Taking the Long Way Home

Encountering problems and facing challenges is an inevitable fact of life. This can be a deterring aspect for many, and for some it is enough to keep them enclosed in their comfort zone. A problem big enough can push someone to give up, or even worse, prevent them from ever starting in the first place.

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Encountering problems and facing challenges is an inevitable fact of life. This can be a deterring aspect for many, and for some it is enough to keep them enclosed in their comfort zone. A problem big enough can push someone to give up, or even worse, prevent them from ever starting in the first place.

For Richard Delacruz, solving problems is more than just tolerable, it’s his passion. To him, a problem is not a headache, but a welcome challenge. Instead of a wall that needs to be broken down, Delacruz sees it as a personal challenge to outsmart the problem. 

This mindset is what has driven Delacruz forward both in his professional career and in his personal life. As an Air Quality Control Systems (AQCS) Senior Systems Engineer for Consumers Energy, his job requires him to coordinate system maintenance and fix problems as they occur in order to keep AQCS operational. As a car enthusiast, Delacruz tasks himself with maintaining engines and understanding why something isn’t working, and then fixing it.

“I’m interested in the details,” Delacruz said, “the small problems that I can be in the field troubleshooting are enjoyable to me.”

Delacruz was born in Saginaw, Michigan, but moved with his family to San Antonio, Texas before he was one. San Antonio was where he spent the next eight years of his life. His father took him to car shows from a young age, exposing Delacruz to a whole new world. Texas’ heavy Chicano population influenced car culture in the area to a great extent, similar to California. In much of middle America, muscle cars and lifted trucks populate the lot of a car show, but in the southwest, it’s lowrider country.

At eight years old, Delacruz and his family moved back north to Saginaw. Though far from Texas, Saginaw still had a thriving car enthusiast community, and Delacruz saw this around his neighborhood. It was around this time that Delacruz began to develop a real interest in building and customizing cars. 

When Delacruz graduated high school, he was unsure about his path, but knew that he had to keep moving forward. He enrolled at Delta College, a small school in Bay City, Michigan, that he could commute to. Though intelligent and dedicated, Delacruz was never able to fully lock in on an educational career path. He stayed for a couple years, completed many general education courses, but left before obtaining an associates degree.

What Delacruz would discover is that there are many paths to success. No single path fits everyone, and sometimes the long, scenic route is the best choice. Some would have discredited Delacruz as a drop-out or a quitter without knowing where his path would take him.

Delacruz would return to school eventually, but first he had to figure things out for himself. It is exceedingly common for recent high school graduates to blindly go to college and either be pushed into a major, or grab the first thing they find. To Delacruz, this was a waste of time and money. He wanted to know where he was going and master his path.

In 2003, Delacruz married his wife, Christina Quiroga De La Cruz and bought a 1968 Buick LaSabre as a project car. Both of these things served as reminders of growth and permanence to him, and with his wife at his side, he faced the daunting task of restoring a vehicle. The task would be a test of skill and determination, which is exactly what Delacruz needed to get back on his path.

During this time, Delacruz’ passion for building classic cars was supported by his father-in-law, Fred Quiroga, who also had a deep love for the process. Together, they went to many car shows, as well as working on countless projects, where Quiroga taught Delacruz the fine details of building custom cars.

Several years into the rebuild, Delacruz returned to school, this time at Ferris State University. With a knack for tinkering, he explored engineering and would discover a program at the school that combined welding and engineering.

Delacruz could not believe his luck, he felt like he had finally found the door he had been searching for all this time. Near the end of the program in 2009, between his junior and senior year of university, Delacruz secured an internship with Consumers Energy. 

“I got my foot in the door and made it clear I was very eager to learn,” Delacruz said, “and I was there when they needed me.”

Delacruz said that he would respond to calls at 1, even 2am. He would arrive at the plant and be on the ground, watching and learning how problems were fixed in the moment. Through these late nights, he fostered a good relationship with his boss, David Thorknock, that would continue beyond his internship.

After his graduation, Delacruz was offered a position at Consumers Energy as a Boiler Engineer at the Karn/Weadock power generation site. Delacruz worked at the site for 10 years before he was offered his AQCS engineering position in West Olive, Michigan.

Delacruz accepted the position, and so, he, his wife and their children, packed up their belongings (project cars included) and moved to Zeeland. 

Now, over 12 years since starting at Consumers, Delacruz still enjoys his job every single day. He has advanced in the company and grown both professionally and personally as he faces ever-changing challenges in the workplace. 

A challenge he faced early on was the feeling of being an outsider or imposter syndrome as a Latino. It can be intimidating to enter an overwhelmingly white industry as a Latino, especially in a highly professional setting.

“I don’t know of any other Latino engineers at my level at my plant,” Delacruz said, “but they have always given me a fair shot.”

Delacruz explained that at first being a Latino at Consumers Energy weighed heavily on him. For members of minority communities, the mark of failure is much harder to overcome. He knew that if he failed, he would become just another Latino who couldn’t. 

Instead, Delacruz chose to be a Latino who could.

“Try to find what makes you happy in life,” said Delacruz, “then try to find an angle in life that lets you be around that.”

Today, Delacruz continues to work on other classic car projects and you may see him riding around town in his beautifully built 68 Buick LaSabre convertible, enjoying the west Michigan sun.

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