‘Take me home’
For Delgado, ‘Warren County has always been home in my heart’
To many, this is nothing more than a greeting card proverb that gets dusted off once or twice a year around the holidays. Although the meaning can be interpreted in many different ways, its truth often belies a sense of longing for days gone by.
But, every so often, to some, it’s more than just a hokey idiom. To some, it becomes a maxim when they discover that maybe the plan all along was to find your way back home.
At least, that’s the impression one might get when talking with Amy Delgado about the decision she and her husband, Hank, made back in 2013 — to relocate from Knoxville, Ten., to Amy’s hometown of Russell.
“Being here is something I had always wanted to do, but never thought was possible,” Delgado said. “Warren County has always been home in my heart.”
Amy graduated from Eisenhower High School in 1994. Like most people at that point in their lives, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do.
“You know, being a young person, I think you’re just hungry for any experience,” she said, “and the thought of growing is so powerful that leaving (Warren County) wasn’t ever a concern.”
“It is fair to say I was eager to better myself and I was willing to travel to make that happen,” she said. “A failed, MEPs physical derailed my plans of going into the military.”
So instead, she decided to enroll in classes at Point Park University in Pittsburgh for Mortuary Science Funeral Services.
A boyfriend at the time, “who was going to Pitt, transferred to the University of Tennessee,” she said, “he was sharing with me how amazing the city was and all of this opportunity with jobs and education.”
Lured by the prospect of a broader cultural experience and less expensive college tuition for Tennessee residents, she “basically packed up my stuff and moved there for a job at a funeral home,” she said, “with the understanding that I would then go to school and already be working in my profession and I thought it would be this idyllic world.”
When she got there, “As it turned out, the job fell through before I even started my first day. I was eighteen or nineteen years old, in a new city, and I new A person,” her boyfriend at the time.
Still eager for new experiences, she got a job at a department store. While working there she developed friendships with some of the security guards who were all off-duty police officers.
“I worked hard and I guess I stood out,” she said. “they would say ‘you don’t fit in, how did you end up here?'”
“I explained my story about wanting to be a mortician and my job fell through and I’m nineteen years old so I can’t go home with my tail between my legs and my parents were right. I was toughing it out.” Delgado said.
It was then suggested to her that she apply to be a Sheriff’s Deputy. One of the security officers explained to her the role of Forensic Technician and recommended that she look into work with the Crime Scene Unit.
“As soon as he said it,” according to Delgado, “I instantly knew that’s what my purpose was, that’s what I’m going to do. It was everything I had ever wanted. The adrenaline rush, the service of people, that’s my calling.”
“When I was in middle school the guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Delgado said. “I told her I wanted to be a police officer. Life spins you in many directions, little did I know this would actually come true.”
According to Delgado, she dove in headfirst to police work and excelled at it. The longer she settled into her newfound career path, the more she sensed her interests evolving from Mortuary and Forensic Sciences toward investigations.
At 23, she was one of the youngest in that department’s history to be promoted to Detective with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, working in the Crimes Against Persons’ unit, which covered homicides, robberies and the like.
“That’s kind of where my life was,” she said. “As much as I wanted to come home, it was always wishful thinking,” there was always something that prevented it.
“When Hank and I got married, there was a decision to stay in Knoxville or move out to California,” she explained. “I told him I do not want to move to California because I wouldn’t be able to go home. Coming home, even if it was short periods of time, was extremely important to me. This is my home. This is where I feel whole.”
It was decided they would stay in Knoxville until they retired and could perhaps “one day entertain the idea of moving to Russell.”
Eventually, everything in their lives changed in March of 2013.
“Life takes you on these journeys you never expect to happen at the time,” she said. “It just happens, and you can embrace it or you can fight it, but either way, it’s going to happen.”
According to Delgado, she has always been one to embrace it.
“Even if it’s wild, I’m on for the ride.”
That year, a massive tornado ran up the east coast right around the time her father, Bill Peterson of Russell, became extremely ill while he was working and she felt the pull to get home and help in some way.
“I could not get here because of the tornado,” she said. “It went right through the path of the twelve-hour drive.”
It was this pivotal moment when she realized how hopeless she felt not being closer to her family. Her father was diagnosed with cancer and in August of that same year, her grandmother passed away.
“I was in town for my Grandmother’s funeral when my husband got the news he lost his job,” she said. “It was in that moment that I think we both decided, if we are going to make a change, now is the time.”
According to her, Hank never cared much for life in Knoxville, citing the lack of safety that can come with living in the city.
“I loved my job,” Delgado said. “It was so stressful, so exhausting, yet so rewarding. I laid my head down at night with a sense of accomplishment.”
