An Ocean of Inspiration – The John Olguin Story


Photos left to right: Dr. Barbara Brunnick, co-author of An Ocean of Inspiration-The John Olguin Story; Cabrillo Beach Polar Bears club pays tribute to John Olguin during the annual New Year's Day swim; John Olguin in front of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium the summer before he passed away.


"An Ocean of Inspiration-The John Olguin Story" By Dr. Stefan Harzen, Dr. Barbara Brunnick and Mike Schaadt, Rocky Mountain Books, 2011

Reviewed by C. MacDonald

I can't wait for "An Ocean of Inspiration" to be made into a movie. The fascinating book certainly has the storyline: a poor San Pedro boy with a speech impediment supports his family by shining shoes, delivering newspapers, diving for abalone; turns into a handsome lifeguard, ends up winning a Silver Star saving soldiers' lives in World War II, then returns to battle (and overcome) discrimination, bureaucracy and lack of funds to help create, what started out as a table display of seashells, into the internationally-famous, $3 million dollar Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

This self-taught, "thinking way outside the box," "never say die," "where there's a will there's a way" charismatic character built a phenomenal network of supporters, from well-known museum curators to young school kids to multi-ethnic communities to thousands of dedicated and caring volunteers. As a result, he educated, encouraged and helped make successful numerous World Class scientists, teachers, artists and researchers.

Yes, remarkable, resilient, relentless John Olguin was a lifeguard in and out of the water, saving peoples' lives by teaching them how to dream and do the impossible, no matter what. No wonder one of his volunteers, John Ljubenkov, who became a famed scientist, named a new species of anemone after John, called "Edwardsia olguini."

The unselfish, passionate, focused fellow, once called "the human fish" for his love of ocean swimming, taught thousands about the sea and even created the World's First Whale Watching Program in 1971. This was long before the term "ecotourism," which showed that some species might be saved from destruction through such efforts. Whale watching trips did indeed prove more profitable than whaling (killing whales for meat and by-products).

John also created the first Whale Festival, the first regularly scheduled Grunion Run program (March-July), and directed, what became the award-winning Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro for more than 38 years. More than 300,000 visitors and 150,000 school children visit the incredible aquarium annually.

His sensational wife, Muriel, an acclaimed artist, teacher and mother, who rowed alongside him round trip from San Pedro to Catalina; his network of community/city supporters; his staff and his thousands of volunteers of all ages, helped put the pieces of his jigsaw dreams together. They sometimes had to fight the naysayers, once even testifying to officials just to keep the dreams from being shut down.

This truly inspirational, quality-bound work, which also provides a succinct and splendid account of San Pedro's history, was marvelously written and pieced together by marine scientists, Dr. Stefan Harzen, Dr. Barbara Brunnick and Mike Schaadt, director of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, which is owned by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

The authors wrote with heart and feeling, capturing their many hours of research and interviews that made this literal labor of love blossom like a beautiful flower in spring. They show how John, through his creative mind, positive attitude and unlimited enthusiasm overcame educational, financial, bureaucratic and other obstacles—to achieve his dreams.

His ability to educate, to communicate, to tell riveting stories that were enjoyed, understood, remembered and passed on by 5-year-olds and Ph.Ds, lit fires, creating passions, making John more than a lifeguard–a life changer.

After reading this book, you'll want to visit the hands-on Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and stand in awe at what has been accomplished by John and his friends. You'll never look at the ocean the same again.

(In 2010, my wife, son and I were on Cabrillo Beach admiring a sandcastle, when a man wandered up and befriended us. His eyes sparkled as he talked glowingly about the castle in the sand. That man was John Olguin. He thought all strangers were friends he hadn't met. The following Jan. 1st, we were standing in the sand, not far from where we had talked to him a few months earlier. The Cabrillo Beach Polar Bear Swim was about to start, when a buzz swept through the crowd that John had passed away that morning. But he really will never pass away. He will always be alive in the minds of everyone lucky enough to have known or known about him. This man of the sea was truly an ocean of inspiration.)

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is located at 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro, CA; 310-548-7562;


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