MEET THE STAFF
Owner, PADI Master Instructor
Hi! I’m Marianne. I am the one on the left in the above photo (the beluga on the right is a good friend). I am owner, CFO and CGC (chief garbage collector) for Underwater Safaris. I did my first dive in 1968. In 2001, I was inaugurated into the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame. Lots has happened in between.
I became a PADI instructor in 1986 and left my counseling career in 1987 to open Underwater Safaris. I never forget the exhilaration of my first breath underwater nor have I forgotten the fear of clearing my mask. Through the years, I have trained over a thousand divers.I’ve been lucky to have logged over 3,000 dives in Caribbean and Pacific locations: Cozumel, Akumal, Bahamas, Cayman, Cuba, Bonaire, Turks and Caicos, South Africa, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Fiji, Galapagos, Australia, Belize, Roatan, Red Sea, Baja, Palau, Chuuk (Truk), Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Cocos and Sicorro Islands, Indonesia and Hawaii. I have 24 years experience in SCUBA instruction at the high school, college and adult education levels.I am the co-founder and president of the Underwater Safaris Fund for Marine Awareness (USFMA), an Illinois 501(c)3 not for profit organization which raises $$ to support scuba and ocean related projects. Currently, USFMA supports the Underwater Safaris deaf diver program, programs for inner city teens, schools in Roatan and Papua New Guinea.I divemastered for the Shedd Aquarium’s Research Vessel in the Bahamas for 9 years. I think the Shedd liked that I was a girl with a big insurance policy. It was great! I absorbed info on marine life from some of the smartest folks in the business.Through the years, I have acted as scuba consultant for Encyclopedia Britannica, Hardy Boys Books, Field Museum of Natural History and Baltimore Aquarium. Shedd Aquarium hired me as a Marine Biology Instructor and Dive Safety Committee Adviser.I am a Handicapped Scuba Association Instructor and a HSA Course Director. Our program for disabled divers received international acclaim. I am currently coordinating a Scuba program for the Wounded Warrior Project.Sam Frank (Underwater Archeology Society of Chicago) and Underwater Safaris founded the Lake Michigan Shipwreck Buoy Program, organizing fund raising among Chicago area dive stores to purchase and install permanent buoys on many of the favorite wrecks.Favorite part of my Job? I love talking to people about diving and dive travel. I feel lucky to earn my living doing what I love. I still enjoy teaching and selling gear. I have never forgotten what it’s like to take your first breath underwater. I haven’t forgotten the fear either.Best Dives? (1) My friend Maryellen and I hanging out with the hammerheads in Galapagos; (2) My husband Saul, me and a disabled diver Sue Burka swwimming with dolphins in Cozumel (see the story in Chicken Soup for the Ocean Lover’s Soul); (3) Great White Shark diving in South Africa.Gear? I love my Aqualung Zuma BCD and my Micron Regulator. I have a Cobra computer console and learned in Truk that a backup computer is a good idea. My backup? A Yellow Suunto D4. Check out my fins… the Twinjets… I have dove with just about every fin on the market. They were fine. Then I tried the Twinjets… whoa! I could paddle upstream in Cozumel’s currents for the first time.Becoming a PADI Scuba Instructor has truly opened the world to me. I really have gone places, met people and done things that I never dreamed possible and look forward to talking to you about making your scuba dreams possible too.
