Wolf Pack Comeback: Former Shorewood Realtors co-owner Larry Wolf recounts his fight back from a paralyzing case of West Nile Virus

Larry Wolf with sons Alex and Tyler, caretaker Zandro Forrest, wife Lynn and Bentley. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

Larry Wolf said he is always surprised when rolling down the Manhattan Beach Strand, or having a martini at Ercoles or Hennessey’s, not to see more people, like himself, in wheelchairs. Which is why, after retreating from the limelight for seven years, he agreed to a longstanding request to talk about what happened to him.

He suspects neighbors with disabilities similar to his are less visible because they underestimate what they are capable of, and worse, their families underestimate them.

Larry and Lynn Wolf on the evening they were honored with the Richstone Family Center Affair of the Heart Award, in 2015. Photo by Gloria Plascencia

“My story,” Wolf began during an interview last month in the kitchen of his Manhattan Beach home, assisted by his wife Lynn, adult sons Alex and Tyler, and Zandro Forest Delos Santos, LVN, “is about being someone who thought he could do anything, oned day waking up thinking he could do nothing. And then rediscovering he could do anything.” 

Wolf’s doubts about himself began after he suffered what he thought was a stroke. In October 2016, he became paralyzed, except for being able to move his head, eyes and mouth, and having some movement in his feet and fingers. He could not breathe unassisted. 

He spent most of the next four years at Topanga Terrace, one of three long term, sub-acute care facilities in Los Angeles County. It’s two hours north on the 405 Freeway from Manhattan Beach. Lynn  made the commute six days a week, usually accompanied by Alex and Tyler.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic hit. Residential care facilities were ground zero for COVID deaths. The family brought Wolf home. While the rest of the world shut down, Wolf’s world reopened.

The Wolfs live on a rare (for Manhattan Beach), half-acre lot in a timeless Spanish Colonial home designed by architect Don Hovis.

Lynn and Larry Wolf at the Richstone Affairs of the Heart gala this past April.

Wolf and partner Arnold Goldstein owned Shorewood Realtors. They had seven South Bay offices with 350 Realtors. Shorewood was the eighth largest real estate company, by dollar volume, in Los Angeles County, and the 75th largest in the country when the partners sold it in 2014.

Wolf grew up in Chicago, where he earned an aeronautical engineering degree from the University of Illinois. After graduation in 1962, he and a fellow engineering graduate flipped a coin to decide between driving to Seattle or Los Angeles. The coin toss said Los Angeles.

Wolf found work at North American Rockwell on the Saturn V, still the most powerful rocket ever built. The Saturn V carried American astronauts to the moon six times.

He met Lynn skiing in Mammoth on New Year’s Day, 1971. They married two years later.

Shortly before marrying, Wolf commented to Highland Avenue neighbor Norm Fawcett that he’d rather work with people than rockets. Fawcett suggested he join him at Shorewood Realtors.

Shorewood was founded in 1969 by Arnold Goldstein. Its A-frame office on Manhattan Beach Boulevard is today legendary in South Bay Realtor lore. It was stacked with the Beach Cities’ top producers, many of whom would open their own offices, including Fawcett.

“Larry immediately became a superstar among superstars,” Fawcett said. “His desk was buried under Salesperson of the Month plaques. He would walk in with a new listing, and immediately begin cold calling for another new listing.”

Bob Schumann, who would also open his own office, started with Shorewood shortly after Wolf. 

“There was a lot of talent in the A-frame. So much so that if you weren’t in the office cold calling every evening, five days a week, and putting new listings on the board, you’d lose your desk,” Schumann said.

“One evening I heard Larry end a call to what sounded like a dead end prospect by saying, ‘Nice chatting. I have a new business card. I hope you don’t mind my dropping it in the mail to you.’ Business cards don’t get stale. But it was a way to keep the door open. I told  him I was stealing that line. He said, ‘Do it,’” Schumann said. 

Shorewood Realtors owners Larry Wolf and Arnold Goldstein (center) during a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting for their new downtown Manhattan Beach Office at 916 Manhattan Ave in 2013. Photo by Lee Craft/EasyReader

In 1979, when interest rates rose to 12.5 percent and real estate sales began slowing as the 1980 recession approached, Goldstein offered Wolf 50 percent ownership in his company. 

Goldstein hired and trained the agents. Wolf drove Shorewood’s expansion, while steering the company through the tumultuous transition from the traditional, split commissions between brokers and agents, to the rent-a-desk model introduced by Re/Max. Wolf described the competition between himself and Re/Max Beach Cities’ equally aggressive broker, Bob Todd, as “jungle warfare.” At a South Bay Realtor’s gathering in the early 2000s, Wolf and Todd refused a reporter’s request to be photographed together.

Both Fawcett and Schumann commented on Wolf’s rare combination of an analytical mind, and a sense of humor. 

“He was everything you aspire for in a leader,” said Schumann.

In 2014, Wolf, then 74, and Goldstein, 81, sold Shorewood to Denver-based Realtor Roger Herman, on the promise Herman would move his family to Manhattan Beach, and maintain the Shorewood name and culture.