But it was this job that she loved so much that was keeping them there.
“I told him maybe we should just move,” she said, “as crazy as it sounded, everything just clicked.”
By October 2013 they had packed up their home and left Knoxville behind. For Hank, who had never known country life, moving under the starlit skies and the crisp air did not take much convincing, according to Amy.
“Moving here was one of the scariest things we did. There was so much uncertainty and the lack of security was always weighing on me,” but six years later, she said, “I don’t regret it one bit. Yeah, we’re kind of starting at the beginning, but what we’ve gained from being here, the peace that we have living here, you can’t put a price tag on that. I would do it again because it’s so wonderful to live here.”
Without a doubt, saying goodbye to a career that at one time felt like a “calling” was one of the more challenging aspects about making the transition to Warren. Luckily, it was her experience as an investigator that lead to her discovering a job as a Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) investigator for money laundering and terrorist financing at Northwest Bank.
“I do miss it,” detective work, she said, but “You don’t really realize the full extent of it until you’re removed from a situation, the amount of stress it was causing me.”
The consistent schedule, weekends off and the advantage of no longer being on call and having plans derailed at the last minute because of a homicide.
“I’m still doing what I love.”
Another way Warren County has contributed to Delgado’s identity is her love of the outdoors.
“Since I was a little kid I have always been athletic and outdoorsy,” she said. “Being a tomboy seemed so natural growing up here. I have a sick curiosity of knowing what my limit is and surpassing it,” she said, laughing.
While living in Tennessee, Delgado was a competitive mountain bike racer.
“I competed all over the U.S.,” she said. “It was a wonderful outlet for me. I loved reconnecting with the outdoors.”
Her husband Hank was also involved with a competitive roller derby team in Knoxville and exposed Amy to competitive skating and yet another physical outlet.
“I am one of 9 kids, seven brothers, and one sister,” Delgado said. “In a group that size, you learn to compete for everything. Hot water, the bathroom, the last clean spoon. I think it was ingrained in me since my mama brought me home from the hospital.” Amy’s mom is Phyllis Peterson from Russell.
Upon relocating to Warren, Hank and Amy were interested in continuing to skate. After joining Jamestown’s roller derby team they quickly realized they might need to form their own group in order to compete at the level they had been accustomed to in Knoxville.
“The Warrin’ Wrecking Dolls was born from a learn to skate and fitness session that I started at the Russell Roller Rink,” she said. “We talked to the Sharp’s about creating a derby inspired fitness class where the public could not only learn to skate but apply those skills in derby specific drills.”
As it turned out, the response to the class was very positive and overwhelming, according to Delgado.
“Within no time we had enough interest to actually create a league.”
The fitness class started in October 2014 and by March 2015 the league was formed.
“What I noticed most about the ladies and gentlemen that get involved with derby are really looking for that outlet and sense of being part of something bigger than just themselves,” she said. “As we grow older, we lose out on that ability play in a lot of team sports, or create something from scratch.”
The women who join the Wrecking Dolls are often accompanied by their husbands and significant others, who also train as referees, coaches, announcers, poster designers, and general league support.
Although reasons for joining differ, according to Delgado, one thing that rings true for all participants is a greater sense of self-worth.
There is “a pride that goes along with doing something unorthodox and challenging,” she said, especially in something that is “viewed by some as dangerous.”
Recently, Delgado has expressed an interest in stepping away from roller derby and cultivating something new.
“I’ve been reading about this sport called Skijoring,” she said, which is basically cross-country skiing, strapped to a dog, “so it’s like sled-dog racing and cross-country skiing mixed.”
“I love dogs!” she said. “I have a soft spot in my heart for the misunderstood breeds. We currently have two Rottweiler rescues. I love the work and responsibility that comes with helping them learn to be good dogs again. Some of them were never provided the opportunity to know trust, love or respect. I get a great sense of fulfillment in working with them every day.”
She also is pursuing becoming a master gardener through Penn State and to become more involved in Russell’s beautification efforts.
Looking back, Delgado says she wishes she would have listened to that deep pulling draw to come home years earlier.
“You have to take risks to make it work but if the desire is there to come home, you can make it happen,” she said. “It won’t always be easy. My husband worked two part-time jobs for almost a year when we first got here. However, all that has paid off because we now live close to family in one of the most beautiful locations in smalltown, USA!”
While the decline of rural America is happening everywhere, Delgado proves that not everyone who leaves for one reason or another necessarily wants it to be forever.
“Don’t fight change. Life will take you to amazing places if you let it. If you are being pulled away, go. Because who knows, it may pull you right back. Being open-minded to see the opportunities presented to you is key.”