Manager, PADI Master Scuba Diver
Hi, I’m Jason, the general manager of Underwater Safaris since 1987. This photo was taken driving Aqualung II, our 30’ Carver dive boat. When I was in high school, I worked in the scuba department at Morrie Mages Sports on Ontario and LasSalle. I was the only scuba diver in the department (I was 15). It was fun to be the authority on scuba diving for the largest sporting goods store in the world. When Underwater Safaris leased the space from Morrie Mages in 1987, I stayed on and managed that store unit I moved to Lincoln Avenue in 1991.I was certified as a PADI Open Water Diver when I was 12. Since then, I have completed Advanced, Rescue and Master Scuba Diver with certifications in Deep, Night, Search and Recovery, Drift, Boat, Wreck, DPV, Photography, Videography and Underwater Naturalist. I have dove in great places like the Bahamas, Bonaire, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, Little Cayman, Baja (Sea of Cortez), Florida Keys, Florida Springs and Cozumel. Locally I have dove in Lake Michigan, Pearl Lake, France Park (Logansport, Indiana) and Devil’s Lake (Baraboo).My favorite dives:
I enjoy working with the customers at Underwater Safaris… outfitting them for great trips. I also get to order and check out all the new scuba equipment. I am certified as a technician for US Divers, Sherwood and Mares. I have extensive knowledge in scuba equipment from over 20 years in the industry.Scuba is an equipment intensive sport. Favorite part of my job? Talking to divers about what they need to make their dive safe and exciting, finding the merchandise whether we carry it or not and then hearing about how great their dive was. If you need equipment we don’t have, I’ll find it and do my best to get it for you.
- Shark Diving at Stella Maris in the Bahamas: We were surrounded by gray reef sharks.
- Baja (Sea of Cortez): While Checking out the baby sea lions at Las Animas, a huge male (bull) sea lion felt I got too close. I saw teeth (my eyes popped out) and I was back on the boat in 2.2 seconds.
- My favorite local diving is in Lake Michigan harbors doing search and recovery for boaters who have lost phones or keys (you name it). I seem to have an uncanny knack for finding their “newly wet” possessions before they become artifacts.
As a member of the Preker family it was inevitable that I would gravitate towards Scuba. After years of hearing about the wonders of the undersea world I did my confined water training with Marianne Preker (yes, we're related) here at Underwater Safaris' pool. We then did a long weekend to the Florida Keys where I completed my Open Water Dives. I was hooked! One of my favorite dives was the Underwater Safaris Pumpkin Carving contest at Haigh Quarry which I highly recommend and I'm a regular on our annual Cozumel Memorial Trip. I hope you can come in and talk to me about diving.
Sales, PADI Divemaster
Sales, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
It started in 1991 with some friends asking me if I wanted to learn how to scuba dive. I had never thought about it before but I had the evenings available, so my journey began…After picking out my mask, fins, boots and snorkel, I couldn’t wait to get home to clean my mask with toothpaste and start reading my book. Horrors!!! I have to take my mask off, put it back on and clear out the water — all while I’m underwater? No, I can’t! Only those with magic powers can do such a thing! I do not possess these powers! I can’t sleep worrying about this. What will I do? I know! I will simply tell my instructor I do not want to take off my mask underwater and he will understand. Problem solved. Relief! Right? Wrong! My instructor informed me I would have to do this, explained how to do it and then demonstrated how to do it. And I did it. The rest is history.I've been teaching since 2000 and if I can do this, you can do this and I feel having these apprehensions while taking my class has made me a more empathetic instructor. I’ve been there. In addition to teaching at Underwater Safaris, I also work the sales floor and yes, I’m “That Jean” who sends out the emails to our customers, keeping everyone up to date on what’s going on with the Underwater Safaris, including classes, trips and equipment.Since my vacations now always involve diving, I’ve been to quite a few different dive destinations including Cozumel, the Cayman Islands, Belize, Honduras, Bahamas, Bonaire, the Great Barrier Reef and more. I even did a dive off the coast of Tasmania! I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite dive destination, I have favorite dives in quite a few destinations including Lake Michigan and Haigh Quarry.I use my trusty DUI TLS350 when diving locally and I'm more inclined to wear a 5mm wetsuit in warm water because yes, like most women I tend to get cold.Enough about me, though. I look forward to hearing from and about you and I really look forward to perhaps diving with you in the near future. Remember… If I can, you can.
