Legends of Diving Articles


Dan Orr
CEO of DAN - An Ohio Legend

Dan Orr

Dan Orr was born in Miami, FL and his grandparents built one of the first homes on stilts constructed in the Florida Keys. Being around all that water and having the same basic homing instincts as all divers " at the age of 11 he and his best friend "borrowed" a set of scuba equipment from his friends house and Dan made his first dive in a canal. The visibility was dreadful as they walked around the bottom and they knew they were surrounded by sharks and were going to be eaten any minute " but it didn?t stop them from doing it as often as they could. And to be honest, they were lucky to have survived the experience since they never knew if there was air in the bottle. Dan's family moved to southern Ohio when he was 13. Even though the diving opportunities appeared to be limited, the diving bug just would not go away. Dan and his brother Tom took a diving course from a local diving legend, Ray Tussey (NAUI #007) and

received their NAUI certification in the summer of 1964. This was when open water dives were an optional part of diver training. Thankfully the diver training taught them to survive underwater, they checked themselves out!

Dan joined the Navy in 1966 and did a tour of combat duty in Viet Nam onboard a destroyer (USS Steinaker DD863) assigned to support US and Republic of Viet Nam forces in and around the DMZ. His duties onboard ranged from being a swimmer on an aircrew rescue team when operating with US carrier forces in the Tonkin Gulf to gun mount and fire control duties during combat operations against the North Vietnamese.

After return from active duty he remained in the US Navy Reserves until 1977 while attending college at Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio. The diving bug got to him again and he volunteered as a pool assistant for a local instructor, Bill Kessen. In exchange for volunteering, he was able to take scuba continuing education courses at virtually no cost. That's when he learned what

diving in Ohio was really all about. Ohio was always a very popular location for divers and had a large and very active council of divers, the Ohio Council of Skin & Scuba Divers, Incorporated. Dan worked with Bill in the pool and in his dive store, in West Carrollton, Ohio, Kessen Underwater Specialties for the next few years as he majored in Biology at WSU. He planned on eventually becoming a marine biologist so he could combine his love of diving with his interest in science. One night in late 1971 while he waited at

the dive store for Bill to come from his full-time job at a local factory, Bill's wife called and said that he had had a heart attack and was pronounced dead at the local hospital. Dan was devastated. Bill had taught him that diving was not just about learning to breath underwater, it included a social component that was just as important.

A few weeks following Bill's death, his widow called and asked Dan if he was willing to become a scuba instructor and take over running the classes for the store. Along with another guy who worked at the store, Gordon Jump, they went to a YMCA Scuba Instructor Institute at the Blue Ash YMCA in Cincinnati. These were weekend programs and Gordon and Dan spent the next few months fulfilling requirements for certification as both YMCA and PADI instructors. Dan taught his first course in the summer of 1972. From that point on, he knew that not only did he love diving but he truly loved teaching. During the next few years, Dan finished his Bachelor's degree and a Master's Degree Program in Aquatic Biology at Wright State University and taught diving courses for the dive club at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

Still in the US Navy Reserves, he started a diving program for the local Reserve Unit with the idea that the Navy could use their diving skills on their annual

active duty training. As part of that process, Dan was sent to Panama City, Florida to the Navy Coastal System Center (ultimately to become the Navy Experimental Diving Unit) for training and evaluation as a Navy-certified diver. Back in Ohio, Dan was doing everything he could that involved diving. That included testing Navy experimental dry suits and undergarments for a research firm in Yellow Springs, Ohio to working on projects in the harbor in Sandusky, Ohio. He became more involved in the YMCA Scuba Program becoming first the

regional Field Representative and then later the YMCA Scuba Commissioner for the entire Great Lakes region.

While still in Graduate School at WSU and working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department he still worked at the local dive shop teaching the first scuba classes offered for college credit at nearby Sinclair Community College. When he heard that Wright State was going to build a recreation complex that included a swimming pool he talked with the Aquatics Director about introducing scuba diving at WSU. The Aquatics Director listened to Dan's idea and said, "That's a great idea but we already have someone on our staff that could teach scuba diving."
Dan asked to meet this person and discovered that gentleman was an aquatics professional who taught swimming, coached the swim team but had never been diving in his life. He said, "How difficult could it be?" Dan made a deal with the Director that if he would support his efforts to start a scuba program that he would co-teach with him once he had taught him how to dive. He went through one of Dan's courses at Sinclair and thoroughly enjoyed scuba diving but realized that there was quite a bit more to scuba diving than he thought. He supported bringing scuba to Wright State and they met with the WSU Director of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPR) and laid out Dan's ideas and requirements. Dan took a chance from the very beginning and said that the University program should provide all the equipment, have their own compressor and that the program should not be limited to just one course.

Dan's vision was that the WSU Scuba Program should involve everything from entry-level up through instructor training. He also convinced the department that all scuba classes should be offered for college credit that could fulfill the

physical education portion of the general education requirements for all degrees. They agreed and allowed him to develop the program and all course offerings as he saw fit. The only requirement they imposed on him was that all course should meet the basic requirements for certification by a nationally-recognized training organization. Over the next 15 years, the program developed to include

entry-level diver (40 hours of training and 6 open water dives), experienced open water diver (20 hours of instructor and 25 open water dives), advanced open water diver (40 hours of training and 50 open water dives), research diver (taught in conjunction with the advanced course), underwater photographer, underwater archeologist, teaching assistant, assistant instructor, open water instructor. There were also a variety of credit and non-credit seminars and specialty courses.

