Submarine museum's first woman director is ready to make history

Gretchen Dare is the newly named executive director of the Submarine Force Library and Museum Association. She is seen in front of the museum in Groton.
Gretchen Dare is the newly named executive director of the Submarine Force Library and Museum Association. She is seen in front of the museum in Groton. Tim Cook photo

Gretchen Dare is an expert in finance, fundraising and marketing. Now, she said, she is learning everything she can about submarine history.

“For me personally, I want to know everything I can about what it is that I’m building,” she said.

Dare is the new executive director of the Submarine Force Library and Museum Association, the non-profit organization that financially supports the library and museum in Groton. The museum is the only submarine museum operated by the Navy and it is home to the Historic Ship Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.

Dare is the first woman, and the first person who is not a Navy veteran, to hold the job.

“A lot of the job functions they need me to perform are second nature,” she said. “The biggest challenge initially in this new environment is that I’m working with Navy personnel, which I’ve never done, in a museum atmosphere, which I’ve never done, and I’m working with naval history, which I’ve never done.”

David M. Goebel, a retired rear admiral and president of the association, said Dare has a mix of capabilities and experiences that few naval officers would have, and those were the characteristics they wanted in the next executive director. She was chosen out of more than 20 people who applied for the job.

“She’s up to it. She’s a very strong lady and she’s got a good business head on her shoulders,” Goebel said. “The first impressions are extremely favorable so we’re looking for great things.”

Her selection for the job comes at the same time the submarine force is assigning women to serve on submarines for the first time.

“The membership (of the association) already knows there are women in the service so a woman in charge of this is not something you would expect to be rejected,” Goebel said. “It’s something they would say, ‘Okay, fine, if that’s the best person, that’s the best person. Let’s get on with it.’”

Dare is a Waterford native. She graduated from Waterford High School in 1990 and the University of Connecticut in 1994. Her mother still lives in Waterford. Dare lives in Deep River with her daughter Alexi, a sophomore at UConn, and her son Jake, a junior at Valley Regional High School. She is engaged to Tiger Marion, a singer in the band The Shiny Lapel Trio.

Dare has 20 years of experience in finance, management, business and marketing. She said she was hired at Soundings Publications, LLC, in 2002 as the business development manager, and later was promoted to circulation and business director for the parent company, Dominion Enterprises. She most recently was the general manager of Dominion’s Essex office.

In 2011 Dare left the corporate world to open a barbecue restaurant in New London with Marion, Dagwood’s Kansas City BBQ. But the restaurant had limited seating and did not get much foot traffic at its Montauk Avenue location and closed in 2012.

Dare was pursuing her passion for art when she saw the posting for the executive director job. She said she could not believe her luck because other companies that were hiring wanted someone who would just do finance or just do marketing. At the museum, all of her experiences over the past 20 years could be put to use in one job, Dare added.

In her new role, Dare said she is focused on starting new fundraising campaigns and bringing in new exhibits so that people will keep coming back to the museum. She said she is grateful the association picked her.

“I think they wanted to do something different and I think that says a lot about them,” Dare said. “I honestly feel honored that they are trusting me with the job and think that I can do it.”

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