December 5, 2021

Founders Special Section

Topanga Messenger Newspaper Founders

Anthony P. Verebes, Messenger, 2006©

In the Beginning …

In 1976, a collective of nine visionaries banded together to give Topanga a newspaper, The Topanga Messenger, whose first edition appeared on December 1, 1976.

Led by founder Merrick Davidson, the staff was established with Flavia Potenza as editor; Mary Colvig, business manager; Connie Schurr, design director; Colin Penno, photographer; Sid Francis, printer; Judee McBride, ad sales; Jim Erickson, circulation/distribution; and artist Nico Van Den Heuvel, cartoonist and art director, whose kinetic sculpture, Cornelius, graced the first-edition cover surrounded by the newly formed staff and their offspring.

In 1977, the group was soon joined by an all-important tenth, Ian Brodie, who invested venture capital and his expertise as an international journalist. Brodie also brought in Lee Kelly who has been Dateline editor for 30 years. There have been a number of changes in personnel over the years, each making his or her unique contributions. When Connie Schurr left for greener pastures (a real job), Suzie Walczak took her place. Emily Karnes came in as assistant to the editor, doing whatever task she was asked to do and always very well. In 1978, Jeanne Mitchell, who still writes the Topanga Symphony press releases and reviews, wandered into the office where Walczak put her to work cutting out the folios.

That was another era altogether, pre-computers and labor-intensive where everything was done by hand, printed first on an ancient Harris printing press in Francis’ converted goat shed, driven to the Community House where the pages were collated in a grand community effort. Brodie guided the team into the computer age to where everything is compiled and laid out on the computer and e-mailed to the printer.

In 1979, Colin Penno took over from Potenza as editor for the next 20 years. Tom Byrnes, took the helm for a year in 1989 when Penno went on sabbatical. When he retired in 1997, a flurry of editors followed beginning with author Lee Montgomery who stayed on until mid-1998 then turned it over to Michele Johnson in July, who wore the hat until October 2001. Susan Chasen accepted the challenge from there until 2003, when she handed the job to her husband, illustrator Dan Mazur who rose to the task from 2004 to 2006. Lee Michaelson took charge from 2006 to 2008 when founding editor Potenza returned after a 30-year hiatus. When there was a gap in editors or they went on vacation, web editor and Jane-of-all-trades Bonnie McCourt became surrogate editor and got the paper out on time in their absence. She left in 2007.

In all that time — despite fire, flood and earthquake — the Messenger never missed a publication date, even during the flood of 1980 when the photographs had to be processed in Ian Brodie’s bathroom and the roads were all washed out.

Of everyone involved with the Messenger’s beginnings, however, only Mary Colvig-Rhodes was the constant, guided by Brodie as she managed the day-to-day operations of the paper, worked with advertisers, supervised staff and signed off on every issue of the Messenger before it went to press. When our beloved publisher, Ian Brodie, passed away in 2008, Mary was unanimously elevated to that position.

To read more about the Messenger’s beginnings from the folks who were there, wander through the Founders index.

Founders Index

These essays were written for the 30-year anniversary edition of the Topanga Messenger. They are listed beginning with Publisher Ian Brodie, without whom the paper would never have survived, and then in order of seven of the original nine followed by people who contributed at a later time. The Tribute to Mary Colvig, “Last Man Standing,” is because she has been the rock that the Messenger depended upon for those 30 years and beyond. Printer Sid Francis passed away and is herewith honored with a tribute.

  1. Ian Brodie, Publisher
  2. Merrick Davidson, Founder
  3. Flavia Potenza, Founding Editor
  4. Mary Colvig, Business Manager, Publisher
  5. Nico Van Den Heuvel, Art Director
  6. Connie Schurr, Design Director
  7. Colin Penno, Photographer/Editor
  8. Susie Walczak, Design Director
  9. Emily Karnes, Assistant to the Editor
  10. Jeanne C. Mitchell, Art Director/Writer
  11. Michael Cregar, Circulation
  12. Tribute to Mary Colvig
  13. Tribute to Sid Francis, First Printer, 1930-2006