Richard Sherman—A Man for All Septics

Annemarie DonkinBy Annemarie Donkin

Share Story on:

Richard Sherman—A Man for All Septics
Photos by Annemarie Donkin Ron “RD” Denend—RD recalled getting a job from Dick Sherman. “He told me, ‘don’t wreck the truck; don’t lose the tools; and if you don’t know what you are doing, maybe you shouldn’t do it.’ Well, I said, two out of three ain’t bad.”
Richard Newton Sherman, aka “Dick Sherman” was a well-known contractor in Malibu and Topanga for more than 60 years, specializing in underground utilities and septic systems. He died peacefully at age 86 on Dec. 30, 2021 in a rehab facility due to long-term cardiovascular issues. His wife, Lyn and her bloodhound were by his side. If you needed a job or to get a job done, Dick Sherman was your man. His fleet of bright green “Topanga Underground” trucks were known throughout the area. Tribute for Richard Sherman As a tribute to her former boss, Serena Wiley organized a beautiful gathering of old friends, neighbors and Topanga stalwarts on July 24 to bid farewell to their friend and colleague. More than 100 folks gathered at the 1909 to reminisce or share war stories about Richard and his antics while running Topanga Underground. His colleagues remembered that he was always solving engineering problems, whether it was laying pipe, installing septic systems, moving earth or installing the famous boxcar over Topanga Creek—while wearing his signature cowboy boots and white Levi’s. When he wasn’t in his signature green truck with blue flames, he drove around in his fully restored white 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville—he was a Topanga legend. In 1991, Richard married his high school sweetheart, Karolyn “Lyn” Mumma, and they lived in Topanga for the next 30 years, until her move to Vancouver, WA after her retirement. Yet, Richard maintained “he had to work” so he stayed in Canoga Park working and commuting to Vancouver, until his health issues made it impossible for him to fly. During the last few years of his life, Richard lived in Canoga Park, assisted by Carol Montes, her brother Carly, and their family. Heartfelt Memories Under the Oaks
Lyn Sherman—“We had a great life together. We are two hard-headed, opinionated, bright people who lived independent for years—for some reason it worked.”
After enjoying trays of delicious sweets and savories by Serena Wiley, the memorial moved outdoors to the amphitheater where folks took to the microphone and told stories.
His widow, Lyn, took the mic first and told stories of how they got together.
“I stood him up for the senior prom and went off and married and had children with somebody else,” she said. “I’m not proud of that but there is more to that story. That’s where I was when I went to my 35th high school reunion in Columbus, Ohio and I went out of curiosity. Richard was there, being his normal, business self.”
Lyn said Richard didn’t even ask her out during the five-day reunion.
“I went back to Georgia,” she said. “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 sailboat and the rest is history. We had a great life together. We are two hard-headed, opinionated, bright people, who lived independent for years—for some reason it worked.”
Lyn then talked about the special folks who helped her and Richard in the end.
Carol Montes—”I know why he had that huge bank of computer monitors in his office. It’s because he told me it made him feel like Capt. Kirk. To me, he’ll always be Capt. Kirk.”
“I can’t thank Serena and Jimmy Wiley enough, the people who put this together, she said. “There’s just so many people who supported him throughout,” she said, “I can’t thank them enough. Such as Carol Montes and her brother, Carly. I am eternally grateful for their care and love and cannot tell you how much it means to me. I can’t say that Vancouver, Washington is home. I have a house but it’s not the same thing as being in your emotional home. Thank you everybody, I love you all.”
Then, Serena Wiley welcomed and thanked everyone and talked about her experience working for Topanga Unlimited before Richard changed the name to Topanga Underground in 1990.
“I went to work and got my first job with him when I was 18,” she said. “It was a real job in an office where I learned so much generosity and how to run a business-ish. But he was on the forefront of technology and he taught me how to use a computer; it laid the foundation for my career, that is what I do, I’m an IT person. Jimmy (Wiley) worked for the same company and what do you know, we got married and had three kids.Working at Topanga Unlimited changed the trajectory of my life.”
Serena Wiley—With assistance from Jay Fernandez, they planned and facilitated the event. “I got my first job with Richard when I was 18. He taught me computers and that’s what I do now, I’m an IT person. He was forever generous with his time, extensive knowledge and wisdom. A friend for more than 35 years, I am at a loss.” ””
Contractor and firefighter Jay Fernandez livened things up with a classic Dick Sherman story.
“I met Richard in the early ’70s when my family moved to Topanga,” Fernandez said. “He mentored me. Richard should have been an engineer, he had a mind for it; he should have had a masters in engineering. One story: We were unloading 4,500 pounds of 8-inch pipe and 40 feet long. I picked it up with a backhoe, and when I was setting it, Richard couldn’t understand why it took so long to unload one truck, because there were other trucks that were coming up with pipe. I told Richard,
Jay Fernandez—“Dick had his traits. He over-complicated a lot of things and he blazed his own trail. When he found out someone needed a new pipeline up Paradise Lane, he thought, ‘I can do that.’ He worked on that project, became a pipeline contractor and what do you know? After that, we all became pipeline contractors.”
‘This is a delicate operation,’ but he jumps up on that stack of pipe, pushes everyone out of the way and wraps himself around the center of the pipe. He goes to step across it and the pipe came up and now he’s riding it. Now, he’s on the end, it’s spinning around, everybody is just like, ‘I can’t look,’ and ‘what the hell is going on,’ there might have been an inspector, I don’t know… it’s 4,500 pounds of pipe, he’s literally riding it like one of those bulls. As he’s riding, it slides and tilts down closer to the ground, he goes to step off it, it catches his leg, he flops over and rolls around. It was the first time I saw his white pants get dirty and I’m just hoping my tractor doesn’t flip over. Of course, I’m dealing with this pipe and Richard literally stands up and says, ‘That’s how you do it,’ walks straight back to his truck and takes off to change his underwear and his pants.”
Everyone roared with laughter.
Photo is Courtesy of the Topanga Messenger Lyn and Dick with hydrant presented to him at a TCEP Volunteer Awards event held at the Mountain Mermaid.
“He was my mentor,” Fernandez said. “When this town was flooded in 1980 and all the roads were washed out here, in Old Topanga, he came to fix all the water mains, because he was certified to do it. Richard saved Topanga. He loved Topanga.”

Lyn and Dick with hydrant presented to him at a TCEP Volunteer Awards event held at the Mountain Mermaid.
There is a Richard Sherman GoFundMe page. Memorial donations can be made to: Proceeds will help pay for the memorial service and expenses. Any additional money will be donated to The Blue Bell Cat Foundation in Laguna Beach, CA, in Richard’s name.
Contractor Jay Fernandez and “Septic King” Dick Sherman cleared damaged roads and slides caused by heavy rains in 1980.
Jimmy Wiley—“He loved to open up the street and f**k up people’s lives. He really didn’t believe in the word ‘nightmare’ because he had a solution to everything.”
Annemarie Donkin

Share Story on:

August 5, 2022

A Topanga Memorial