Volunteers Vital to Flood Cleanup

By Ted Reckas | LB Indy


Liesa Schimmelpfennig, daughter of Anneliese Schools founder Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, snuck into the Laguna Canyon campus with a few friends the morning of last week’s flood, even as Caltrans closed the road. They found a swan swimming in the parking lot, three feet deep with water. Wrought iron fencing throughout the campus was twisted out of place, gates bent and broken. A picnic table floated nearby. Telephone poles had been pushed through a fence into a playground. A planter box from the vegetable garden sat on top of a picnic table hundreds of feet away, while others lay strewn against a splintered fence. The school’s great room had an inch of water on the floor while a single pair of double doors held back a pond three feet deep between the building and the hillside.

The group started digging and pumping out the water, and didn’t stop for 12 hours.

“It’s like peeling an onion. There’s another layer and another layer – it just keeps going. But there’s a good spirit, and a very, very positive outlook among parents and staff. No dooms-dayers. It is amazing,” said Schimmelpfennig.

The school was perhaps the hardest hit location in last week’s deluge, with an estimated $1 million in damage. Since only the portion of the property prone to normal seasonal flooding was covered by insurance, the remainder of the campus, all of which was inundated, will receive no benefits.

“We’re relying on donations to get the school back to its original state and maybe even improve it. We have a parent who did their architectural thesis on an elevated school design. That’s kind of the rainbow in all of this – brilliant ideas being bounced back and forth between shoveling mud and cleaning Legos,” said Schimmelpfennig.

As residents, artists and business owners, begin the overwhelming task of repairing their properties, and preparing for the next storm, volunteers have proven critical to the effort.

The day after the flood, with roads still closed, Clarke Brogger, pastor at Little Church by the Sea, started walking out Laguna Canyon with Joel Vanderveen and Dale Ghere. They were on the way to help Jerry Moushey, who lived at the far end, near Anneliese’s School, alone, but were stopped by what they saw. At a complex of warehouses used by metal workers and carpenters, as well as the business of Vanderveen’s brother David, they saw so much devastation they stopped to help while Ghere continued to Moushey’s house. An overwhelmed drainage system flooded through the complex and into the adjacent home/studio of an artist.

“I don’t think people really know how bad it is,” said Brogger, “It was like, where do we begin? Who can we even help? Gavin Heath got hit hard. His livelihood is his art, and his art got ruined. There are endless amounts of work to be done. I’m taking 12 guys to his studio tomorrow.”

Anneliese’s School has had about 35-45 volunteers each day this week, and Ganahl Lumber donated buckets, gloves and bags. A family donated 200 Subway sandwiches to feed the volunteers. The school’s web designer donated three months of service and, despite the loss of nine classrooms, and various materials, equipment, and facilities, the school will open Monday.

Elise Higley, the school’s director of operations, is lining up modular classrooms and the sixth graders will be moved to the Manzanita campus.

Wyatt Gibbs and a few members of downhill skate group LBAG showed up to help Michael McFadden clean up Rock Martin Jewelry on Forest Avenue the day after the flood.

“We put out and S.O.S. and these fine kids showed up and put in time to help us get back open for the next day,” said McFadden in a Facebook post.

“The better side of human nature comes out in the worst disaster,” said Kevin Naughton of Laguna Gardens Nursery, marveling at the incredible outpouring of aid from friends, neighbors and acquaintances he barely knew who arrived unsolicited and started helping him clear debris. While his phone service was out for a few days, he said, “As soon as I fixed the phone, it started ringing” with calls from people who wanted to help. “That’s Laguna,” he said.

About 10 people spent their Christmas day helping at Dog Ranch Bed & Biscuit, according to Stephanie Marshall, owner of the dog day care and boarding facility. “I was very touched,” she said.

Ben Plonski, owner of Laguna Koi Ponds and Water Gardens in Laguna Canyon, said about 30 volunteers, including friends, family and koi club members, came out to help him shovel mud and debris on Sunday. One club member volunteered for three days straight.

“It’s a wonderful relief effort from goodhearted people,” said Plonski.

Monica Bennett, business manager at Coastal Kennels in Laguna Canyon, said people couldn’t have been more supportive, offering equipment, homes, and vehicles to help with their cleanup effort. Clients and locals familiar with the business stopped by the facility to drop off food, cookies and flowers.


photo by Ted reckas




Liesa Schimmelpfennig, daughter of school founder Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, alternated between discouragement and optimism, as she oversaw the clean up effort at the campus.

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