Sales, PADI IDC Staff Instructor
I've been SCUBA certified since 2010. From the first day in the pool, I was hooked and couldn't get enough. By the end of the season I had completed my advanced, and while itching to dive, visited the Bonne Terre Mines in Missouri. In early 2013, I completed my instructor training along with several specialties: deep, dry suit, EFR (Emergency first response), Nitrox, Rescue, Search and Recovery, Underwater Navigator, and Wreck diver.Currently working to dive all seven continents before I turn 30. I'm always excited when the local dive season begins and have had a few of my top dives out on Lake Michigan and Haigh Quarry.
PADI MASTER INSTRUCTOR
Growing up, I was the kid that tried to spend as much time on the bottom of the pool as possible. Splashing around on the surface never really appealed to me. I wanted to be underwater. I won't list off all of the contraptions that I used in attempts to increase the time underwater, but I survived them all. Luckily, once I grew up some, I was able to learn to scuba dive which finally let me stay underwater for decent amounts of time.
I earned my Open Water Diver certification from Underwater Safaris in 2002. Unfortunately, I didn't dive for the first year, but late in 2003, I went on my first scuba diving trip to the Bahamas. It has been non-stop from there. In 2004, I took more classes including Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, and Divemaster. I was doing local diving as much as I could that season. 2005 was the year of scuba diving trips for me including Bonaire, Cozumel, and the Galapagos Islands. I capped off 2005 by becoming an Assistant Instructor. Building upon that, I jumped right into the Instructor ranks in 2006. After working a few seasons as an Instructor, I decided in 2012 to move up higher in the instructor ranks. I am currently an IDC Staff Instructor and working on becoming a Master Instructor.
Scuba diving has provided me some great travel opportunities. I have been lucky to dive in the following locations: Columbus Isle (Bahamas), Cay Lobos (Bahamas), Bonaire, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Saint Lucia, Galapagos Islands, Lake Michigan, Quarries/Lakes in Indiana and Illinois, and Hawaii.
While diving you get to see some amazing things, meet incredible people, and come away with fantastic stories. Ask me sometime about my turtle encounter on a night dive in Hawaii or the reaction to the dive site "The Banana" in Galapagos.
PADI IDC Staff Instructor
I like to think of myself as an evil genius (though I am neither evil nor any kind of genius). My original plan was to build a giant space laser with an army of trained astronaut monkeys. That went about as well as one would expect, so I moved on to an undersea base, or maybe a floating island (plans are still up in the air, waiting to hear back from Richard Branson). In the meantime, I decided to start work creating an elite undersea squad. Becoming a PADI instructor seemed the best way to accomplish this goal, so I got my certification about 5 years ago. In the process I have discovered that it’s actually a lot of fun working with divers (though disappointingly few are inclined towards evil). Nevertheless, by helping people new to the sport get started (open water divers), and experienced divers get additional training and specialties (like Advanced OW, navigation, and search and recovery) I hope to have a fine dive team assembled any day now. On the way, I have had a lot of fun with the great people I have met, and I’ve seen some amazing places I may not have gone to otherwise (above and below the surface).
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
I was originally certified in 1977 before alternate air sources and integrated weights. After a few years of local diving my wife and I settled down to have a family and SCUBA got pushed to the back of the closet. Many years later, my wife and I took a Caribbean cruise and ended up on the island of Cozumel. We went snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters and were quickly reminded that we should be under the waves, not floating above. Upon returning to Chicago, I came to Underwater Safaris and did a SCUBA review then signed up for Advanced, Rescue and Divemaster. After working 4 seasons as “THE” Divemaster at Underwater Safaris, I decided to take the plunge and become an instructor. Now when my wife and I take a cruise, we go diving instead of snorkeling.
