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The Path I Took….

I love when I make a piece of jewelry and someone is excited to get it and wear it. That makes me happy.

In the beginning…

I had a reasonably normal childhood (not saying that I was ever “normal”). I am an only child (which I never regretted until a few years ago, when my mom died). I was born in Dearborn, MI. I lived in Michigan until I was 13 years old. My favorite place was in West Bloomfield, living near Cass Lake. Swimming, ice skating, getting into mischief in the woods beside our subdivision…what could be better?

When I was 13, my parents decided that “Californy is the place you oughta be.” We crammed our belongings into an orange and white uHaul trailer. We tossed in lots of books, snacks, and our golden retriever named Roosevelt (after Theodore), and we were on our way. We landed in San Diego after a Holiday Inn-packed road trip across the country. Our first stop was a Howard Johnson’s motel off the Interstate 8 and Waring Road. Forty-five years later … I’m still here in San Diego County.

As soon as I could drive, I delivered auto parts for my parents ‘mom and pop’ store. Then I got a job at a local print shop. I was a typesetter before computers were available to the mainstream population. From there, I went on to be a graphic designer at a business newspaper.

Along the way, I took community college classes, searching for something that I actually liked to do. I finally found biology. I saved up my money, quit my job, and got a degree from San Diego State University in biology, with an emphasis in Zoology.

When I graduated (at almost 40 years old)… I couldn’t find a job. Here come the student loans! I couldn’t say how many San Diego Zoo jobs I applied for. Yes … of course, I had no experience, except for doing data studies on bonobos for CRES. I applied for a job at the Zoo library (computer skills: check!). Nope. So the transportation department calls me up and offers me a job. How would you like to give tours for a bus full of people? (By the way, there are up to 100 people on a 41-foot double-decker bus). Yeah, right. Me. An introvert.

So I took the job. I was desperate.

At the Zoo, I learned how to give a tour, listen to the radio, locate animals, and maneuver an 18-ton bus around 23,000 guests. You really learn how mentally strong you can be!

I held that job for 14 years over a 17 year period of time (I quit, then returned). My favorite part was giving private tours for people from ALL OVER the world! I resigned from the Zoo in 2017 (read the blog here) so I could spend more time making jewelry, which had been a passion of mine since 2007 (see below). Leaving the Zoo was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. Many tears were shed writing that resignation letter.

Nine months after I started the Zoo, I also took a job as an Outdoor Education Program Specialist (intern, at first). What is that, you ask? That’s a naturalist who takes local 6th graders on outdoor adventures. A week full of hikes, evening programs, drama, science, nature, drama, fun, drama (they’re 12 years old, after all!) …

I did that for 12 years. For another six years (toward the end of my career there) I worked in the office. I placed all 400+ of those kiddos in their cabins. Cuyamaca Outdoor School sits in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park about 50 miles from San Diego.

So how did I get started making jewelry?

I mentioned I started making jewelry in 2007. It started out as an Outdoor School project. My friend and co-worker Mama Bear (aka Cindy) and I created our own thematic teaching techniques based on the show Survivor. It was called the “CHIO Challenge.” Since we taught science-in-the-outdoors, one of the topics was food chains. So CHIO stands for Carnivore, Herbivore, Insectivore, and Omnivore. Our ‘mascot’ was a cheetah face.

I was walking through a Big Box store one day, and I spotted (pun intended) wood cheetah beads! I decided I would make Survivor Immunity Necklaces for the day’s winners.

That is where it all began. I kid you not. That is the honest truth. I bought more beads. And more beads, and more beads, and more beads, and more beads, and more beads,  and more beads. Again … I kid you not.

So after I made quite a few pieces, I brought bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to the Outdoor School. They were a hit! One day, a middle school teacher from Poway suggested I could make beaded lanyards. And so I did! I used gemstones as the focus and added glass and seed beads to keep the price down. They were a hit!

The one drawback … they caught on things: drawers, doorknobs, and more. My teacher friends were sending or bringing their lanyards back in little plastic bags. (It was pretty funny how they explained how they used their students to pick up all of the tiny beads!) I fixed them all for free, even if they admitted they broke them. I also worked on adding more and more crimp beads to protect them. I eventually changed the entire design.

Here’s a shout-out to teachers … my best customers! They have inspired great ideas over the years – beaded lanyards, and lanyards that can be both lanyards and necklaces (aka LanLaces … yes, I am copyrighting that term!)

I love when I make a piece of jewelry and someone is excited to get it and wear it. That makes me happy.

Combining Passions

So, I am now combining some of the passions in my life: making jewelry and animal conservation.

What makes you happy? Would you like to wear a piece of jewelry and be reminded that you made a difference in some small way?

Well, I do. That is why Igugu Beads will try to make a small difference to animal conservation by “giving back.”

Personal Factoids

  • I am still best friends with a girl named Debbie, whom I met at Helix High school at the age of 14.
  • I am a long-time lover of John Denver music; he inspired me to start playing the guitar when I was a teenager.
  • One of my short fiction stories was published in my community colleges’ literary magazine. You can read some of my short stories here.
  • I’ve been a vegetarian for about 30 years. It all started when I had to write a persuasion paper in college (I chose ‘banning meat in the U.S.’). That research convinced me that I had to make the personal choice of not eating meat.
  • I am a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies and graduated Summa Cum Laude.
  • I love to swim. I mean, I really, really love to swim.
  • I’m hooked on the TV shows Survivor and The Voice.
  • I enjoy playing Words With Friends.
  • I got married at 50 years of age. My husband is an extremely talented classical guitarist. You can hear his music at
  • I have a (rescue) kitty who thinks that 5:15 a.m. is the appropriate time to get up … even though I am retired. Hey-Boo the Kitty is in the montage above.
  • I am an advocate of animal conservation. One of the reasons I was proud to work at the San Diego Zoo: their efforts to save animals from the brink of extinction.

The Path I Took….

by | January 3, 2020

The Path I Took….

by | January 3, 2020


About Dawn

Dawn is a jewelry designer, retired outdoor ed educator and Zoo tour guide, animal lover, loving mom of a fur child, long-time vegetarian, and devoted daughter.

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About Dawn

Dawn is a jewelry designer, retired outdoor ed educator and Zoo tour guide, animal lover, loving mom of a fur child, long-time vegetarian, and devoted daughter.

Follow the News...


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