“Shorewood was a family. We could have sold for more to a big franchise company, but we wanted to keep it family run,” Wolf said during his recent interview. 

Two years later, Shorewood’s new owner filed for bankruptcy. Shorewood’s office leases were taken over by Vista Sotheby’s International.

“I felt horrible. I spent half my life building the company. A lot of people who were my friends were hurt,” Wolf said.

But otherwise, Wolf recalled, semi retirement was good. He worked with his sons at Brighton Escrow, which had been owned by Shorewood, but not included in Shorewood’s sale. He played golf three days a week at the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. He and Lynn hosted charity fundraisers in their large, secluded backyard. In 2015, the couple was honored with the Richstone Family Center Affair of the Heart Award. Many of the 300 guests at the gala, held at Pacific Audi, were fellow Manhattan Beach Rotarians Wolf had enlisted to support the center for troubled families.

Wolf played lineman, ran track, and threw the shot put, and the discus in high school. After moving to Manhattan Beach, he got caught up in the ‘70s running craze. He ran the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and New York marathons, and was a founding member of the Wall-nuts, a group of Rotarians who began running every Sunday at Walnut Street and Valley Drive to train for the inaugural, 1978 Manhattan Beach 10K.

The following year, Wolf tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) playing racquetball at the Manhattan Country Club. His doctor said he would never run again. Three months later he ran that year’s Manhattan Beach 10K. 

Larry Wolf with son Alex, wife Lynn, son Tyler and his wife Etel at the Desert Trip Music Festival on October 7, 2016, two weeks before Wolf contracted West Nile Virus. Photo courtesy of the Wolf family.

With the notable exception of Shorewood’s bankruptcy, 2016 began as a very good year.

In September Larry and Lynn flew to Florence, Italy, for a weeklong tour that included  private performances by tenor Andrea Bocelli.

In early October, they went to their home at PGA West in La Quinta to attend the Desert Trip Festival, at Coachella, featuring Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who.

In mid-October they went on a golf trip to Napa.

“I still dream of playing golf,” Wolf said.

Larry Wolf (second from left) with fellow Richstone Family Center supporters David Peters, Al Villasenor, Roger Van Remmen and Bob Courtney in 2007. Photo by Kevin Cody

They returned from Napa on Friday, October 21 in time for Wolf to join his Wall-nut friends for dinner at Lido di Manhattan. That evening while preparing for bed he had trouble putting the cap on his toothpaste. 

The following morning he awoke with a fever. Lynn and her sons drove him to Torrance Memorial Medical Center. He was released after his fever subsided, and tests proved inconclusive. 

The next day, Lynn called her sons again. Larry’s fever had returned. He was unable to stand, or move his right arm. Paramedics took him back to Torrance Memorial. 

Doctors put Wolf into a medically induced coma to stabilize him. Several days later, when doctors were unable to awaken him from the induced coma, he was transported to the Ronald Reagan Center at UCLA Medical Center.

The day after arriving at UCLA, Torrance Memorial forwarded test results showing Wolf had West Nile Virus. 

The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms range from none at all, to paralysis.

The virus had attacked Wolf’s spine. He still doesn’t know where he was when the mosquito bit him. Symptoms can take two weeks to appear. It could have been in Italy, the desert, Napa, or Manhattan Beach, he said. Polliwog Park, a few blocks from his home, had signs warning of West Nile Virus. 

Wolf was one of two West Nile Virus patients admitted to UCLA in 2016. The other patient, a healthy, 40-year-old man, died.

When their father regained consciousness, the family brought an alphabet board to his hospital room.

The family would point to letters they thought he was trying to spell out, and he would stick out his tongue if they were correct.

“The first word he tried to spell out was ‘Stroke,’” Alex said. “We told him his body did not do this to him. West Nile Virus did it.” 

After a month at UCLA, Wolf was transferred to Barlow Respiratory Hospital with the goal of retraining him to breathe on his own. In late January, 2017, when Wolf still was unable to breathe unassisted, he was transferred to Topanga Terrace. 

An undiscovered talent

Zandro Forest Delos Santos arrived in Los Angeles from the Philippines in 2015, the year he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications from the Ateneo De Zamboanga University, a Jesuit university in Mindanao. A friend from the university, Christine Rubio, had founded a nursing agency in Los Angeles with her husband, Louis. They encouraged Zandro to become a nurse.

In December, 2016,  shortly after joining his friend’s nursing agency, Zandro was assigned a night shift at Barlow Hospital to care for a new patient. The assignment was for two months.

That first night, the patient awoke about 2 a.m. 

“Larry just stared at me,” Zandro said of his new patient. “It was clear he was in shock. He asked ‘What happened to me? Did I have a stroke? Where’s my wife? Call my wife.’”

Zandro recalled worrying about how to address Wolf’s wife, whom he’d never met. Miss? Missus? Lynn? 

“I addressed her as Lynn. I told her Larry was asking for her. She asked how I knew that. Did he talk? I told her I read his lips.”

“When Lynn arrived, I left the room to give them some privacy. Lynn called me back. Larry was mouthing words, so I started translating.”