The WSU Underwater Education Program developed into one of the largest and most comprehensive diver education program of its time. Virtually every weekend of the year, WSU divers and students were enjoying the waters of local dive sites, Sportsman's Lake (Cedarville), Portage Quarry (Bowling Green), White Star Park (Gibsonville), George's Livery (Springfield), France Park (New Paris), as well as dive sites in Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Florida, and Ontario. The waters were crystal clear or no visibility, air temperatures between 110o in the shade (and there was none) to so cold your lips would freeze to a water bottle " just not all on the same day. On one set of check out weekends the lake froze over night and the group drove 6 hours south to another quarry to finish off the weekend. It was still cold there so they built a bonfire to stay warm. It worked except that the students stood so close to the fire in their rented wetsuits that they melted the neoprene at the knees!!

In the early 1980's Dan began to do talks on the local speaking circuit. At that time Dan met Dr. Peter Bennett who was also doing a presentation. Dan's talk was on accident management and emergency assistance planning using his own style of visual aids in the slide show. Instead of using a standard first aid kit to manage a diving accident he demonstrated that divers could use what they had available (their equipment) to stabilize an injured diver. It was effective, but managed to look like an S&M how to for the neoprene set! Dr. Bennett asked Dan if he could mention DAN. He told him name was already on the title slide. He said, "No, I mean the newly formed Diving Accident Network - DAN!" As a result of that meeting, Dan became one of DAN's first members (member #10) and was asked to be the local volunteer field representative promoting DAN to the local diving community. It was one of the easiest things he would ever do!

Wright State was going through an evolution in the 80's that included re-assessment of all programs within the HPR Department. The idea was to eliminate many of the purely recreational courses in order to put more money into competitive athletics. Dan convinced the administration to preserve the scuba program as long as they were able to generate all of their own funding. As you know, scuba training is a very expensive endeavor with little hope of generating sufficient revenue to cover all the costs. While on his annual Christmas Holiday visit to many of the dive stores throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, he noticed that all the stores were trying desperately to sell off last year's equipment in anticipation of new equipment the next year. This gave Dan an idea. Why not bring all the stores together so they could sell their equipment and invite divers from everywhere to take advantage of these deals. They could offer the venue (charging a nominal fee for floor space) and give these stores the opportunity to donate equipment to the WSU Underwater Education Program that didn't sell. It seemed like a sure ?win-win" for everyone. The WSU Scuba Flea Market worked from the beginning! The first year, there were thousands of divers (one group even chartered a flight from Atlanta to be there) who bought just about everything the participating stores brought. What they didn't sell, they donated to the diving program to help keep it going for another year.

Each year it got better and larger with some stores bringing semi-truckloads of equipment for sale. Sellers and buyers alike would camp out in the parking lots vying for the best space and the hottest deals. There were a few dive stores that told Dan that they would not have survived those tough economic times if the Flea Market had not been there. Dan added educational seminars and pool demonstrations as the WSU Scuba Flea Market and Diver Exchange continued to grow. At the same time, Dan was asked by Dr. Lee Somers to be on the Instructor Training Staff during NAUI Instructor Workshops that took place each summer at the University of Michigan. That led Dan to more involvement with NAUI becoming a NAUI Course Director followed by assuming the role of NAUI Branch Manager for the Mid-America Region and then the founding Chairman of the NAUI Technical Advisory Group.

All this lasted until 1988 when WSU finally decided that recreational programs, even those as popular as scuba diving, had to make way for competitive athletics that meant big dollars for the University. At that point, Dan decided that it was time to move on. When he left WSU, he had a volunteer instructional staff of nearly 50 people! (20 certified scuba instructors, 10 assistant instructors, 10 teaching assistants and 10 surface support staff).

Following a presentation Dan gave at the DEMA Show on college-level diving programs, he was offered a position as the Associate Diving Safety Officer and Instructional Coordinator with the Academic Diving Program at Florida State University. During his tenure at FSU, he became heavily involved in cave and research diving, received a Nitrox instructor certification (IANTD #10) and taught mixed gas diving to science divers at FSU. While at FSU, he did work with Disney's Living Seas Pavilion at EPCOT.

In 1990, Dan decided that there were other things he wanted to try in diving and was interviewing for positions as the diving supervisor at the Living Seas or the assistant operations director for the NOAA Undersea Research Center in Wilmington, NC when he found out that Divers Alert Network was going to start a training program. He talked with the folks at DAN and was hired as DAN's first Director of Training. His first job was to develop and implement the DAN Oxygen First Aid for Diving Injuries course, the first oxygen first aid course for divers that was recognized across the diving world. His career at DAN continued to progress from training to operations then to chief operating officer and, ultimately, president and CEO.


Portage Quarry Recreation Club, Inc.
12701 South Dixie
Bowling Green OH, 43402

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