Geoff Thielst fundraising for Bob Christensen Memorial Scholarship

Geoff Thielst

From Geoff Thielst

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Bob Christensen dedicated his lifework to commercial diving  and training and educating others. We have established a memorial scholarhsip in his memory to live in perpetuity if we can raise $20,000.  All contributions are tax deductable as they are going into the Christensen Memorial Scholarship Fund at Santa Barbara City College where Bob Taught from 1969-1985.  He changed many young lives and launched many successful careers.  We lost the best of the best from that era in diving.

I am Don Barthelmess and I a professor of Marine Diving Technology at Santa Barbara City College.

There is little that I can say about Bob that many reading this don’t already know.  He was someone we all loved and had a tremendous amount of respect for.  

I first met Bob in 1989, when I was hired by the college to teach in the Marine Tech Program.  Even though Bob was recently retired from the college- he took an interest in me and I drew upon him as a resource for over 25 years. 

My good friend and colleague at SBCC, Mike Von Alvensleben mentored me along in my early years and helped me build a teaching identity.  Mike taught me many things back then that have stayed with me to this day. I soon found out that Mike was mentored in a similar way, by Bob Christensen. It’s the way we do things at Marine tech.

Bob hired Mike back in 1982.  The two of them continued to work together with Kirby-Morgan long after their SBCC days.

Bob once told me that the secret to instruction is to coach and not teach- “Create the situations where students can discover things on their own and build a structure from real experiences.”  His approach was anything but instructor-centered.  He was years ahead of the contemporary educators.

I quickly discovered that this was a man who knew both diving and education, yet I had no idea of how accomplished he was in so many areas.  As I became more involved with the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, I learned more and more about Bob' s commercial diving firsts. He would never tell you about what he did- you had to ask. Chris Swann wrote a book on the History of Oilfield diving and Bob’s contributions to our industry are documented forever.

Bob was a friend and mentor to many throughout his career. Widely regarded by commercial, recreational and military divers, alike, Bob always shared his knowledge and expertise for the benefit of others.

He was one of the early pioneers of deep mixed-gas commercial diving that evolved in Santa Barbara in the early 1960s. He was one of the original test divers of the Purisima diving bell, the world’s first commercial lockout diving bell launched in this harbor in 1964.  He later was a test diver for Union Carbide in Tonawanda, NY for deep experimental mixed gas dives.

In 1969, he left the booming deep-water commercial diving field to help establish the Marine Technology Program as one of the original tenured instructors. He succeeded the late Ramsey Parks as Program Director from 1980 to 1985 and then retired.  

Bob helped design and improve most of the modern day commercial diving gear used in the industry today.  Along with Kirby-Morgan, he also helped design several of the functional diving helmets used on Hollywood movie sets.

What is most impressive about Bob is that he was so humble, and un-complicated.  There was no BS with Bob. When he spoke, he spoke the truth.

After graduating from Santa Barbara High School, Bob received his undergraduate degree from USC, and then served in the U.S. Navy. He added to his diving experience by attending Navy Dive School. He was a member of the elite Underwater Demolition Team 11 which is now the U.S. Navy SEAL Team.  Additionally, Bob was a father, husband, grandfather, great grandfather and most importantly- a true gentleman.

Up until this past year, Bob routinely participated in SBCC diving outings with our aspiring young divers. 

His mere presence was a priceless addition to the unique instructional process of the Marine Diving Technology Program.  Bob Christensen exemplified the excellence of SBCC faculty.

Another well known Santa Barbara diving Pioneer, Lad Handelman, wrote: By his sheer presence, on-the-job or off-the-job Christensen made us want to be better men.  When he was in the mix, we wanted to perform better and act better- our image got better- and thus the reputation of our emerging industry got better.”


“Many of us made contributions, inventions, technology, and so forth.  Bob Christensen brought intangibles. 

“He brought integrity, quality workmanship and the purest of fellowship.  I know of not a single human being who did not like and respect him. “

Fellow abalone diver and Santa Barbara marine expert Peter Howorth wrote in the Santa Barbara News Press: “ Bob was always a pleasure to be around. He had a tremendous depth of knowledge, but he never flaunted it. If he liked something, he would praise it. He would offer advice when asked but would never force it on anyone.”

 “Bob inspired generations of divers, perhaps imbuing in them what is truly meant by being a gentleman.”

On behalf of the college and the community, thank you Bob- for all you have done for diving and education.  Job well done!  We will all miss him and will continue the legacy he left for us to build upon.  Pease help us establish this $20,000.00 endowment with your donation.  Every bit helps.  

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