Wolf’s family had experimented with multiple ways to communicate with him, including the alphabet board, a voice box, and lip reading, but without achieving the level of success Zandro had that first night.

Zandro’s supervisors were also skeptical of his claim to be able to read lips. He had never studied lip reading.

“It surprised me. It was a skill I never knew I had,” Zandro said.

Wolf and his family gave generally high marks for the care he received at Topanga Terrace. Still, Alex said, “My stomach tightened every time I walked in the door.” 

The family quickly recognized a problem with its care.

“They divided patients into two categories. Rehab patients, such as stroke victims, for whom there was hope of recovery,” Alex said. “And for lack of a better word, vegetables, for whom there was no hope of recovery.” 

“My dad had the brain of the first group, and the body of the second group. He could read a book a day, but needed someone to turn the pages. He could answer all the questions on Jeopardy, but needed someone to change the channel. The staff couldn’t get their minds around that,” Alex said.

Once a day, Wolf was wheeled outside for physical therapy on an exercise bicycle. Then he was taken back to bed.

“I hated the exercise bike,” Wolf said.

The family filled the room Wolf shared with another patient with photos, memorabilia, and a fish tank. They brought along Bentley, their golden retriever, who jumped up on Larry’s bed. 

Wolf was a voracious reader. So the family propped up books in front of him and turned the pages for him. He tried an eye-controlled reading pad, but it was too slow. 

Zandro’s lipreading proved transformational.  

“We had all tried lipreading, and still do. But it’s very difficult. Zandro is exceptionally good at it and we rely on him heavily to communicate that way,” Alex said.

Zandro expressed similar appreciation for the Wolf family. 

“All of this wouldn’t be possible without Lynn, Tyler and Alex. Lynn has been everybody’s pillar. The strength that she has is immeasurable. Impressive would be an understatement. Alex and Tyler are always  one call away. You can see how much love they have for their dad and for each other. They are truly an inspiring family,” he said. 

The Wolfs retained Zandro and four of Christine’s other nurses for round-the-clock care.

“We went from just doing the regular things to pushing boundaries. To force him to eat, for example. We started with ice cream and sashimi. The supervisors would tell us, he can’t do that. And we’d say yes he can,” Zandro said.

“We took a no stone left unturned approach,” Alex said.

The family brought in a shaolin monk to help Wolf with breathing. Some of the efforts were in the gray area, Alex, acknowledged, among them unsuccessful stem cell treatment.

Then came what the family described as the most frightening moment since the start of Larry’s illness. 

In late March 2020, Zandro called the family  at night.

He said he had been locked out of Topanga Terrace.

Nurses, and even families were no longer allowed to visit patients.

“It was a Friday,” Alex recalled. “We went out there, and they rolled dad up to an emergency door window. It was like visiting a prisoner, except there were no phones. He kept mouthing words until he knew we understood, ‘Get me out of here.’”

“During the seven years he’d had West Nile Virus, I never saw him cry until that day. He went from having private, 24 hour nurses to having a nurse come in every few hours to check his vitals,” Alex said.

Larry Wolf and friends in his backyard (left to right) Doug Mockett, Tim Smith, Mike Papworth, Don Carpenter, Dave Leahy, Wayne Nelson, David Peters and Barry Taylor. Photo courtesy of the Wolf Family

“We fought with the State for two weeks to get him the care he needed. When finally, it was apparent he wasn’t going to get help we knew we had to get him out of there. We got a hospital bed and breathing equipment and brought him home.”

The Wolfs’ spacious living room became a hospital room. A van with a wheelchair lift opened the door to walks on The Strand, drinks out with friends, and to movies and Hollywood Bowl concerts. Wal-nuts and Rotary friends were able to visit with him more frequently. 

This past February, Wolf attended the Palm Springs Pride Parade with Zandro. 

“It was all his idea, and I’ve never felt more flattered. One thing Larry taught me that I’ll always  carry with me, is the value of kindness and loyalty,” Zandro said.

Wolf said his private time is spent reading, and listening to podcasts, which he formerly disdained. 

“There are some very bad days. I’ll never get used to this. So I just keep my mind active.

“What’s helped is that I was relatively old when I got sick, and had led a full, and beautiful life. I can’t imagine someone getting this in their youth,” Wolf  said.

Larry Wolf and son Tyler (right) with members of the Wall-nuts running club during the 2021 Manhattan Beach 10K. Photo by EnduranceSportsPhoto.com

Next on Wolf’s outing schedule is the Manhattan Beach 10K, on Saturday, October 7.

In 2021, Wolf said, “I woke up one day and decided I wanted to attend the MB 10K.”

That year, Wolf cheered the Wall-nuts at the start. Then he cut across the course in his wheelchair, pushed by his son Tyler, and cheered his friends as they crossed the finish line at the pier.

He planned to do the same at last year’s MB 10K.

But when the starting gun went off, he signaled his sons to follow the Wall-nuts. 

“We thought we’d go a block or two, but the crowd kept yelling ‘Go Larry, go Larry.’ The cheers didn’t stop ‘til we reached the pier,” Alex said.

“I’ve always tried to live a purposeful life. I’m still working on it,” Wolf said. ER


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