Rita Irwin ’77 calls her coworkers her family. Never mind that some of them have flippers.
Irwin, president and CEO of Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Fla., has made a living out of researching and teaching the public about dolphins. Featuring 20 bottlenose dolphins as well as California sea lions, the center hosts narrated behavior sessions, educational presentations and interactive programs for the public.
It is also the southernmost manatee rescue operation in the country. As president, Irwin is responsible for taking care of the marine mammals, as well as maintaining the direction and mission of the entire center and its 83 employees.
Despite the stark differences, Irwin still finds a way to see parallels between the paradise-like city she resides in now and the notoriously chilly Port City, especially when looking out into the water.
“We used to look out onto the lake and see the snowstorms coming,” Irwin said. “Now I’m in the Florida Keys looking at the Gulf of Mexico. It’s very similar to being on campus and looking at the lake, but instead of snowstorms, it’s rain storms.”
Born and raised in New York City, Irwin’s first taste of small-town living came when she arrived at Oswego for college. It was an experience she says she still cherishes, and one that helped her make the decision to move to Florida, where she met her husband, Dan Gallagher.
“When I came to the Keys, I was so attracted to the research center and Oswego helped me realize I could move out of a big city. I like the small town experience and Oswego was the only small town I lived in before I came to the Keys.”
Outside of the job, Irwin has also found time to be active in the community, especially in the theatre scene. She recently co-wrote a musical and it is set to debut in March. Titled “Act Now,” the production is about an audition at a community theatre and the lives and decisions of the people at the theatre. A theatre major while at Oswego, she credits her time working on productions at college for her latest accomplishment.
“[Writing and directing a musical was] a lifelong dream of mine. All of the hours I spent in the Oswego theatre have paid off.”
— Kyle C. Gargan ’11