It's a long way from Fridley's Melody Manor neighborhood to the shipwrecks lying at the bottom of Lake Superior, but Ken Merryman makes that trip almost every weekend, six months a year.
Since 1976, the Fridley resident has operated a scuba charter company, Superior Trips, that offers diving excursions off Minnesota's North Shore and points east. A key attraction for customers is Merryman's expertise in exploring shipwrecks in Superior's clear waters.
Twenty years after starting what his considers his "hobby business," Merryman helped found the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society (GLSPS), a nonprofit organization that works to protect sunken ships from the ravages of time and scavengers.
"A bunch of us [divers] recognized that the shipwrecks were deteriorating and we could do something about it," Merryman said.
They have installed moorings at wreck sites so divers don't do damage by dropping anchors. They've even returned parts of ships taken in the past as souvenirs to the original wreck sites.
Merryman became the organization's first president and continues to serve on the board of directors. The GLSPS still considers his Symphony Street home its official address.
But Merryman's living room isn't really the shipwreck savers' office. "We don't have an office," said current president Phil Kerber. "Our office is Lake Superior."
Shipwrecks and Suburbs
This month, though, when the group won a $4,148 Fast Track grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for an exhibit in Silver Bay of artifacts from a well-known wreck, the Madeira, the award headed to Merryman's Fridley home.
David Grabitske, who manages the program, said the Fast Track fund is now exhausted for 2010 after nearly 500 grants to groups in all 87 Minnesota counties. It's up to the state Legislature whether to continue the program.
The Fridley Historical Society, which Grabitske praised, didn't seek a Fast Track grant, he said. But the Anoka County Historical Society did share a $21,000 Fast Track grant with Hennepin County for a project considerably closer to home than Lake Superior shipwrecks: the history of suburbanization.