Van McGhee admits that as a boy he was always fascinated by the underwater adventures of fictional former US Navy frogman Mike Nelson in “Sea Hunt,” a 1958-61 television drama series starring Lloyd Bridges.
“I just found it fascinating,” he said.
For 40 years, McGhee, 70, and his wife, Barb, 63, of Manor, have pursued that joy of underwater adventure while still rooted in Western Pennsylvania — as owners of Randy’s Dive Shop, a dive shop in Westmoreland County, they’ve got it. operated outside their home most of the time.
Retiring on January 1, the McGhees 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 hard to believe, but encouraging, that some clients come in and enroll their teens in scuba lessons and “the parents were also certified and equipped at Randy’s.”
“It’s a huge compliment that they’re returning with their kid and really cool that their kid is learning to dive with Randy’s,” added Barb.
Van McGhee said he rarely missed an episode of Sea Hunt. So when his younger brother, Bob, suggested taking diving lessons in the Seton Hill University pool in the 1970s, he jumped at the opportunity. They were both certified in 1975. Bob, who died in 2008, eventually became a commercial diver in New York City.
Randy’s previous owner, Van McGhee said, was the late Dan Woodward, who ran the store from the basement of his home along Route 136, selling equipment and assisting instructors who train divers.
He ran the store for over 20 years. Woodward named the store Randy’s after his oldest child, and Van kept the name because of its familiarity with local divers.
Van McGhee was certified in 1975 as a professional association of diving instructors open water diver. He is a National Association of Underwater Instructors Advanced Open Water diver and has completed at least 2,500 dives.
Barb has been diving for 38 years. She has a NAUI Master Diver certification with at least 1200 dives.
In addition to the store and classroom in the basement, in 1990 the couple built a 10-foot in-ground pool in their backyard for scuba lessons.
The McGhees’ three children – Kelley Keizer, David McGhee and Leigh Silverio – are certified, and David is also a NAUI instructor.
The McGhees have guided local divers on trips around the world.
In 1985, they made their first Caribbean dive trip with a group of 10 people, Barb said. The trips grew over the decades with diving destinations including Belize in Central America, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii to name a few.
The pair has also explored shipwrecks in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Florida Springs, Florida Keys, Canada and Lake Erie.
“Our customers here are not like a normal business customer relationship through our shared experiences and training together … they are like family,” said Barb McGhee.
The McGhees vividly remembered a particular dive in Tobermory, Canada. Barb said Tobermory is far north on the Bruce Peninsula.
“The water is crystal clear, attractive and extremely cold, preserving spectacular wreck dives,” she said. “I remember the trip well because it snowed in mid-September.”
“The town is so small that the wedding announcements and the reception on the telephone poles were enjoyed,” she said.
Chaia Schilke said she and her husband were looking for a one-of-a-kind company, so when Aaron came home from a diving course last May and said the McGhees were planning to sell the company, “this was the perfect opportunity.”
The Schilkes, who have two young sons, Asher (12) and Caleb (8), had some reservations, but Chaia laughed at how Barb McGhee had allayed her fears.
“I wasn’t certified until June and at the end of May I told her I wasn’t sure I was willing to take over a dive company… it’s just such a unique company. Barb laughed and told me not to worry,” Schilke said.
Barb remembered the conversation.
“I told her I was only 23 years old, 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 his father and ask him what the piece or piece of equipment was,” she said.
“We didn’t have a business plan. And 16 months later we had our second child,” she laughed.
Many divers in the area, such as 84-year-old Kingsley Graham of Murrysville, who dives locally and at a vacation rental cabin in northern Michigan, said the McGhees were “great to deal with.”
He said the pair will be missed for their diving expertise and camaraderie.
Recently, Graham dropped off some air tanks for restocking at Randy’s and joined more than a dozen other dive shop customers and area instructors to welcome the Schilkes.
The Schilkes will use its current location at 529 Sandy Hill Road to operate the store.
As for Van McGhee, despite his retirement, he still plans to pursue diving adventures.
“I continue to actively dive. But it will be in hot water locations… I’ve gotten spoiled over the years,” he said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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