can concentrate on finishing school and obtaining her degree in accounting with the hopes of working for the school district. For now she plans to remain at Topanga Elementary. "I love working here," she says.

We are lucky to have her and I'm sure you agree, "It couldn't happen to a nicer lady."

OK, so I stop at Fernwood Market and buy two Scratchers. It's just research for this article. The problem is I know winning the big prizes and large awards of cash is not my lot. My luck lies elsewhere. But just for fun we try. Guess what? We lose. Though, of course, the lottery proceeds supposedly aid education. So if you happen to find yourself attempting to aid education by stopping by the Fernwood Market, I remind you what is printed on the back of the tickets: "Play responsibly." Good Luck!


Marathon Man: Topangan Wins in L.A.


Dick Hillestad placed first in the 60 to 65 age division in the L.A. Marathon.

By Susan Chasen

Topangan Dick Hillestad, 60, took first place in his age group in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 3, running the 26.2 mile course in 3 hours 12 minutes and averaging a little over 7 minutes per mile.

Hillestad was one of six Topangans to participate in this year's marathon. He was the 252nd to finish out of 19,200 runners.

"It was a good race," said Hillestad. "I loved the course this year."

Hillestad, who celebrated his 60th birthday on March 2, said he was happy to place first in the 60 to 64 age group, though he had only made it into that group the day before the race and had actually hoped for a better time.

"I'd hoped to do it in 3 hours 3 minutes," said Hillestad. He might have hoped to come in under three hours, he said, but it was a little too hot for that.

The new "Heart of the City" marathon route, which began on Bunker Hill, headed south to the University of Southern California, west to Robertson Boulevard and back downtown was faster and less hilly than in past years. Hillestad said had he been in top shape, he could have beat his time of 3 hours, 6 minutes last fall in a marathon with a tougher course. Unfortunately, a sore Achilles tendon from a previous run in December and a recent cold slowed his training for this race.

As it was, despite being a new graduate into the 60 to 64 group, Hillestad came in more than three minutes ahead of the second place finisher in his category and more than 10 minutes ahead of the third place runner. There were 221 runners in the 60 to 64 age group.

This was Hillestad's first, first place in a Los Angeles Marathon division, but he placed second two times in the 55 to 59 group, he said.

Hillestad and his wife Judy, who is also a runner, do all sorts of running competitions, though Judy prefers slightly shorter races. She won for her age group in a Death Valley 30K in February, he said. Hillestad said he competes in two to five marathons a year.

"Running gets to be addictive after you've done it for a while," said Hillestad. "Mentally and physically, it just keeps me much more alert and physically fit."

There are theories about running and release of morphine-like endorphins in the brain, but for Hillestad, the healthy fit feeling is something he just doesn't want to lose.

The Hillestads plan their vacations around running as well. Recent running adventures have included runs through the parks of Patagonia and Inca trails in Peru.

"We can see so much more because we cover so much ground," said Hillestad.

Hillestad moved to Topanga in 1975. He said he started running in 1977 after the two-year-old Sylvia Park home he had built mostly himself burned during the November 14 fire that year. Four houses were destroyed and more than 1,100 acres burned.

In the scheme of things, said Hillestad, "there are a lot of worse things that can happen."

Shortly afterward, Hillestad took up running as another new beginning along with rebuilding his house. In the 1993 fire, when roads were closed to Topanga, he ran home from the Valley and found everything was OK.

Now, on weekends he runs in Topanga State Park. During the week he runs at lunchtime from his office in Santa Monica at the Rand Corporation down Ocean Avenue and up San Vicente Boulevard.

Hillestad has a doctorate in Engineering and Applied Mathematics and is a professor in the Rand Graduate School. Since September 11, he has been studying civil aviation security.

The five other Topangans who ran in the Los Angeles Marathon are Bridget Blake-Wilson, Patrice Winter, Susan Dubrin, Jose Salinas Antonia, and Kath Hoggatt.


Trail Runners Race for 9/11 Victims


Trail Runners Club runs weekly in the Santa Monica Mountains.

By Keith Bilderbeck

The Trail Runners Club is sponsoring a new race, the Malibu Creek Trail Challenge, on Saturday, April 13 at Malibu Creek State Park as a fundraiser for the families of victims of the September 11 attacks.

The scenic course winds along pristine Malibu Creek then climbs to ridges with stunning rock formations and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding countryside. The well-marked and challenging 14-mile race begins at 8 a.m. Newcomers to trail running or those preferring a shorter course will enjoy the 4-mile race beginning at 8:30a.m. Bring your friends and family and stay to enjoy the beauty of this park after the race.

Registration fees are $25 for the 4-mile race and $40 for the 14-mile race. All proceeds go to the Kiwanis International Foundation Victims Children's Fund for September 11.

Members of the Trail Runners Club meet every Sunday morning to run a new trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the club welcomes new runners of all paces. This spring, the club is running the Backbone Trail in seven weekly installments from Point Mugu State Park to Will Rogers State Historical Park in the Pacific Palisades. The club has been running in the mountains every Sunday since 1988.

Race information and applications are available on the Trail Runners Club website at To register online for the Malibu Creek Trail Challenge, go to Click on "running" and search for "Malibu Creek." Applications are also available at most running stores and many fitness centers around town.

For further race information contact Rudy Westervelt at (909) 279-0798 or To become a sponsor for the benefit race, contact Bob Pietzke at For volunteer information e-mail


WEB EDITION EDITOR:  Contact Topanga Messenger Web Editor      WEB SITE DESIGNER:  Honeybee Graphics
Topanga Messenger Newspaper
Santa Monica Mountains News and Arts Publication 
HOME - Dateline - Mouth of the Canyon
Classified Advertising - Real Estate - Emergency Response - Evacuating Topanga - Subscribe - About Us - Ad Rates & Specs
Search Messenger - Search Engines - Topanga Views - Fun Sites - Canyon Comix - Breaking News - Archives

  © Phoenix Rising Inc.
Not for reproduction without permission.

Web Site Design by