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One On 1: Intrepid Executive Director Susan Marenoff

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The Intrepid has a rich history, but it had a day Monday that its officials would probably like to forget. The beginning of the ship's scheduled two-year restoration project in Bayonne and on Staten Island started badly when the Intrepid became mired in 17 feet of mud. One of those who will be working on the problem is the museum's executive director, Susan Marenoff, the subject of this week’s One on 1 with Budd Mishkin.

Susan Marenoff is moving into a temporary new office and some pretty important people are involved in moving her old office.

“FDNY, NYPD, the Coast Guard, Homeland Security,” said Marenoff.

That’s what happens when your old office is a 27,000 ton ship, the Intrepid. There was optimism in the days leading up to the Intrepid's scheduled move across the river.

"This is pretty awesome, that it's never been done, we're the team responsible for it. It's going to be successful,” said Marenoff. “I can't wait for it to happen."

But Marenoff will have to wait, because the Intrepid never made it out of 17 feet of mud.



As if preparing for the Intrepid's move wasn't enough to create a little anxiety, she spent the previous Sunday getting married.

“In pure honesty I was only thinking about my future husband and my wedding,” said Marenoff, when asked whether she had the Intrepid on her mind that day.

The plan still calls for the intrepid to journey to Bayonne and then Staten Island for two years of restoration. It's been an interesting journey for Marenoff in her career — a longtime sports executive who now runs one of New York's biggest tourist attractions and one of the most famous ships in the United States fleet.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd be learning about pile driving, dredging, about any of these things, but it keeps things stimulating,” said Marenoff.

How does one go from working at the Garden, the Women's Tennis Association and then as general manager of the New York Power women's soccer team to running the Intrepid?



Before she was named executive director this year, Marenoff was brought in as a marketing director in 2003.

"The ship is like your team and you have to market your team,” said Marenoff. “Your visitors are your fans, you have to get fans in the seats, visitors in the doors and a message has to get out. And so we had to get a message out about a team, we had to get a message out about the Intrepid.”

While Marenoff's focus is understandably on the future, the past is never really past on the Intrepid. The ship was active during Korea and Vietnam, but it is most closely associated with World War II, when it survived five kamikaze attacks.



Crew members often visit the ship and tell its story to younger generations. So even on a beautiful day, it doesn't take much to imagine that life on this ship was once utter hell.

"If you were standing there, however many years ago, a kamikaze would have hit you right there,” said Marenoff. “You wouldn't be alive today. And I think that raises the hair on the back of everybody's neck and says this is really amazing, and what these guys did, what these crew members did, to help save lives and help save Intrepid is beyond fascinating."

The Intrepid hosts exercises during Fleet Week. There are ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. A ceremony in 1993 to honor the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the ship, and a few years later, the unveiling of a statue depicting the famous scene at Iwo Jima.



Thousands of visitors come aboard every year.

And yet Marenoff says there is work to be done in spreading the message about the Intrepid.

"It needed to be reached out to mothers to be able to see this is not about guns and war. This is about people who served,” said Marenoff.

It’s not all military history on the Intrepid. A quick glance off the side and you'll see the one-time symbol of modern travel, the Concord resting comfortably alongside the old ship.

"We did what was called a Îpick’ out of JFK and we literally took a sling — of course it’s much more technical than that — but under the belly of the Concord we lifted her off of land, off of Kennedy’s runway onto a barge and we floated her up the Hudson river,” said Marenoff.

The Intrepid even played a role in the aftermath of 9/11. The museum was shut down almost immediately after the second plane hit and it was used as a government command center.

"It became a place where the FBI and CIA to be centralized and see what they needed to do for the balance of the time," said Marenoff.

But usually, the essence of the Intrepid is storytelling, blending the horrors that the ship has seen with the joy of being on board.

"There isn't a day when you don't walk the floor and don't see either a little kid in the cockpit of a plane having the greatest time of his life or where you see the crew members walking a tour around and telling their stories,” said Marenoff. “We're really lucky to be working here. Every day, every single day. There is something that allows us to say that."

Growing up in Rockland County, Susan Marenoff says her interest in history was "average." There was no particular connection to the military. Her father served in World War II, stateside because of an injury. She was passionate about playing sports.

"Playing on softball little league team or — of course my brother would never let me on the street unless I threw a perfect spiral — so I had to practice those skills. Whenever girls do play sports I think it's a fact they are more confident in their lives, too," said Marenoff.

Marenoff needed that confidence once she graduated from SUNY Binghamton and started her sports career, becoming the first woman executive at Madison Square Garden under 30.

"Being the only woman in a large meeting in a sports world — it can be intimidating," said Marenoff.

"There are always challenges. I had a boss one time that told me I should be home making babies and so, you know you wonder what does that mean? And should I really be thinking about what I should be doing in my life? And then you kind of quickly recover," said Marenoff.

After the Garden, Marenoff would then work on what could be considered the most successful and popular women's sporting event in recent American history, the 1999 World Cup. She worked briefly for the Women's Tennis Association. Then in late 1999, Marenoff was invited to a meeting where she was offered general manager's job for the New York Power in a new women's soccer league, the WUSA.

"He takes out this cocktail napkin and says, Îyou need to hire a coach, be at the draft in three weeks and have him draft a team; you need to secure a stadium for where you'll play, you'll need to create a marketing plan, create a website, and hire internal staff,” said Marenoff. “And, by the way, there is a training camp and need to get the team on the field by April 14th.”

Four months later, when the season started, it was all done. The WUSA folded after three seasons because of dwindling sponsorship. But Marenoff says there were successes along the way.

"Every day we would get emails or phone calls from moms and dads saying, Îthank you,’” said Marenoff. “You know, Îthank you for what you've done to my daughter. Just the fact that she was able to watch these women play, see how they work with each other, the community events that you've done, you've boosted my daughter’s confidence like nobody else has ever done.’"

And that's where Marenoff draws the connection to the Intrepid, where the stories of sacrifice have a profound effect on workers, volunteers and the visitors. The Intrepid's exterior might be changing, but not the core belief of the museum's executive director, who can already image the ship's scheduled return in two years to the west side.

"I think it will be an emotional day, a very celebratory day, and a day that’s going to allow us to gear up and say we're here for another 25 to 50 years at least,” said Marenoff.

— Budd Mishkin

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