Karin and Richard Greenwood at their home. Photo by Marshall Smith

Karin and Richard Greenwood literally built Community Lumber piece by piece, discarding nothing of use and assembling what was needed from what they had. They transformed a vacant lot into a multifaceted business, little by little as needs arose and as excess materials became available to build the many structures now on the site.

That habit of making everything count is also how they built their life in Idyllwild, retaining what was valuable and recycling what could be productively used again.

Richard first came to Idyllwild with a truck that he bought in Vermont. “A friend who lived in Idyllwild said I could make a good living transporting wood from the docks [in National City, south of San Diego] to Idyllwild,” Richard remembered.

Karin, baby Molly and Community Lumber worker Eduardo Ramirez, who has worked for the Greenwoods for 28 years. This is the office Karin and Baby Molly demanded be built. Photo courtesy of the Greenwoods

Born in Tewksbury, Mass., Richard has a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, a master’s from the University of Michigan, and was a Ph.D. candidate in geology at Stanford when a broken heart caused him to rethink his life course. So he ditched Stanford, returned to Vermont, bought the truck and arrived in Idyllwild in 1976. That’s how Community Lumber began; with a truck and insurance but no physical location. Richard hauled wood, at better prices than other suppliers, to Idyllwild hardware stores and builders.

Four years later, his heart healed. “That’s when I met Karin,” he said, “at a gardening [not “garden”] party at Dora Dillman’s.” Karin remembers Dillman invited friends to help plant greenery to spruce up a house she was trying to sell.

“Dora supplied the groceries and plants but only three people showed up, Richard, me and another person,” Karin said. “We gardened, ate breakfast and made friends.” At the time, Karin was teaching first through third grades in Perris. She played softball in Idyllwild on a team with Dillman. “Richard was one of the fans,” she remembered.

From the beginning Richard and Karin shared an interest in and commitment to recycling. “I recycled when I was a kid in Vermont,” he said. “That’s how I got my candy and later my gas money, getting money for bottles and aluminum cans.”

Richard Greenwood and “the truck” that started Community Lumber. Photo courtesy of the Greenwoods

When he first came to Idyllwild, Richard ran a lot and always carried a bag so that, on his run, he could pick up discarded cans. That habit of collecting recyclables, with Karin’s support and assistance, eventually grew to a full recycling center located just outside the Community Lumber gate.

In 1984 the Greenwoods first opened for business at the Community Lumber site and began buying it in 1986 on terms that could only happen in movies or in Idyllwild. “We had no buildings, no office, I had baby Molly with me and it was November,” Karin said.

“We quit,” she said she told Richard, “and we’re not coming back until there is an office.” Richard recalls he had some left over roof trusses at the yard and the number of trusses available was how large the first office turned out to be. Karin and baby Molly came back to work when the office was completed, Richard said.

Richard began hauling Idyllwild’s recycled materials to San Diego every month and then picking up lumber for his return trip to Idyllwild. “It was sad when Waste Management said they wanted to do it [take over the recycling at the transfer station],” Karin said. “We had provided a place for recycling and more and more people had started doing it.”

When Richard was asked why recycling was so important to him, he answered, “It was all going to landfill and I couldn’t stand that. It takes 1/20th of the energy of making a new aluminum can to make one from recycled materials. And glass is the same. It became more of a crusade once I came to Idyllwild. I just see how everything in nature recycles itself,” he said. “We’re the only ones who don’t.”

“We keep finding so many things we can do to reuse existing materials,” Karin said. “We keep trying to do things that make less trash. We use whatever we have.” And over a long career and marriage, the Greenwoods continue to make everything count.

Of Idyllwild, they both agree it’s a place of calm that has enriched their lives. “It’s the beauty, the simplicity, only certain people are drawn to that,” said Richard. “The second I got here I fell in love,” said Karin. “I never thought twice about living here.”


  1. I loved this article…Karin, Richard and Molly have done so much for the community besides runnning a wonderful business. They are always there to volunteer and try to make the world a better place.
    Margot Gerson

  2. The Greenwoods are an inspiration to everyone who know them, especially to my husband and I. We are so excited to see how the next chapter of their life unfolds. Perhaps it might be spreading their amazing values and knowledge in faraway places as they travel around the globe?

  3. I do the same on a much smaller scale. I pick up discarded rubbish and recycle it. I try to do things more efficiently in my house so as to use less water and energy etc. No wonder Molly and my son Sam were boyfriend and girlfriend for a while!

    It was lovely to meet karin and Richard when they came over to the UK to visit Molly. Soon after their visit I moved back to England (from Wales) and turned veggie. I've yet to go the whole hog and turn vegan following their example!