Ennis Johnson

​We frequently express how much we appreciate and value the individuals who share precious personal time to work with us and how our mission succeeds in large part because of our amazing volunteers.

As we enter the time of year when we tend to reflect and are inspired to give a bit more, we want to shine a light on one such individual. From his lengthy career here in Virginia Beach and in the Virgin Islands, to keeping busy as a family man, proudly holding the roles of grandpa and great-grandpa, Ennis Johnson exemplifies what it means to give of oneself.

This past September we had the privilege of honoring Mr. Johnson, a retired land surveyor, for his ten thousand hours of volunteer service to the Virginia Aquarium. In a special ceremony surrounded by just a few close family members and friends, we presented him with a special bench that had been paid for by the Virginia Aquarium Volunteer League. Only nine of these milestone benches have ever been presented, making the occasion quite memorable.

Throughout his extensive time with us, Mr. Johnson has served in various capacities. He started in 2009 working with the dive team and eventually participated in a variety of roles on our fishes team. He enjoyed feeding the sharks, turtles, rays, and horseshoe crabs and even had opportunities to participate in their physical exams. In addition to working directly with animals, Mr. Johnson was incredibly helpful with actual exhibit work. He helped in building the exhibits for the new Chesapeake Bay Aquarium and in dismantling and relocating the Indian Exhibit from the old Marsh Building (now South Building) to the storage area for the Historical Houses. Today, in addition to volunteering with the fishes team, he is an Aquarium employee with our security team, a role he started in April 2013.

It is no doubt that Mr. Johnson has created quite a collection of memories of all kinds over his 10 years working with us. One memory that is especially heartwarming involves a young girl visiting the Aquarium with her mom on Christmas Eve. Ennis had been asked to make an unscheduled dive as Santa. He would often make a special connection with visitors when he removed his SCUBA mouthpiece to make a figure-8 of air bubbles off to the side. When he did this on that memorable day, the little girl’s face lit up with a huge smile! While the signature trick had entertained many in the past, it wasn’t until after his dive that he learned exactly why she had been so delighted. You see, the little girl had been explaining to her mom that the Santa in the aquarium wasn’t the real Santa because he didn’t have a white beard. But, when Ennis removed his mouthpiece, his bright white beard was revealed, and the little girl’s imagination sparked.

Ennis with Fishes png

When Ennis Johnson is asked what his favorite thing is about working at the Virginia Aquarium, he quickly responds that it is the people. He says that the staff and volunteers are some of the most dedicated and nicest people with whom he has had the pleasure of working. We have to agree that the Aquarium family is pretty special.

*Proper precautions were made to see that all attendees were socially distanced/wearing face-coverings.

While we are not taking on new volunteers until 2021 if you have an interest in learning more about how you can get involved stay tuned to our website or email our volunteer offices at aquavols@virginiaaquarium.com. If you sign up for our regular emails you will learn about special volunteer opportunities that we have as well. Chat with someone at our Guest Services desk during your next visit. We look forward to meeting you!