She’s been the one singing in a Santa suit while scuba diving in the Aquarium’s Great Kelp Forest. She’s been rocking the Castroville Artichoke Queen tiara years after winning it. She’s been stepping into leadership roles for her hometown chamber of commerce, American Cancer Society and Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control board for years.
So when Linda Grier is honored by her peers at the Aquarium’s annual volunteer diver cioppino feed, receiving the Wendell Ayers Inspirational Diving Leader Award for 2014, she’s surprisingly shy. No acceptance speech. Just this, as she hustles offstage: “When I find out who was behind this… ”
The declaration is revealing. She hasn’t been scrubbing glass and leading feedings for 20 years – some 1,500 dives, or what one Aquarium dive staffer calls “a crazy level of commitment” – for the spotlight or the Santa suit. (The main reasons she sang, she says, are because she could do it anonymously behind a facemask, and the underwater mic would muffle her voice, as she sang, “We wish you a Merry Fishmas and a Happy Wolf Eel.”)
At the time, she was a fourth-grade teacher. Diving was a getaway from her hectic daily routine. “Phones don’t work underwater,” she says. “There are no lesson plans. Don’t mess with it.”
In Monterey Bay and then the Aquarium’s tanks, she found calm and sway. And she could still blow bubbles and make faces at the children while she cleaned the tanks and led feeding shows.
But make no mistake: Between the wet and the cold and the gear schlepping, volunteering for 20 years is no vacation.
It wasn’t her only volunteer gig (on top of the day job, which has since transitioned from teaching to property management with her family’s firm). She has also helped with Salinas Rodeo, the local Red Cross, the Castroville Chamber, American Cancer Society, Castroville Artichoke Festival, the water pollution board and the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital Foundation, each for years at a time. “Not all at once!” she says, “it sounds like more than it is!”
Still, she squeezed in time to backpack and scuba dive all over the world, with a trash collection bag in hand.
Back at the Aquarium, she captains a volunteer A-team on Tuesday nights as she has for 14 years, organizing parties and a squad for Children’s Miracle Network’s Dance Dash 5K as she goes. She’s also a conduit for Children’s Miracle Network’s involvement with the Day of Discovery, which takes developmentally disabled kids snorkeling and scuba diving.
Retired teacher Gary Tanaka, a member of her Tuesday team, has been diving with Grier for two decades. “What impresses me most is her simple, caring nature combined with her actions to do the right thing,” he says. “She has a compassion for others and animals, and she commits herself to making things better.”
Grier insists it’s not so much herself, but her family that makes her go: “My mom raised me with the understanding, ‘You will go, you will do.’”
Now she’s radiating that message with her volunteer work, her diving and her parenting. “Now my son says, ‘I will go and I will do,’” she says. “There’s lots to be done.”