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A Close-up Look At People Who Matter : Digging Up a Trove of Memories

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In 1966, when Ted E. Gutman was a 56-year-old businessman, he took his first class in archeology through UCLA Extension. That was the start of a love affair with artifacts and pickaxes that has consumed him for nearly 30 years.

Today, after actively volunteering in support of UCLA’s archeology department, participating in more than 100 digs, giving talks on archeology to Los Angeles Unified School District students, and raising money to support graduate students’ research, Gutman, 84, is leaving Sherman Oaks for the Bay Area to be closer to his daughter, Carol.

Called an inspiration to young and old alike for his enthusiasm and dedication, Gutman was out on digs up to the age of 82, when he quit at his wife’s insistence. The excavations have taken him as far as Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica.

“He’s extremely active, and he doesn’t seem to grow old,” said James N. Hill, chairman of the university’s anthropology department. “He looks the same as he did 25 years ago.” It was Hill who, as an assistant professor, taught the class that got Gutman hooked on archeology.

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Last Thursday, professors, graduate students and friends toasted Gutman for his contributions to the department at a farewell reception at UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Among those who regretfully said goodby were Hill and museum Director Christopher B. Donnan.

Gutman played host to some visitors last week and, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat and showing off a Costa Rican machete, he looked ready to hack a path to the nearest excavation site. As he talked about his life, he had little problem remembering dates and facts.

The German immigrant’s passion for the past began as a high school student in Germany, where he began to study ancient Greek and Roman history.

After receiving a law degree from the University of Jena, Gutman was working in a district attorney’s office when he received a job termination notice from the Justice Ministry. The year was 1933, and Hitler was just beginning to roll out his oppressive policies against Jews.

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“It was getting difficult to do anything as a Jew,” Gutman recalled. “Gradually it was getting worse. For the first time in your life, you no longer were a full citizen.”

He fled Germany that year and lived in Barcelona, New York and New Orleans before coming to Los Angeles in 1938 to work as a salesman for a manufacturer of smoking pipes. The following year, Gutman married, and with his wife, Ruth, reared two daughters, Carol and Margie, settling in Sherman Oaks in 1950.

During World War II, Gutman became an officer in the U.S. Army. In a twist of fate, Gutman, a Jew who had been persecuted by the Nazis, was put in charge of a unit that interrogated German prisoners of war.

After the war, he returned to the pipe business, eventually becoming a partner in a wholesale company that supplied pipes, imported cigarettes and smoking accessories.

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Gutman retired in 1973. By that time, he was on his way to becoming one of the most active volunteers working to support UCLA’s archeology department. In 1967, he joined the UCLA Friends of Archaeology, which raises money for graduate student fellowships, and for which he has served as president and awards committee chairman.

The retiree became the second person to earn a certificate in archeology from UCLA Extension in 1979. A year earlier, he began giving talks to schoolchildren through the Fowler Museum’s Target Program on such topics as human evolution and pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico and Central America.

Gutman developed a talk on the cultures of “Middle America” because he thought it would be interesting to the many Latino students in the school district, and would boost their cultural pride, said Charlene Singleton, a docent in the Target Program.

Singleton, a North Hollywood retiree, credits Gutman for getting her interested in archeology and for motivating her to complete the certificate program.

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“He’s been an inspiration,” said Bill Hermann, a Studio City retiree and amateur archeologist. “He has shown me how one can use one’s retirement to keep active, both physically and mentally, by going on digs.”


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