Arriving four years ago in Key West from Greenville, South
Carolina, Patrick Vandenabeele says it’d be safe to say he was lost.
“Some students and Florida Keys Community College alumni twisted my
arm to get back in school.” Vandenabeele reminisced.
He had dropped out in South Carolina, but at their urging,
registered anyway. Electing to take a SCUBA diving class.
“I took my first breath underwater, and that was it,” Patrick
tells The Key West Weekly,
“the experience gave me direction.”
Friday, the board of trustees and college officials dedicated the
James E. Lockwood, Jr. School of Diving and Underwater Technology.
College President Dr. Jill Landesberg-Boyle recalled when she first
caught wind of the donation.
“When I was told there was an email saying, ‘I want to give
$500,000 to the program…’ I said, ‘is it from Nigeria?’”
Dr. Landesberg Boyle has been facing the cutbacks at FKCC
synonymous with the economical crisis. The college is currently
receiving exactly half of the money per student from two years ago.
“But we still had a vision,” says Dr Landesberg-Boyle, “to create
a center in excellence in Marine Science Technologies and
A vision realized by dive legend, James E. Lockwood, Jr., a SCUBA
pioneer who built some of the world’s first rebreathers in the
1930’s. A Wisconsin boy, he opted out of milk and pastures in favor
of nitrous reef whose achievements also include the underwater props
for the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the underwater
camera housing used in the first Tarzan movies.
“Lockwood was ahead of Cousteau,” noted Lockwood Foundation
esquire and Marathon resident John Campbell. “He is an inventor,
businessman, entrepreneur, and archaeologist pioneer.”
Campbell told the crowd he believed Lockwood would have loved the
lagoon, known as “The Point,” and the educational offerings the
college has for our community.
William Chalfant, Director of the James E. Lockwood School of
Diving, is ecstatic over the $1 million gift. He has been scribbling
his wish list over cocktails for the dive school on cocktail napkins
saying, “What if…What if…”
“As funding came in through drug money and seizure money, we
would draw up a few more plans and hallucinate about what was going
to happen,” Chalfant said.
With the dollars now in place Chalfant and his instructors will
fulfill their vision for five areas. (See below)
- Coming soon to the FKCC!
- Expanded recreational diving
- Expanded commercial diving
- Additional classes geared toward research
- Upgrade to the hyper-baric chamber
- More public safety courses for police, Customs Enforcement
Agents, and Homeland Security Agents
“It’s all being made possible, Chalfant drove home, “by the
Lockwood grant. By having money in place we are now able to leverage
Dr. Patrick Rice, Director of the Marine Science Department, is
just as enthusiastic. He will suit up with students and soon begin
mapping the reefs of the Florida Keys.
“I want to put it in Google Earth, so researchers, scientists,
and students around the globe can take a virtual dive to see the
coral,” conveyed Dr. Rice.
Such passion and dedication to the program from instructors like
Rice and Chalfant, Patrick pointed out, is what really kept him
afloat through his courses of study. He feels the money will help
attract other students such as himself … possibly unaware of the
“There’s a certain feeling about putting on a facemask and going
into another world … a world where we are guests. It never ceases to
Patrick Vandenabeele earned his Associates in Science in
Diving Business & Technology from FKCC. From Greenville, SC,
Vandenabeele says his future plans incude teaching at FKCC.
Currently he suits up as dive master and instructor at Eco SCUBA.
William Chalfant told
The Key West Weekly the million big ones will allow
them to branch out in other means of research where the money just
wasn’t available before. “If we want digital cameras, we can go and
Living landlocked as a boy, Dr. Patrick Rice is the
director of the FKCC Marine Science Department. His students will
graduate and immediately submerse themselves in the workforce.
“They’ll going to be able to do some really cool stuff!”
The leading lady at FKCC Dr. Jill Landesberg-Boyle says
the college is working with contractors now to build dorms on “The
Point”, where the School of Diving and Underwater Technology is
situated. Her promise is to make Mr. Lockwood proud.
Members of Diveheart were in the lagoon during parts of
the dedication. Diveheart is an organization which enables disabled
veterans an avenue to enter the water and explore. Their President,
Jim Elliot says the program gives men and women a new found sense of
self. Based in Chicago, they make several trips a year to dive the
Florida Keys and don’t mind leaving Lake Michigan behind.