Eye on Orvis–Changing and Healing Through Fly Fishing

Written by: Laurie Barrett

Diane shows off a nice trout caught on a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Welcome to the August edition of “Eye on Orvis” where each month, we focus on an associate or team that embodies the heart of Orvis.

This month, we feature Diane Wantz, who began working for Orvis in 2020 as a part-time, seasonal associate.  She now serves as the Fishing Lead in our Cleveland, Ohio store, and her journey is nothing short of remarkable.

Prior to joining the Orvis team, Diane spent four decades as a dedicated dental hygienist, ensuring the health of countless smiles. But there was always a spark of adventure within her that yearned for something beyond the dental office. Little did she know that a chance visit to an Orvis store would be the start of a new chapter in her life, one that would allow her to fuel her passion for giving back through the Orvis partnership with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF).

PHWFF is a non-profit organization that uses fly fishing as a means of rehabilitation for injured and disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans. It began in 2005, serving military service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center returning form combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, more than 8,000 veterans have been introduced to the healing properties of nature and fly fishing, with hundreds of PHWFF programs throughout the country and thousands of volunteers.  It was shortly after the PHWFF inception that the group was introduced to Orvis, and our support was immediate. From the initial introduction, through today, we have been a proud contributor to PHWFF and have seen the organization expand nationwide, establishing its highly successful program in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.  It has become recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of outdoor recreation for the disabled, applying fly fishing as a rehabilitation tool…and we’re thrilled when our associates are involved. 

Diane with veterans at a collaborative event between two PHWFF programs.

As fate would have it, Diane walked into the Orvis Cleveland store on a whim, tagging along with a friend who was in the market for a new fly rod. As her friend was being helped by an associate, Diane struck up a conversation with the store manager. In search of a new purpose post-retirement, Diane felt a door opening and decided to take advantage of it, completing a job application on the spot. This moment of serendipity has evolved into an impactful relationship, benefitting her abilities both within PHWFF and Orvis.

In the weeks and months that followed, Diane listened to coaching from fellow associates and learned about the retail experience. Simultaneously, she delved into the world of fly fishing. She attended workshops, read books, and with the help of friends, practiced her fly-fishing skills in nearby streams. Her husband, thrilled by her newfound interest, now looks forward to the fly-fishing destination trips they enjoy together! Diane’s hands, once accustomed to dental tools, now manipulate deer hair, hooks, and marabou when she teaches disabled veterans the intricacies of fly tying. Her ability to be a “trusted guide” in her former career transitioned easily into making impactful connections with store customers. 

Last Spring, Diane was promoted to Fishing Lead in our Cleveland Store. She had seen firsthand how the rhythm of casting a line and the patience required to lure a fish provides a therapeutic escape for traumatized veterans.  In her free time, Diane now leads her team of volunteers and, most importantly, lends an ear and a voice to those in the program. Her genuine compassion creates a safe space for service-connected warriors to share stories, triumphs, and struggles.

Orvis remains collaborative and supportive of PHWFF, both on the national and local levels.  As the PHWFF/Willoughby Program Lead and Midwest Deputy Regional Coordinator, Diane continues that spirit by focusing on collaborations with other PHWFF programs where participants and volunteers gather to work through the Core Program activities, including fly tying, rod building, casting, education and outings. The Orvis FF101 curriculum is a valuable resource that is routinely utilized, and volunteers and guest speakers round out the curriculum by sharing their local fly-fishing experiences and knowledge. There is no cost, and through shared experiences, participants find camaraderie and understanding that transcend individual hardships.

Diane took part in a tree-planting at Veterans Park this spring to help restore a native brook trout stream.

Diane’s own life has been transformed through her involvement with PHWFF. She has found a greater sense of fulfillment in giving back, and her connection with the organization and its members has enriched her life in ways she could not have imagined. The stories of resilience and shared moments of triumph inspire her to continue her work with unwavering passion. She has developed a much greater appreciation for what veterans have endured, and the battle to work with both physical and mental disabilities. And while the transition from working as a dental hygienist to retirement to a return to full-time work was not without its challenges, her skillset in helping others has allowed her to find a new way to touch lives.  Diane knows PHWFF is so much more than fishing. It’s about saving lives.

As for her work at Orvis, Diane’s proudest moments include those times when she recognizes she is still learning. This lends itself to the advice she would give anyone considering a career at Orvis, especially post-retirement. “Don’t quit because where you think you are in your career,” she says. “There was a significant learning curve for me: learning to fly-fish, using retail systems. It’s just life speaking to you.”  

Diane has ridden a camel in Morocco, flown in a cloth airplane with her father, swam with stingrays while scuba diving off the coast of the Cayman Islands . . . and now has learned to fly-fish.  “Doors are readily available,” she goes on to say. Orvis is a great place to combine your passions with your work. I’m exactly where I was meant to be, now bridging the gap between nature’s serenity and the hearts that need it most.”

For more information about Project Healing Waters Fly-Fishing and to find your local program, please visit the organization’s website: projecthealingwaters.org

Laurie Barrett is the National Recruiting Specialist for Orvis.

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