Article by John Tapley; Photo Credit Michael Penwarden
Last year, the global dive community inexpediently lost one of its most beloved members. Irene (Rene) Applegate, known affectionately as“Apple” to loved ones, passed in August 2017, leaving a longstanding legacy in the world aquatic – and in the hearts and minds of her friends and family. In honor of her accomplishments and strong rapport, her dive operation, Dive Paradise of Cozumel, Mexico, toured throughout the western United States this summer: sharing favorite moments and experiencing how she impacted scuba diving.
“She was an icon in the dive world: a member of the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame; she ran Dive Paradise Cozumel for 25 years,” explains Michael Penwarden, Apple’s nephew and Dive Paradise CEO. “When she passed away unexpectedly last year, my family and myself agreed the best way to honor Apple was to continue Dive Paradise and carry what she built forward: such a large and well- known dive operation on the island; traditions caring for animals and environmental education.
While continuing Dive Paradise operations, Penwarden worked diligently on a project to illustrate Apple’s life in motion. Alongside his sister Carolina, aunts Belina and Nina, and cousin Melanie, Penwarden formed a lasting tribute: a road trip where family and dive associates joined in celebration.
“I’ve spent the last year getting to know the [dive] operations, attending dive shows, and meeting as many people as I could – stepping into this business and learning,” explains Penwarden. “We wanted to do that in a way that celebrated her legacy: an opportunity to meet as many as her customers and partnered dive shops as possible, and a way to introduce ourselves to the diving industry on the whole.”
Transporting the entourage while illustrating Apple’s legacy was a 32- foot RV meticulously painted by Mexican muralist Aneliz Alvarez (who also painted a mural to Apple at Dive Paradise’s upcoming beach club). Adorned with sea creatures, coral, and a diver, the RV prominently displays an octopus proudly holding an apple – enveloping her zest for adventure and appreciation of oceanic life.
The tour kicked off June 21 in Penwarden’s hometown in Truckee, California, and made its way to the Long Beach Dive Show. From there, it traveled to San Diego, Los Angeles, and set its trek eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Following this southwestern stretch of the trip, the traveling legacy toured through Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, then up to Oregon and Washington; its final trek back to California. All in all, the tour visited 19 scuba diving organizations, and stopped at a few impromptu events such as an undersea conservation music festival.
For Penwarden, who was accompanied by his sister, wife Jill, and daughters Sasha and Anya, the tour unveiled his aunt’s dedication and the many people she touched.
“A lot of people have been sending out positive vibes and telling us stories about Apple, and for me, it’s amazing. I knew her as my adventurous aunt who lived in Saudi Arabia and was an emergency room nurse; then to Cozumel where she built this big dive operation.
“Until this happened, I hadn’t connected with the community on this level. It’s been humbling, amazing, and intense: to see how many people she touched and had deep friendships with; and how much impact she had on Cozumel and the diving industry.”
Apple’s devotion to the sea began in 1976 when she joined the Aqua Tutus Skin and Scuba Diving classes at Chabot College in Hayward, California. From there, she learned and explored waters off California and earned her certificate the following week. She continued to learn more about the diving world through Bamboo Reef while taking several additional certification classes. Following a travel nursing job, she was hired as a manager at Dive Paradise in 1986. After owner Tom Hartdegen’s death in 1994, she took the reigns and successfully expanded the business. Today Dive Paradise is one of the island’s largest dive operations, with four locations.
Through the works of Apple’s friends and family, her legacy continues to shine; and the roving museum dedicated to her life will make additional tours in the future. This fall, the RV will visit destinations in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and the San Francisco Bay area, and will stop at this year’s Diving Equipment Manufacturing Association (DEMA) show held in Las Vegas in November.
”She built it from a small shop… to a much bigger presence,” says Penwarden. “To have been that much of a badass and at the same time someone who is so well loved and appreciated… the outpouring of love for her [has been] amazing.”
For more information on Dive Paradise and upcoming tours, visit www.diveparadise.com.