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What I’ve Learned: Bill Matthies

84, Minnesota (USA)

Do what you love and love what you do.

The first time I met John Cronin was at the DEMA show in ’60 or ’61.

I was always a little apprehensive of sales reps trying to meet their quota, however John [then at US Divers] was very personable and easy to talk to and like. I knew then that we would have a long-lasting friendship.

My PADI® Instructor number (#79) could’ve been even smaller. John said he was thinking of starting a new organization and wanted $15. I didn’t have it that day.

I sometimes sit here and wonder, “What if?”

If I hadn’t owned a dive shop, I would have liked to have been a school teacher. I did teach math for 30-plus years. I got my teaching job and opened the dive shop in 1959.

I’ll never forget that first day I opened the doors of Minnesota School of Diving in Brainerd. It was a Saturday. I sat with excitement and anticipation of all the people coming to my new store; instead I was met with loneliness.

I think my first customer was me, when I took a mask off the wall and handed it to my son.

I didn’t really have any customers until I was on the front page of the local paper after finding a drowning victim.

Our most challenging time at Minnesota School of Diving was in 1975 when the movie Jaws came out. Our students and sales dropped by 75 percent. I couldn’t understand it because we live in Minnesota and we haven’t really had a shark issue here.

I’d finished my dive working on a dam. I went to retrieve my guideline and had to swim in front of a culvert. My fins got sucked in and I was wedged in with 500 pounds of air left in my tank. I was concerned about getting sucked through because I wasn’t sure if there was a grate on the other end. I thought of my family and the fact that I would never meet my daughter’s husband. (She was only 10 at the time.) After what seemed like hours, one fin broke and got loose; the other fin exploded and I was free.

I never found out if there was a grate on the other end, but many years later I did get to see who my daughter would marry.

Sacrifice, commitment, loving what you do and doing what you love. That’s the secret to longevity in business.

Having a wonderful family that supports you and your dreams. That’s the secret to happiness.

Marriage is wonderful with the right person. I had that person for 61 years.

The key to a successful marriage is obviously love, but also communication, sharing and most importantly coming to terms with the fact that she is always right.

I wouldn’t say that I have any “regrets,” but I do regret the day two years ago when I fell and hit my head. My family and I have been going through this journey together, just like my other journeys.

I’m not sure if I have a saying, but my kids would say my saying is, “We’ll do it tomorrow, I have to go open the store now.”

My fondest memory of PADI was having John Cronin come to my store. He would stay at our house and out at our lake cabin.

A person coming all the way from California to see us in Minnesota was a little intimidating, but within minutes it was easy to remember that he was just a regular guy who actually wanted to come and see how the family was doing.

What does it take to be a good search and rescue diver? Be patient and have a good search plan.

The key to enjoying life is a wonderful family, where each person supports and helps with each other’s dreams.

Sharing my dreams with my wife, and in turn sharing her dreams and watching her excel was the happiest I’ve been. She was a college professor. She had a private pilot’s license and her own plane. As an artist she had an art studio and an art gallery.

My oldest son says my proudest moment as a father was when he was born. I am extremely proud of all three of my kids and what they have achieved as adults.

The fondest diving memory I have is being one of the very to dive on the shipwrecks in Lake Superior. With the fresh water and temperature of the water (mid 30’s), I could see the ships in all their glory and in almost pristine condition.

Truk Lagoon.

My father was in the Navy during WWII. I followed the war intensely. I fulfilled a dream to dive on the Japanese shipwrecks and I wondered if my dad had ever seen them when they were afloat. Having attained my pilot’s license I was intrigued to inspect the airplanes that are also in the lagoon.

Wreck diving is exciting, challenging and somewhat sad when you think about it.

With over 60 years of diving and thousands of dives, I can’t remember the best dive.  

The key to running a successful dive business is having a good staff.

In the ‘70s I would have said my proudest moment as a business owner was when we opened our third store. Now I would say that I’m so proud of my youngest son stepping up and taking over the business while I stepped off to the side.

Interviewed 31 March, 2020

Based on an article that appeared in the Third Quarter 2021 The Undersea Journal®

The post What I’ve Learned: Bill Matthies appeared first on PADI Pros.

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