Whitey (Walter) Stefens
This will be the first Father’s Day, without my Dad, Whitey (Walter) Stefens. A memorial is scheduled this Sunday, on June 18, from 4 to 7 pm, in the Koa Lanai, upstairs Chuck’s Waterfront Grill. This is a no-host event.
Dad accomplished so much during his 89-years of life. Born in Pennsylvania, he had a dream of becoming a Deep Sea Diver. As a young teenager, he began working as a line tender for his father, an early construction diver. He also worked as a rigger in an east coast shipyard.
On January 31, 1948, Dad was only 20 years old when he married Mom, “Isabelle Stefens.” Within 2-years of marriage, Dad applied, and was accepted, to attend a Deep Diving School in California – and they had their 1st of 8 children!
In 1950, with only $20 in his pocket and big determination in his spirit, he started his journey across the United States alone, in his 1936 Chrysler. He worked his way from the east coast to the west coast, taking a variety of jobs to earn enough money to support Mom and to complete his trip. Through this experience he became an accomplished mechanic and developed invaluable work ethic.
Dad made it to California and rented a room for $8 per week. Then he got an apartment in Wilmington, located near the diving school. Dad, Mom and their baby shared this tiny apartment with 2 other diving students. While Dad attended diving school, he also worked for Douglas Aircraft, making $1.25 per hour. Mom said, “THESE WERE GREAT DAYS! None of us had any money, we shared the cooking and mostly ate macaroni or pancakes.”
Dad became an abalone diver. Wealth did not come easy. He was color blind which made it even harder for him to find abalone. Dad became known for his determination – he would never give up! He also operated a fishing boat and trapped lobster. As a young child, I remember growing up with very little money, but always having plenty of lobster and abalone to eat.
Between 1949 to 1963, Dad and Mom were blessed with 8 children. Between 1959 to 1962, my parents tragically lost 3 of these children. Before I turned 5 years old, I lived through the death of my 3 brothers. I witnessed tremendous grief in my family, along with amazing love. This experience has graced my life to appreciate each day and live every moment.
In 1964, Dad moved his family to Santa Barbara. He worked with Lad Handleman, Dan Wilson, Bob Ratclif to design and use, gas diving equipment. They found great success in the oil industry as General Offshore Divers, and became Cal Divers, formerly known as Ocean Systems. Whitey remained at the helm until the early 1990s.
Dad purchased a working barge and named it, “ISABELLE.” It made me smile to see this barge in the Santa Barbara Harbor with Mom’s name. For 62½ years, Dad kept his marriage commitment, up until Mom passed on September 25, 2011.
Whitey’s claim to fame was his many innovative and well-structured underwater pipeline hookups. His mechanical genius and tenacity helped to save much of our offshore oil industry. One of his great accomplishments, is the containment tent that was successfully placed over a well blow out off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969.
In 2007, Walter Stefens was inducted in the Commercial Diving Hall of Fame. Photos of Dad are on display at the Waterfront Grill with more history, videos and information at the Maritime Museum in Santa Barbara.
Dad also enjoyed wood working. He perfected skills to build tables, chairs, cabinets, desks, playhouses, boats and anything he could imagine. Family and friends now have in their homes, Dad’s one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted furniture. Dad created wooden plaques and benches for me, that I have painted designs on through the years. My Father has inspired me more than anyone, to pursue art and follow my dreams. He has given me, and many others, the tools, inspiration and encouragement to be creative.
I thank God for my Dad, and for all those Dads out there, working to inspire the children in their lives. With so much LOVE, Karen Putnam
Though this Father’s Day presentation was done for Dad in 2010, it represents current memories of thanks. To view, copy and paste this link: http://bit.ly/2soOKUy