PADI Course Director
I started diving as a young boy in the south suburbs of Chicago. I would ride my bike to the local quarries. It was great a gas station in Lemont had a compressor and sold air. In High school I was a swimmer and we taught diving. That carried thru my time at Moraine Valley. By 1975 I became a PADI Course Director and today I am currently a PADI Platinum Course director, one of the only n the Midwest, and one of 55 in the world. I love teaching SCUBA and especially PADI Instructors. The best part of my job is conduction PADi specialties. I enjoy the dives and watching Instructors progress. Specialties are completed in a day or two so I can see ones advanced meant very quickly. I have the pleasure of teaching here in Illinois, Arizona, Michigan and the Caribbean.
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
Hi Everyone! Like a lot of us who are addicted to diving, when I took my very first breath underwater I knew I had found my new “Home”. I am truly one of “those” people who are actually more comfortable under the water than above and consider being underwater as my “Fortress of Solitude”. My Journey to be a PADI Instructor started in 2005 with my Open Water Diver certification and then my Advanced Diver cert. coming soon after that. I already knew that my life’s passion was diving so after some dive trips and discovering the amazing diving right in our own back yard (Lake Michigan), I moved on to get my Rescue Diver certification. After some years filled with more trips abroad and diving all but one of the Great Lakes (Superior) I knew it was time to take my passion to the next level and turn pro. With the help of the amazing staff at Underwater Safaris I set in on my Journey. Both Divemaster, and then Assistant Instructor, opened my eyes to a whole new world underwater. My single largest personal accomplishment came when my IE examiner handed me my “Certification of Completion” after a grueling weekend of exams and practical tests. I was now a certified PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and was psyched to start sharing my passion with others and help them start on their own personal Journey. I tell my students that I am here to share my passion with them when they ask why I am instructor and also that seeing the look on someone’s face after they have taken their first breath underwater is priceless to me.
When I am not teaching out at the Quarry or in our pool, I stay underwater by volunteering at the Shedd Aquarium in the Marine Mammal Dept. as a Maintenance Diver and by taking either local or destination trips. Some of my favorite dives to date have been diving with Bull Sharks in Cozumel, The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron and diving an abandoned Titan One Missile Silo in Washington State where I received the coveted Missile Silo Diver specialty certification.
The thing I like most about working at Underwater Safaris is that once you pass through the front door you not only become a member of the amazing community of diving but you’re also a member of the Underwater Safaris family who will support and guide you through the rest of your diving life.
PADI Master Instructor
Give me any body of water and I will dive it. Since being certified back in 2006 by Underwater Safaris, I have dove from the cold waters of Lake Michigan and the Northern Pacific Ocean to the warm waters of Fiji and the Caribbean. I have dove to 120' on the wonderful reef walls of Cozumel as well as diving to 12' to clean the walls of Shedd Aquarium. My passions include underwater photography and videography where I have authored PADI distinctive specialties in underwater videography. I have traveled as far as Fiji and Guadalupe Island to dive with Tiger and Great White Sharks and trained to be a shark feeder in the warm Caribbean waters.
I am a Master Instructor with over 1,400 dives and I love to teach everything from Open Water students to Assistant Instructors. I enjoy teaching a variety of specialties including deep, dry suit, wreck, navigations, undwater photography, underwater videography, conservation diver, and Rescue. Despite all my teaching, I still find time to travel the world and experience the wonders our seas and oceans provide and share them with my wonderful dive buddies.
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
BIO Coming Soon!
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
Thomas Hain - First of his name, King of the Andals and the First men, Breaker of Chains and Father of Dolphins.:)
I am one of the newer Instructors, completing my Instructor training in the Spring of 2017, however I began my scuba journey in 2011 when I walked into Underwater Safari's and did a Groupon, Discover Scuba Diver, dive. I fell immediately in love with diving, quickly went to Cozumel to become a certified diver in February of 2012, then Nitrox, Advanced, Rescue and in 2015 Divemaster adding dives and collecting certifications along the way.
Diving has opened up a world I never knew existed, and broadened my experiences and travels. Wrecks in Lake Michigan, to night dives in Fiji, whale Sharks in the Philippines to my latest amazing trip to Egypt and the Red Sea. I have met an array of people, experienced cultures and conquered fears and pushed my own expectations. Emphasized the need to protect and cherish the aquatic realm and the creatures that live there.
