When a vandal dumped bleach in several aquariums at Underwater World in Helena, Montana, owner Bob Kavajecz was left with over $8,000 of damage and the loss of many rare fish and corals but most of all was left with his hopes and livelihood crushed. Contemplating shuttering his business in the wake of the devastation a simple letter and the support of the industry is giving him hope and the ability to go on.
The two-page, handwritten letter by high school senior Jesse Frohreich was just the motivation Kavajecz needed. See Frohreich wasn’t a regular customer or an avid supporter of the hobby, he was merely a young man who saw Kavajecz on a local news station prior to the tragedy and admired the passion Kavajecz exuded. Underwater World was highlighted on the local NBC affiliate as a “Class Act” for going above and beyond sharing the knowledge of marine biology and the unique animals we see in the hobby to the youth of Helena and offering aquariums to be included in the local hospital as a way to help the healing process.
As most businesses struggle in this economy, an $8,000 hit would easily close many businesses making it hard to come back from a huge financial and emotional setback. Kavajecz even posted on his website, “With this much carnage I wanted to close the store. After recieving this letter I had a change of heart. Because I was touched so deeply that I feel that I must share this letter with you.”
This letter acknowledged all that Kavajecz has done adding, “Your strength and persevering through what many may be a life shattering ordeal has taught me, along with an entire town stricken by countless tragedies, that there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.”
“I greatly wish there was some way I could help you but alas, I have nothing. If I were rich, I would give you financial assistance. If I were an artist, I would paint you a picture. I am merely a lower-middle class, college bound high school senior with one message,” adds Frohreich. “Through all the overwhelming darkness you are in, know that there is a twinkle of light. Your passion cannot be broken and you will overcome.”
Through community support from people like this and the outreach of the entire saltwater industry, Underwater World looks to be back on track and working to stay open. Manufacturers, vendors and wholesalers across the entire industry are sending donations to Kavajecz to help him keep the store alive. Companies such as CaribSea and NextReef have donated product and wholesalers like Oceans Seacrets are donating livestock to help offset the cost the damage has done.
“I saw the story on these guys on a Saturday afternoon when it happened and you had to feel bad for the guy. I knew if we took at $7,000-8,000 loss, we’d be almost be out of business,” said David Underwood, co-owner of NextReef with his wife Amanda. “Right after that we sent a box of product his way to put on his shelf hoping it would help and he could make a little money. He’s one of us and needed the help.”
While we hope they catch the vandal that did this, we are more excited to see the saltwater aquarium hobby stand up and take care of one of its own. It’s tough to see any component of the industry — hobbyist, store, manufacturer, vendor, wholesaler — fall on hard times but its refreshing to see others step in and help when they can.
Anyone looking to send donations or letters of support, feel free to contact Underwater World at 1018 Custer Ave W. #8, Helena, MT 59602 or by phone at (406) 461 7338.