The King Bee of Kline Creek Farm
Longtime volunteer beekeeper ponders the nature — and the future — of bees
You might call Lawrence DuBose of Carol Stream a worker bee. Or, more fittingly, the king bee.He holds a PhD in civil engineering, but has kept bees, on and off, since he was a child in Texas. Since West Chicago’s Kline Creek Farm opened in 1984, he has been the master volunteer beekeeper, caring for bees and extracting and processing honey as well as educating visitors about bees’ job pollinating two-thirds of all U.S. crops.
The most common question asked all these years? Yes, he gets stung, but not often. And bee venom is good for arthritis, he says, wiggling all 10 of his 98-year-old fingers effortlessly.
Beekeeping is DuBose’s only hobby. His dedication has been both broad and deep, ever since his first shipment of bees came in the mail in the mid-1930s.
“They were shipped with a number-two can of sugar water with three holes at the bottom so the bees could feed themselves on the journey. But the postal people were tipping the can — it would leak and kill the bees. They don’t want to handle them now.”
But DuBose does — without gloves, he notes, smiling from under a black baseball-type cap with a large bee on it.
DuBose remembers an early lesson in beekeeping. “I was getting a little bit of help from an old-time beekeeper. This man picked me up at the post office one morning — he was going to work with his bees. I had a pair of work gloves and put them on the seat. He looked at me with scorn. ‘You are not going to wear those, are you?’ He shamed me,” says DuBose, who put the gloves on nevertheless.
“The problem was they were ordinary work gloves and the gap between the cuff and my sleeve . . . that’s where the bees went. That was a miserable day. I haven’t used gloves for, gee whiz, it’s been years.”
Instead, DuBose follows three rules: If you have a hive that’s aggressive, get rid of it. Don’t use jerky motions — those agitate the bees — use smooth motions. And don’t work with bees when the weather is bad.
“Bees are like children — they behave better when they can play outside,” says the father of four, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of . . . he can’t remember. None keeps bees.
DuBose’s engineering career took him around the world, with trips to Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, Thailand, Borneo, Jakarta, and other places. “I had a reputation as a problem-solver,” he says. When the word “retirement” comes up, the man who turns 99 on August 19 replies, “I’m not retired. I haven’t given up yet! I come over most days.”
DuBose, who uses “Dubees” in his e-mail address, lives close to Kline Creek. Wanda’s Honey House is named after his late wife, who often helped him hand out honey samples to farm visitors. Honey is sold at the visitors center with proceeds supporting farm programs.
“She died a good many years ago now . . . we were married 62 years.” He met the army nurse while stationed in Alaska during WW II. “Some military organization asked, ‘How would you like to take a pretty nurse to dinner tonight?’ So we had a few dates.”
Their courtship was interrupted when his unit was sent back to El Paso’s Fort Bliss, where DuBose had an “easy job.”
“I could have stayed the rest of the war there but I thought, ‘I’m never going to impress Wanda by being a stateside soldier.’” DuBose transferred to the infantry.
Sent to France, he was shot in combat, in the gut, from close range. He thought he might die, but it saved his love life.
“That did it. I asked her one time what made her change her mind, since she had turned me down so many times in writing. She said, ‘I guess when you got shot.’”
Just about everything in the world has changed since then, but DuBose still keeps bees. He gets particularly animated when discussing their endangered future.
The faithful subscriber to three bee magazines says, “I stay abreast of the situation and I’m not optimistic. It’s an overall problem — people are not taking care of our environment. It’s disturbing to me,” says DuBose, who wrote and self-published a detailed, footnoted examination of the subject several years ago. “I think it will continue unless we wake up. We need to have a stronger environmental protection agency.”
While he chats in the honey house — decorated with hives, bees and honeycombs — he ponders why he originally was drawn to bees.
“They make honey and that’s the main thing, I certainly like honey.”
He’s certainly stuck to that.Edit Module