My passion for diving is now to teach people to be safe, prepared and to become aware of the greater world around us.
Go forth and take only pictures, leave only bubbles and happy diving.
JAMES (JAMIE) O'CONNOR
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
I am always asked about what inspired me to start SCUBA Diving... Initially it started with seeing ocean and diving pictures in National Geographic when I was a kid followed by episodes of underwater exploration on TV with a well known diver by the name of Jacques Cousteau. You may have heard of him... It's also a desire to explore the unknown.
Our earth is made up of over 70% water and less than 5% of it has been explored to date. The oceans and lakes are full of amazing places and creatures (some of which you may have never known to exist). Since being Open Water certified in 2003, I have seen amazing things diving in the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Bonaire, Aruba, Bahamas, Cozumel, Honduras, Cayman, Cabo and more. I have seen breathtaking reefs, beautiful fish, WWII shipwrecks, octopus, squid, eels, turtles and most recently a Whaleshark! My profile picture was taken in the Great Barrier Reef with my buddy "Wally" the Napoleon Wrasse (I'm the one on the left). The world of diving will take you to places that many people on this earth have never seen and send you off on many adventures if that's what you're looking for.
After doing a fare amount of diving on my own, I have decided to take the steps to be able to share what I love with others and become a PADI SCUBA Instructor. A full time Civil Engineer, I enjoy teaching others how to SCUBA Dive in my spare time. I'm happy to teach all of those who are interested in exploring marine life, experiencing weightlessness, acquiring a new skill, observing history (shipwrecks/artifacts) underwater and making new memories with photography. Many people consider SCUBA Diving to be the closest thing to space exploration. Interested yet? Feel free to stop by.
"The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul." - Wyland
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
When she was a kid growing up in France, Delphine discovered the joys of snorkeling and diving in the Channel as well as the Mediterranean, thanks to her father, who brought her along with him. Fast forward a few years, and she became officially certified as an open water diver in 1993, while living in Florida.Scuba diving became her true passion after she moved to Chicago, of all places. Within a couple of years, she became a divemaster, then open water instructor, and Master Scuba Diver Trainer (PADI MSDT) in 2004. She’s been teaching scuba diving at Underwater Safaris ever since she became a PADI professional.She is trained to teach specialties such as wreck, Nitrox, UW navigation and Search and recovery, to name a few. She has over 1,000 hours of diving experience, both in cold and warms waters (1,400+ dives total). She has also taken interest in technical and deep diving (IANTD technical diver and TDI normoxic trimix diver), as well as cave diving (IANTD cave diver) in the beautiful cave systems of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and the blue holes of the Bahamas. She is told the future lies in rebreather diving… Time will tell whether it catches up with her!Delphine has been a dive volunteer at the Shedd Aquarium since 2001: she is one of the lucky few who get to dive all year round in the oceanarium, alongside pacific white-sided dolphins, belugas whales, sea lions, otters and penguins! She also dives and feeds the tropical fish in the wild reef exhibit, and took part in two fish-collecting expeditions aboard the R/V Coral Reef in the Bahamas in 2005 and 2006 to stock Shedd’s Caribbean exhibit.
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor
I was reborn when I took my first breaths underwater. Like my original birth, my eyes opened wide as I began to explore the new world around me. SCUBA diving gave me a new perspective on many different aspects of life, both above and below the surface. There was no way this could only be something I did on the occasional vacation, so I took advantage of the big pond just East of us and immersed myself both figuratively and literally in diving. The pay off has been seeing wonders relatively few people will ever witness, sharing those experiences with some great people and a desire to explore and discover further, both in and out of the water. Diving may not be as transformative of an experience for everyone as it was with me, but as such a possibility exists, how could anyone not give it a try? Besides, I usually have the best stories about what was done over the weekend.