The Owatonna Diving Club is one of the oldest dive clubs in Minnesota and even suspected to be THE oldest according to Elmer Engman a prominent author and dive shop owner from Duluth, Minnesota. We believe we are one of the largest active clubs in the Midwest. For those who don’t know where Owatonna is, it is about 65 miles south of Minneapolis on interstate 35. It is a small town of about 25,000 People. Diving was introduced to Owatonna in 1961 by John Kroke, a high school history who had done some diving in Florida in that summer, and toy store owner Jim Dailey, who had done a little work diving in the Mississippi River. He set up a little dive shop in the back of his toy store. In the 1961 there was no certification standards, so they were both self taught. The two of them got together and with the Adult Education Program at the high school offered a scuba diving class. Many of the students of the first classes were Fireman, Civil Defense personal, or from Law Enforcement. Only a few of people were in it for sport. They taught it as Adult Education only, in 1961 and 1962. In the spring of 1963, 10 people got together and formed the Dive Club. The original 10 people who formed the club were Don Bulver, Paul Chesney, Ernest Clark, Jim Dailey, Dick Elsner, Ed Holmen, Don Matejcek, Milt Oeltjenbruns, Warren Olson, and Carl Schnert.
In order to get their tanks filled, they had to drive 40 miles to the nearest compressor. So, at that point the club’s main goal was to purchase a compressor. The club’s first air compressor was a small Air Force Surplus Corneilus 2.5 cubic feet a minute compressor. If you figure that out, it took about ½ hour to fill a 72 Cubic feet tank. It might have taken a long time to fill multiple tanks, but they were happy to not have to drive 40 miles to get air. The club has gone through a few compressors since then. We currently have an I.R. 15.5 CFM with a five bottle cascade set up and a Mako 8 CFM potable.
Once the club had a compressor they started teaching scuba classes. The classes were offered before any of the certifying agencies were formed so class work and pool exercises were all handcrafted. We have always taught our classes as a club, not as a dive shop. All of our members are equal, no one is paid, it’s all just for the benefit of the club. In the early 60’s to 1968 the classes were taught in a town 14 miles away, Waseca, MN. All the gear had to be loaded and transported to the class site. When you finished our class, you received a little card that said you were taught scuba diving by the Owatonna Diving Club. In 1968 we paid the expense for one diver to become a certified instructor through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and also we were able to move our classes to a new pool in Owatonna. This instructor was Marlyn Swearingen. Marlyn taught from 1968 through 1986. All together he gave out about 1300 certificates of all different levels of training. In 1986 we paid to have two more Instructors certified under YMCA. One of the instructors was Leon Ellis. In the fall of 1996, Fred Bury was a scuba instructor in Michigan and transferred to Owatonna and joined the club and helped out with classes until Leon retired in March of 1998. Fred taught under the NASDS (National Association of Scuba Diving Schools) certification until fall of 1999 when NASDS merged with SSI (Scuba Schools International) and then taught under SSI. Fred retired in 2005. At which point Corey Monahan then took over as our instructor under PADI and still teaches today.
We grew from those 10 charter members to a high of about 130 Families in the mid 70’s. Currently we have about 80 to 90 families. Some families have 2 or 3 divers in them. We also have a family that has 3 active generations of divers, that is growing closer to a 4th generation. Our club enjoys the good company of families from all walks of life. The club tries very hard to make everyone feel welcome and a part of a large family.
In the 60’s we had a 3 phase electric compressor in a business downtown. And for dive classes and tank inspection we had equipment all over town, in member’s basements and garages. We needed a place to rent to house all this equipment that we were accumulating. In the early 70’s we raised money many different ways, one of them was to sell shares to members. We came up with enough money to buy two lots in downtown Owatonna and were able to get a loan from the bank to build a new building. Most of the building was put up by club members, with only a little of it being hired out. The building has a meeting room in the basement, a garage area for our compressor and all of our equipment, and the upstairs we rent out to Harvest Food Coop. We also became Incorporated and got a state Non Profit Organization Statues.
One of the most unique things about our Club is that just about all of our diving is done in local lakes, Lake Superior and a few lakes up north. We have taken trips to Grand Cayman, Roatan, Florida Key’s and others down south. But the one thing that keeps the club active is diving locally. We do have members that only dive warm water, but cold water divers out number them. We start out the year with a New Year’s Day dive which started out on New Year’s Day 1963 when someone told a member to go jump in a lake.