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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:
  • 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.

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.
Sales, PADI Divemaster

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 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.

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.


Johnathan Maynard

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer


I got certified in 1996 and immediately fell in love with scuba diving.  I loved it so much that I became a PADI instructor in 2000 and there’s been no stopping me.

In addition to teaching and carving pumpkins under water at Haigh Quarry, I’ve also done dives in the Florida Keys, Cozumel, Belize, Bonaire, the Galapagos and even the Smokey Mountains.  Yes, the Smokey Mountains!

I hope to see you diving soon.


PADI Master Instructor

Growing up in Nebraska, scuba diving was never really something we talked about, the only ocean-esque thing we had was the never-ending sea of cornfields. My first time on scuba was a discover scuba in a pool when I was 10 years old while vacationing in Florida. My desire to get certified was the only thing my 10-year-old brain could think about…for about a week then something else shiny caught my attention.

              Flashforward to 2010 when I came into Underwater Safaris to sign up for confined water. Instantly, I knew I wanted to keep diving and take more classes. The following year I did my Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver and wanted to keep doing more. My original plan was to become a divemaster and stay there but shortly after finishing the course I knew I wanted to continue as a full instructor and work with students more. In May 2013, I passed my instructor exam on a Sunday and was teaching my first confined water class the following Monday. In the decade plus of teaching, I have earned the Master Instructor rating. This allows me to teach everything from Open Water diver through Assistant Instructor as well as plenty of specialty courses from Dry Suit diver to Deep diver, to Zombie Survivalist diver.

Since getting certified, I have been diving on all seven continents and am now trying to dive in all 50 states. Some of my most memorable dives include the diving with fur seals in Antarctica, finding 2mm long nudibranchs in the Philippines, and an abandoned Titan 1 nuclear missile complex in Washington. I look forward to sharing the underwater world with you! 

PADI IDC Staff Instructor

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.

Rick Figueroa
PADI Course Director

Rick is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and has been practicing Attorney for over 20 years. He love’s what he does for a living, but wanted something more.  So in 2012, Rick took his first breath underwater and wondered why he never ventured into the underwater realm earlier in life.  Rick’s love of exploring the mysteries hidden in the ocean depths carries over into his work as a PADI Course Director, taking great pleasure in guiding and mentoring future PADI Instructors. Rick is a passionate technical diver and is certified to teach over 20 PADI core and specialty courses.  As an Instructor Trainer, Rick can certify instructors to teach 24 PADI specialty courses, as well as the Emergency First Response core and Instructor courses.  Rick takes an innovative and real-world approach to teaching by building on what makes you successful in work and life.  Rick is committed to staying at the forefront of the scuba diving industry because you deserve the best preparation and education available.

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 Open Water Scuba Instructor

I began my diving career back in 2013 when I walking into Underwater Safaris as a Groupon Discover Scuba. I quickly feel in love with diving and became an Open Water Diver in February 2014. After a few trips to Cozumel, Bahamas and Key West  I quickly realized I wanted to expand my scuba skills. I did Advanced and Rescue in 2015 and then after trips to Fiji, Cozumel and Egypt went for my Dive Master the following year in 2016 I became an instructor.  Scuba has opened up travel, adventure and education in ways that cannot be experienced in any other way.  Happy Diving 



PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor

Hi, I’m Alex! I’ve been diving since 2014 and teaching SCUBA since 2018. I moved to Chicago from Baton Rouge in 2020 to begin grad school and joined UWS shortly after. Prior to joining UWS, I was trained through the NAUI program. I crossed-over to become a PADI instructor with the help of Marianne and Rick. My favorite place to dive is Cozumel (Haigh Quarry is a close second). As someone who also gets cold easily, I love diving in the UWS indoor heated pool, and I bet you will too! I hope to see you in one of my classes soon!

Tom Mendel

PADI Master Instructor

“Jaws” came out in 1976 and it scared me so much that I tell folks I didn’t go near water for almost 2 years. (Maybe a slight exaggeration). As a full time musician, I was playing a gig in Freeport, Grand Bahamas in 1978 (or 1979 - memory fails me. There was a scuba shop near my hotel which said learn to scuba dive for $50. The shop was Unexso (Underwater Explorers Society) and they had a salt water pool with one side made of glass so you could watch the classes. I signed up for a “Discover Scuba Diving” class and did a couple of ocean dives. I was hooked. For years I’d take a vacation in the Caribbean and continue taking DSD classes and diving. Finally, I had enough and got certified. 

