Westmoreland County’s only scuba dive shop owners retire after 40 years

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Van McGhee admits that he was always captivated as a child by the underwater adventures of former fictional US Navy Frogman Mike Nelson in “Sea Hunt,” a 1958-61 television drama series starring Lloyd Bridges.

“I thought it was just fascinating,” he said.

For 40 years McGhee, 70, and his wife Barb, 63, of Manor, pursued this fun of underwater adventure while still being rooted in western Pennsylvania – as owners of Randy’s Dive Shop, a Westmoreland County based scuba diving shop. operated most of the time from their homes.

The McGhees, who retire Jan. 1, sold the unique business they bought in 1982 to Chaia and Aaron Schilke of North Huntingdon.

“It’s hard to believe 40 years have passed,” said Barb McGhee.

Van McGhee also found it comforting to believe that some customers are coming to enroll their teens for scuba diving lessons and that “parents were also certified and equipped at Randy’s.”

“It’s a huge compliment that they are coming back with their kid and really cool that their kid is learning to dive with Randy’s,” Barb added.

Van McGhee said he rarely misses an episode of Sea Hunt. So when his younger brother Bob suggested they take scuba diving lessons at the Seton Hill University swimming pool in the 1970s, he jumped at the chance. They were both certified in 1975. Bob, who died in 2008, eventually became a professional diver in New York City.

The former owner of Randy’s, Van McGhee said, was the late Dan Woodward, who ran the store from the basement of his home along Route 136, selling equipment and helping instructors train divers. .

He ran the store for over 20 years. Woodward named the Randy’s store after his eldest child, and Van retained the name due to his familiarity with local divers.

Van McGhee was certified in 1975 as an open water diver from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. He is an Advanced Open Water diver with the National Association of Underwater Instructors and has at least 2,500 dives.

Barb has been diving for 38 years. She holds a NAUI Master Diver certification with at least 1,200 dives.

In addition to the store and basement classroom, in 1990 the couple built a 10-foot-deep inground pool in their backyard for scuba diving lessons.

All three of the McGhees’ children – Kelley Keizer, David McGhee and Leigh Silverio – are certified, with David also being a NAUI instructor.

The McGhees have escorted local divers on trips around the world.

In 1985, they organized their first Caribbean dive trip with a party of 10, Barb said. Travel has mushroomed over the decades with dive destinations like Belize in Central America, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii to name a few.

The couple also explored shipwrecks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Florida Springs, the Florida Keys, Canada, and Lake Erie.

“Our clients here don’t look like a normal business-client relationship through our shared experiences and training together… they’re like family,” said Barb McGhee.

The McGhees vividly remembered a particular dive in Tobermory, Canada. Barb said Tobermory is located far north of the Bruce Peninsula.

“The water is crystal clear, alluring and extremely cold, preserving spectacular dives on wrecks,” she said. “I remember the trip well because it snowed in mid-September. “

“The city is so small that wedding and reception announcements have been stapled to telephone poles,” she said.

Chaia Schilke said she and her husband are looking for a unique business, so when Aaron came home last May from a diving certification course and mentioned that the McGhees were planning to sell the business “it was the perfect opportunity “.

The Schilkes, who have two young sons, Asher, 12, and Caleb, 8, still had reservations, but Chaia laughed at how Barb McGhee eased her fears.

“I wasn’t even certified until June, and I told him at the end of May that I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take over a diving business… it’s such a unique company. Barb laughed and told me not to worry, ”Schilke said.

Barb recalled the conversation.

“I told her I was only 23, nine months pregnant and knew absolutely nothing about diving. When people came in and asked for something, I had to call Van who was working with her father and ask him what the room or device was, ”she said.

“We didn’t have a business plan. And 16 months later, we had our second child, ”she said with a laugh.

Many area divers, such as Kingsley Graham, 84, of Murrysville, who dives locally and at a vacation cabin in northern Michigan, said the McGhees were “very pleasant to deal with.”

He said the couple will be missed for their diving expertise and camaraderie.

Recently, Graham was dropping off air tanks for refilling at Randy’s and joining over a dozen other dive shop customers and area instructors in welcoming the Schilkes.

The Schilkes will use the current location at 529 Sandy Hill Road to operate the workshop.

As for Van McGhee, despite his retirement, he still intends to pursue diving adventures.

“I will stay in active diving. But it will be in places where the water is hot… I have spoiled myself over the years, ”he said.

Paul Peirce is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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