Where’s Clyde? It’s hot, dry, the sun’s beating down out here in the apiary; I’ve got hours to go before I call it a day. Every few minutes I look up expecting to see Clyde. Clyde Steese is my business partner and co-owner of Bill’s Bees. But, Clyde's not here!
Clyde’s at the fair! At the fair! And I’m here, in the hot, dry sun with the bees!!! Come September, Clyde goes to the fair. Clyde’s been volunteering at the LA County Fair Bee Booth for 19 years, but since he took over the chairmanship of the Bee Booth, seven years ago, Clyde disappears from the apiary and heads off for five weeks of intense honey bee overload. It’s a monumental task to design, set up, and organize the Bee Booth. Once the fair opens, Clyde devotes all his time, energy, and resources to educating thousands of school children, teachers, parents, and fair goers about honey bees, the important role bees play in our lives, the problems facing bees today, and what can be done to help the bees.
The Bee Booth is a major highlight of the fair and the only fundraiser of the year for the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association. Profits from honey sales are used to support all our club’s educational activities throughout the year and enables the LACBA to send member representatives to the California State Beekeepers Convention. Clyde is forever grateful to his wife, Jan, for the time she puts in at the fair, and truly appreciates the enormous contribution by LACBA member, Cyndi Caldera, who organizes and manages the hundreds of volunteer hours needed to staff the booth. He gives heartfelt thanks to all the fellow beekeepers who volunteer. It's truly an effort of many worker bees working together.
Before the Bees! Clyde grew up on a 150 acre farm in New Bedford, PA, the oldest of 6 siblings. Clyde was blessed with the gift of hard farm work where he learned to care for the livestock, developed teamwork, and understood that safety should always be at the forefront. Instilled with a strong work ethic, Clyde was always busy. He was a member of the Boy Scouts of America and Future Farmers of America. By the time he was 17, Clyde was smitten, and in 1966, married his high school sweetheart, Janice Cook. Jan's the love of his life and this October they'll celebrate 46 years of marriage.
Clyde’s service to country: Clyde served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War from 1965-1969. He was assigned to the 3rd US Marine Corps K-9 Scout Dog Program. A high percentage of the best handlers come from farms where they handled hunting dogs and farm stock. Clyde’s high intelligence, character and physical ability as well as his experience growing up on a farm made him an excellent Scout Dog Handler.
Clyde served 3 tours in Vietnam, fighting in the battles of Hanoi, Da Nang, and Dung Ha. He received the Bronze Star for bravery and was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries during the Da Nang Tet Offensive. Clyde was honorably discharged in 1969, and is a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Moving On! After the war, Jan and Clyde headed for California. Clyde attended San Francisco State and graduated with a BA in Science. They moved to Southern California and settled in Sunland. Clyde and Jan still reside in the same house where they raised their two boys, Gary & Carl. They have two grandsons, Bret and Sean. Gary and Sean, along with nephew, LeRoy, are emerging beekeepers with Bill’s Bees.
Clyde mastered the craft of leather smithing. Take a look the next time you get a chance to see the 1985 western, 'Pale Rider.' Clyde crafted all Clint Eastwood's leather work for the film. He's also carved many leather pieces for the John Wayne family. He later went to work for the City of Burbank, and retired in 2008, after nearly twenty-five years of service.
How the bees found Clyde! About 20 years ago, a swarm of bees took up residence in an orange tree in Clyde’s backyard. He didn’t have any luck getting someone to come take the bees away or to help him remove them for a reasonable price. So, Clyde caught the bees in a cardboard box. Jan says the next night Clyde came home with a hive. (Surprise!) When she asked, “Why?” Clyde very quietly replied, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” And that was that! Jan says that all the years they’ve been married he never once mentioned he wanted to keep bees. Clyde soon had six more hives.
Being retired really fired Clyde's passion for beekeeping. Before he knew it, Clyde amassed over 25 hives and his bee yard outgrew his back yard. Jan rolls her eyes and might seem a little annoyed by all this beesness, but I think she secretly feeds the frenzy. When Jan worked for the Burbank Library, she brought home all the new books on bees before they hit the shelves. Clyde consumed them.
Clyde is another one of those who has really been sucked in by the bees and is addicted to beekeeping. He showed up at the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association one night eager for information. I was President of the club at the time and we became fast friends. Clyde continued to grow in his knowledge of beekeeping and a few yeares later, he was voted in as President. Clyde served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Beekeepers Association.
For nearly ten years, side by side, Clyde and I have worked the bees together. Sometimes we begin our days early in the morning when it’s cool, checking our hives, making sure the bees are healthy and not starving, that they’re producing honey and pollen, and that the queen is going about her business of making more bees. Some days are long, hot, and dry, like today. Sometimes our days begin at dusk when we load our bees onto trucks and drive through the night so they’re ready to off load early in the morning for almond pollination 'the grandest pollination event in the universe'.
For the past five years, Bill's Bees has hosted the Los Angeles Beekeepers Association Beekeeping Class 101. This year we had over 100 newbees up on the mountain top of Bill's Bees Bee Farm to learn about beekeeping. We teach responsible beekeeping for an urban environment adhering to Best Management Practices for the benefit of all: humans, animals, beekeepers, and bees.
Helping others! Clyde has lived his life working hard, staying busy, and helping others. He is always thinking of how he can help others without thinking of what he can get back. Clyde’s enthusiasm towards bees is infectious and he has inspired many young hobby beekeepers. He has gone so far as to give away enough equipment and plenty of time to get many people started with beekeeping.
School of Hard Knocks (or Bee Stings)! Since a boy, Clyde has believed in the rule of Safety First! But, as any experienced beekeeper knows, you never know what to expect with bees. Clyde's certainly been through the beekeeper's school of hard knocks. Have you ever been stung so many times through your bee suit because sweat was sticking your suit to your skin that you had a reaction to the venom? Clyde has. Last summer, I rushed him to the emergency room because of an adverse reaction to too many stings. He figured that somehow the bees were getting into his bee suit. He also knew we needed to get the job done that day and didn’t say anything about it. Finally, he says, “I’ve had enough." After several hours in the hospital and numerous steroid injections he was released. The doctor determined that he was not allergic, but just reacted to too many stings. Later, we discovered a tiny hole in his veil. Clyde was back out in the bee yard the next day.
Clyde is a member of the American Beekeeping Federation and the California State Beekeepers Association. He serves on the California State Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee. Clyde’s love of travel takes him around the world meeting beekeepers in places like Costa Rica, Panama, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. He shares stories of beekeeping in the United States and learns how beekeepers in other countries keep their bees.
Clyde boasts of over 70 candles on his last birthday cake (that’s because he looks twenty years younger). He told me whenever he thinks of retiring he can’t imagine what his days would be like without the buzzing of the bees. Clyde celebrates the dignity of work and the humility of service. He's spent his life working in service for others, be it human, animal, or bee. I am proud to call him my business partner and my friend. Bill's Bees' honors Clyde’s dedication at the fair, and enjoys sharing our time, energy, and enthusiasm to further the understanding of bees and appreciation of the art of beekeeping.
Where’s Clyde in “Bill’s Bees?” We tossed around changing the name of our company but nothing seemed to fit. We figured ‘Bill’s Bees’ has worked so far; we’d let beekeepers and worker bees work, and not fiddle with what works!
As for Bill, I'm heading over to Liane's Laboratory; curious to see what my brilliant wife is brewing up with the oils and spices of nature's garden and our honey bee gifts of the hive.
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- Tags: Beekeeping, Bees, Bill Lewis, Bill's Bees, Clyde Steese, History, Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, Los Angeles County Fair Bee Booth