TALK ABOUT changing careers.
Dale Delaney was a civil engineer, armed with prestigious
degrees from Purdue University and chasing a string of high-powered
jobs - including director of the Water Quality Control Institute
for the state of California and director of marketing for Neste,
Brudin and Stone, an international civil engineering firm - when he
walked away from it all in 1979.
Or rather, drove away, spending a year traveling in a
Volkswagen camper through Mexico and Central America, down to the
"Maybe I was having my mid-life crisis prematurely," says
Delaney, now 53. "But I felt like something was missing in my life
. . . and I didn't want to spend another 20 years doing what I had
Delaney, who grew up in Indiana, had found living in Southern
California to be one of the most appealing perks of his career. In
his spare time, he became casually involved in the environmental
movement, and spent a three-day weekend on an Audubon
Society-sponsored trip to Morro Bay, on the Pacific coast north of
"I fell in love with bird-watching there," he recalls. "I
couldn't believe I had gone all my life without being aware of all
the wonderful species existing all around me."
When divorce left him with the realization that "I was
responsible to no one but myself, and a change could hurt only me,"
he quit the corporate world. Cold.
He found his life's new direction while exploring tropical
ecosystems. "I was awed, just overwhelmed, by the biological
diversity of different habitats. And I decided that, somehow, I was
going to make a career out of sharing this with others," he says.
Delaney started his new career by landing a job - or, as he
calls it, a "labor of love" - with a Miami-based outfit called Bird
Bonanzas. "I was paid $85 a day to lead bird-watching tours through
the neo-tropics. I probably led 15 ten-day tours my first year -
and lived off my remaining savings."
To conserve money, Delaney left high-priced California and
moved back to Indianapolis. A few years later - now an experienced
tour guide - he hooked up with Victor Emanuel Nature Tours of
Austin, Texas. Though he specialized in tours throughout the
Caribbean, and Central and South America, he also traveled from the
Arctic Circle, where he thrilled to the sight of snowy owls, seals
and whales on Hudson Bay, to the Antarctic Peninsula, where he
followed penguins on the Falkland Islands.
"I loved what I was doing, and I was making enough money for a
single person to subsist on," says Delaney. He was traveling 10
months of the year.
It was on one of those trips - to a Venezuelan rain forest in
November 1992 - that he met Dr. Nancy Guggenheim, of Kirkwood. An
internist with a subspecialty in endocrinology at Health Key Beacon
in St. Louis, Guggenheim had taken a sabbatical from work and was
devoting much of her time to her bird-watching passion - involving
herself with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society, the World
Wildlife Sanctuary, even the raptor show at Grant's Farm, where she
says she was "in seventh heaven walking around with an eagle on my
Guggenheim also had signed on for a research trip to Mexico to
band birds as part of a migration study. When the trip was
canceled, she chose the Venezuelan excursion - even though many of
its participants had opted out because of a political coup in
"It was a fabulous experience. Dale is so incredibly
knowledgeable in the field - he has such pattern and voice song
recognition as far as birds. And, of course, personally, we hit it
off immediately," she says.
Ten months later, Delaney and Guggenheim were married. …