Chattanooga, Tenn. (Aug. 28, 2017) – When Bill Godsey fell in love with SCUBA diving in 1956, the sport was still very much in its infancy. And as best friends tend to do, they’ve grown older together.
Godsey became hooked on diving after dipping beneath the surface of a quarry in Hixson, Tenn., using equipment brought back by a friend who had served in the Navy. That experience sparked a passion for the sport that has defined Godsey’s life and helped him experience aquatic wonders at sites from Hawaii to the Red Sea.
“People ask me which is my favorite place to dive, and I say it depends on what you’re looking for,” says Godsey, now 82. “Whenever you dive, there’s always something different. It’s different everywhere you go.”
Despite his globetrotting experiences, Godsey has spent the bulk of his time underwater as a volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium. In 1992, he was among the first group of five divers to volunteer at the Aquarium, where he has used his skills to train others and to educate the public about the aquatic world.
Today, Godsey received a commemorative pin and congratulations from Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford for exceeding 10,000 hours as a volunteer.
In all, the Aquarium has an active pool of more than 495 volunteers, including 184 volunteer divers. Volunteers’ roles range from interacting with the public during dive programs or as docents to preparing food for the animals. In 2016, the Aquarium’s volunteers devoted almost 64,000 hours of their time, the equivalent to more than 30 full-time positions.
“It’s amazing what our volunteers do,” Sanford says. “These folks contribute the equivalent of more than $1.5 million a year in volunteer labor for us and a whole lot of their heart in coming here every day. For Bill to achieve 10,000 hours, especially diving, is amazing. I’m just thankful and full of praise that someone can do that.”
This amount of service — equivalent to five years as a salaried employee — has been matched by only one other person in the Aquarium’s 25-year history. In 2015, volunteer Fran Hiestand was the first to pass this milestone.
“The next closest volunteer has about 5,600 hours of service,” says Manager of Volunteer Services Chris Bowman. “It’s hard to imagine anyone else reaching 10,000 hours again.”
The efforts of the Aquarium’s volunteer force have a tremendous impact on both the aquarium’s budget and the visitors’ experience. Clearly, it also has a positive impact on the volunteers as well, he adds. “Anyone who is approaching that 10,000-hour milestone is truly dedicated to the Aquarium. Obviously, Bill loves what he does. And what’s not to love? He gets to dive in a great environment.”
Godsey was among the first group of five divers to volunteer at the Aquarium when it opened on May 1, 1992. In his years of service, he has instructed aquatic safety courses, helped maintain dive equipment, overseen dive tests for other volunteers and served on the Aquarium’s dive safety control board.
Having someone with Godsey’s level of experience as a volunteer is a huge benefit, says Aquarium Dive Safety Officer Mark Craven.
“Bill brings an incredible amount of knowledge about all aspects of diving,” Craven says. “When he’s serving as topside dive support, I don’t have to worry about what’s going on with the in-water team. Their safety is in good hands.”
But Godsey says that, for his part, having one more pin to add to his badge isn’t a measure of the value of his years of service. That’s a sentiment that’s best presented in even simpler terms.
“I’ve loved SCUBA diving and helping people,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed all my time there and hope to continue.”
The Aquarium is always seeking additional volunteer SCUBA divers. Certified divers can check the requirements and download the volunteer diver application online. http://www.tnaqua.org/volunteer-opportunities/volunteer-diver The next class of new recruits will begin training classes in January 2018.