I decided to become a Divemaster and then in 1995 I became a PADI Open Water Instructor. I’ve been teaching since then. I feel really honored that Marianne and her late husband, Saul, allowed me to teach at Underwater Safaris as an independent instructor. I’ve been also teaching for Underwater Safaris and really enjoy it.

I became a PADI Master Instructor in 2006 and have accumulated over 2,500 dives and taught hundreds of students.

It’s a pleasure to teach for Underwater Safaris.


Hannah Pellouchord

PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor

I have loved the water since I was a kid! Some combination of books, the Little Mermaid, and the Barbie Ocean Discovery computer game sparked an obsession with dolphins that grew into a lifelong affinity for all underwater creatures. My journey with diving started with this recurring dream I had about diving with whales that was so wonderful I booked a trip to Thailand to try it out. Breathing under water was as magical as I had anticipated, and I was instantly hooked. The sensation of weightlessness, the comfort of being held by the water, the peace of hearing only breath and the crackling of marine life, and the endless richness of those ecosystems. I continued diving for a few years as I traveled, and then did my divemaster and instructor training in Utila, Honduras in 2022.


Foundational to my love of diving is my passion for conservation. I have a B.A. in Environmental Studies, and love to share the wonders of the underwater world with others and to raise awareness about the threats to it, in the hope we collectively learn to be better stewards of this incredible planet.


Some of my most memorable dives include: encountering a whale shark in Koh Tao, exploring Mexican cenotes, and diving off a sailboat across the BVI's. I look forward to a lifetime of exploration, contribution and growth underwater!


Spencer Brown

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer

Spencer’s passion for scuba began during his Open Water course in the lagoons of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, where he fell in love with the immersive & colorful experience that allowed him to disconnect from the world above. As a Master Scuba Diver Trainer, Spencer endeavors to share this experience with his students and encourage their discovery of this yet-unseen, deeply profound, and ever fascinating world. His professional career began in Costa Rica, where he was a guide and instructor in the pacific waters of Manuel Antonio National Park and the famous Caño Island, off the coast of Corcovado National Park. In addition to scuba & snorkeling, Spencer enjoys apnea, and distance swimming. Scuba diving enables his exploration of incredible corners of the world, from the waters of West Papua, to the Galápagos Islands, the Açores, and beyond. At writing, Spencer is currently diving in the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On land Spencer has a nerd-level obsession with attending techno, trance, and house music events. 


Phillip Aguet

PADI Asst. Instructor

Phil has been diving for 27 years gaining his initial certification at age 12 and his Divemaster on his 18th birthday. Phil has extensive family connections to the beautiful country of Belize and was lucky enough to have regular access to training and amazing dive sites from a young age.  Phil was born and raised in Long Beach, California and worked as a scuba manager for Sport Chalet between trips to Belize working as a Divemaster.   Phil also served as a volunteer exhibit diver at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and as a salvage diver for the Pacific Tugboat Service.  Phil loves the draw of the open ocean and has spent time sailing, openwater distance swimming and focusing his most recent dive adventures on reef conservation.  In the coming year, with his background as a Firefighter and Paramedic, Phil will be returning to the dive-rescue world attending some of the offshore racing events scheduled for California and the surrounding western states. Phil loves helping to introduce people to the underwater world and focuses his effort on refreshers, tune-ups and discover scuba experiences. 


Lotte Twaalfhoven

PADI Divemaster

Hi, I'm Lotte. I am a Padi Divemaster and former aquarist. I have always loved being in the water and marine life so diving felt like the best combination of both worlds and after taking my first breath underwater I was hooked. I absolutely love diving and traveling to new cool destinations. I don't necessarily have one favorite dive location but I love diving with sharks. So if there are sharks in the water, you will find me there too. As a divemaster I love helping out with scuba classes and guiding people through the underwater world.