The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

August 7, 2009

Going deep: Scuba diver utilizes hobby to repair leaky pools

By ARLENE JOHNS

Tom Menna grew up in Massachusetts, just 35 minutes from Cape Cod’s magnificent shores.

But the lure of the unexplored depths of the Atlantic Ocean in his backyard did not lead him to learn to scuba dive.

It wasn’t until after moving to Johnstown in 1982 – hundreds of miles inland – that he was hit with the desire to explore the deep.

Scuba diving lessons were a birthday present from his wife, Chris.

“I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie,” the 49-year-old Menna said. “It was either skydiving or scuba diving and she figured it was the safer of the two.

“I took a class up at Pitt-Johnstown, got certified, and then, I got hooked.”

Although Menna and his diving buddies go on shark dives and explore wrecks, the Westmont resident has found a way to put his hobby to good use right here at home.

He puts his skill and equipment to work locating and patching leaky swimming pools.

Donning his scuba gear, he dives to the bottom of a problem pool for a visual inspection.

After he finds the source of the leak, he repairs it – typically with a vinyl patch.

Menna recalled his most unusual repair job.

“I got called out in the middle of winter to go to a farm in Portage,” he said.

“The ice had frozen over on the (in-ground) pool and a cow had walked across the top of the pool and fell in and drowned.

“They called me up and said, ‘Can you get the cow out of pool?’ ”

Menna’s job that day was to get straps around the bovine so a tractor could pull it out of the water.

Of course, pool repair is not exactly a full-time job in these parts. It really just provides a bit of extra cash for scuba equipment, but it allows Menna to explore the deep – even if it’s a swimming pool only 5 feet deep.

Scuba diving pool repair is just one of his enterprises.

Along with a partner, he also runs the Greyhound bus station in downtown Johnstown.

And he invented and sells a tool to dig fence posts. He and his invention (Bull Digger) were featured several years ago on the PBS series “Ask This Old House.”

Menna also does substitute teaching at Greater Johnstown High School. He said there is no such thing as a bad kid.

“I love every minute of it,” he said. “I would love to teach full time.”

But Menna did not train to teach. He was educated to entertain.

And it was that path that led him to his wife and his future home.

“I came in for a summer to work as a technician and actor at Mountain Playhouse,” he said.

It was during that time that Menna met his future wife, who was doing marketing for the playhouse.

The two have been married 22 years and have an 18-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Menna still dabbles in community theater and recently produced “Dream Girls” for the NAACP. Now and then he has a part in a commercial, and he played Eric Roberts’ bodyguard in “Shannon’s Rainbow,” a movie shot in Pittsburgh.

But he no longer dreams of a career as an actor.

“Theater has become a hobby,” he said. “You get to the point where reality sets in.

“I have a lot of friends in New York City. You live from job to job if you are lucky. That is just not a life for me.”

It was that desire for stability that led the Mennas to settle down near her home.

Menna has no regrets.

“I call Johnstown home,” he said. “I love FolkFest. I love the Chiefs. I am close enough to Pittsburgh that I can do the city if I want to.

“Johnstown is one of those cities that grow on you.”

Menna has a dream for his adopted city.

He would like to see the city embrace “Fire and Water,” an art project similar to one successfully done in Providence, R.I.

Menna envisions large flaming pots floating on downtown rivers. The pots would be sculpted by local artisans.

He thinks the sight of the flames reflected off riverwalls, combined with the sound of music playing and the smell of the burning hardwood, would create an unusual attraction.

He hopes Johnstown’s riverwalk project generates interest in his idea.

He knows it might be a hard sell, but Menna does not shrink from accepting challenges, nor does he hesitate to take risks.

In fact, he even attempted skydiving – despite his wife’s concerns.

It ended badly.

“I snapped the femur,” Menna said of his landing. “I looked down and I was missing a leg. I felt something in my back and it was my heel. I’ve never felt pain like that in my life.

“It was my first jump and last jump, and I’ll never do that again,” he said.

But he has no regrets.

“Everything except the last three seconds was a rush,” he said. “You take a risk in life and you have to live with the consequences.”