Eighty-eight years of age and working as hard as ever, Chuck Delaney is eagerly anticipating the opening of Game Fair on Friday for a six-day run over two long weekends, Aug. 12-14 and 19-21.
In showbiz for more than six decades, Chuck is the owner and promoter of Game Fair, an outdoor festival now in its 41st year on the grounds of his Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Anoka, or, more specifically, Ramsey.
That Game Fair is being held at all this year is testament to Chuck's twin desires to honor commitments to the show's exhibitors, and to greet again the thousands of outdoors enthusiasts who consider the gala a harbinger of autumn.
He could as easily have canceled the show, and there were times after the death last September of his wife, Loral I, that he considered it.
In love since they met in 1960 at a Chicago outdoors show that Chuck was promoting, the two were inseparable until she died of breast cancer at age 83.
They hunted together, often with a dozen dogs in tow. Shooting competitive trap, they traveled the world together — they were husband and wife national champs four times. And for nearly 62 years they lived together in the house on Armstrong Ranch in which Loral I was born.
"I'm the lucky one," Chuck would say.
Few would disagree.
Growing up on the ranch, site of her parents' hunting preserve, kennel and mink and fox farm, Loral I as a young girl learned to shoot and train Labrador retrievers. She headlined her first dog act at the Northwest Sportshow in Minneapolis at age 5, and throughout her teens and for years thereafter she traveled with her dogs from Madison Square Garden to Los Angeles, putting on performances that, as one reviewer said, "brought down the house."
An animal whisperer of sorts, Loral I once trained a black bear, a Chesapeake Bay retriever and a golden retriever to ride a surfboard with her, pulled by a boat.
She gained even more acclaim, worldwide, as a trapshooter.
Named to every All-American trapshooting team except one from 1966 to '81, Loral I also won the Women's World Flyer Championships four times and shot on the U.S. women's trapshooting team before women's trap was included in the Olympics.
Before meeting Loral I, Chuck, a California native, served with the U.S. Army in Korea and apprenticed in the sportshow business under the late Warner Buck, a veteran of the field.
A born promoter, Chuck would go on to own sportsmen's and vacation shows in Chicago, Detroit, Fort Worth and Las Vegas before selling the businesses in 1980.
Wanting a new challenge, a year later he and Loral I traveled to Great Britain to attend that nation's Game Fair, a summertime festival that celebrates the country and sporting life of rural England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
"The show was held outdoors," Chuck recalled the other day. "People brought their dogs and they had lots of shooting events, as well as exhibitors, falconers, artists and crafts people. It was a great event, and very entertaining."
A version of the show, Chuck thought, could be replicated successfully in Minnesota. Loral I agreed. Skilled as she was in the field sports, after all, she was equally adept as a performer, and understood well the hunter-angler-camper-hiker-outdoor enthusiast demographic.
So it was in 1982, with a stable of only 17 exhibitors (280 will be at Game Fair this year), Chuck and Loral I and their then-partner, the late Ray Ostrom, put on the first Game Fair.
Their plan was to hold an outdoor show at Armstrong Ranch that welcomed guests to bring their dogs and cased shotguns, while encouraging them once on the grounds to shoot challenging shotgun games and compete with their dogs for fun and prizes.
"We bought all of the same [clay-throwing] traps that were being used at the Game Fair in England and had them shipped to us," Chuck said. "With them, during that initial year of Game Fair, Loral I set up the first U.S. sporting clays course."
To generate enthusiasm — and publicity — for the novel shooting game, Chuck and Loral I offered a championship open to anyone willing to pony up the $250 entry fee.
Matt Dryke, the 1984 Olympic skeet-shooting gold-medal winner and two-time world skeet-shooting champion, threw his money down. Among others, so did John Satterwhite, captain of the 1976 U.S. Olympic trapshooting team and resident Game Fair trick shooter.
And the winner was ...
"Satterwhite," Chuck said.
So it went for the past 40 years, with Chuck and Loral I brainstorming — oftentimes over their kitchen table — ways to improve the next Game Fair and the next one after that. On their days away from the ranch, they rode their horses, trained their dogs and journeyed to Morocco, Spain, Mexico and other exotic places to shoot competitive trap.
Then, last September, on the heels of the biggest Game Fair ever, Loral I died.
In the weeks thereafter, Chuck looked for a reason to go on. But every morning, sitting at his kitchen table, staring at the empty chair where Loral I sat, he couldn't see a clear way forward.
His daughter, Sherry, was an important touchstone, as were other family members and friends, including Sherry's husband, Eric, who manages the kennel; and Chuck's three grandchildren, Chandra Twede, Ana Miller and John Miller.
In time, Chuck found solace in the same work he's always done, organizing shows.
"I decided in the end to keep Game Fair going because I think it's an important gathering event for Minnesota outdoors people," he said. "And because it allows me to focus on something other than the loss of Loral I."
2022 Game Fair
Dates: Friday-Sunday, Aug. 12-14 and 19-21.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $14, seniors $12, veterans $10, kids age 6 to 14 $5, kids 5 and under and active military free.
Address: 8404 161st Ave. NW, Anoka, 55303
More information: gamefair.com