We have remarkable news towards the end of this post but, first, some background is required. A few years ago the late Roger Sutherland decided to become less active in SEMBA. For his years of service the organization decided that a horizontal top-bar hive would be a suitable gift, allowing beekeeping without heavy lifting. Winn Harliss, another well known and generous local beekeeper, volunteered to construct it. Researching the unfamiliar style of hive, he dutifully provided what seemed the necessary features but could never quite embrace the novelty and forget long-entrenched, Langstroth habits. The design began as a Kenyan hive with sides sloping at sixty degrees, entrance slot at one end, strongly peaked bars, and an observation window1. But then, questions arose. How would one populate such a hive with a nucleus2? Why, make the top of the sides vertical to accommodate medium Langstroth frames. And how would one super such a hive3? Clearly make the top bars thinner in the middle to allow the bees passage upwards, not forgetting an inner cover and telescoping outer cover. Yes, and choose the length of the hive to fit two Langstroth ten-frames placed atop it. The resulting platypus was very well built but chimerical. We naughtily but affectionately dubbed it Frankenhive.

Some time in last September, Roger let us know that he was downsizing. Having received the Frankenhive as a gift, he would feel bad selling it but would we, as top bar beekeepers, be interested in minding it for him? It is a queer thing, both fish and fowl, incompatible with anything else we possess or have seen or might want to work. Still it deserves a good home so we accepted and stored it in the barn until this spring we put it next to Dorcas with only vague ideas of how we would eventually populate it.

Last Friday our daily observations showed that a swarm had spontaneously occupied it!

We saw bees fanning above the entrance slot and steady traffic. In disbelief we risked a quick unsuited peek as we lifted her covers. There were a lot of bees within. The hive was decidedly occupied. We have heard of such incidents but never expected to have such rare luck ourselves. Except for working out a way to feed her we ought now to leave her in peace for a while as she settles in.

1We can still hear an unconvinced Winn reporting in mild puzzlement, “They said you need a window so I put one in”. Someone asked to install a skylight in a submarine might sound the same.
2A good question. We solved it by going full Tanzanian, with straight sides.
3Generally such hives are not supered.

Yesterday we attended a memorial service for Roger Sutherland, who was for decades the face of Southeastern Michigan beekeeping to the general public. Any article on beekeeping in any local newspaper or magazine was sure to contain some informative and humorous quotations from him.

Beekeepers were requested to wear clean bee veils/jackets/suits to the service. Those who could complied happily but the rest wondered whoever had a clean bee suit?  No one wants to leave bits of honey, wax, and propolis on soft furnishings. 

Memories were shared by family members, former students and colleagues, and, of course, beekeepers whom he had mentored. Every speaker told of his energy, kind helpfulness, and quick-witted sense of humor. While most of the tales evoked laughter the merriment only increased the appreciation of what a loss his absence would be.

We were fortunate enough to live the correct distance away from Roger. Near enough to be a convenient drive for him and distant enough to force reorientation for the bees in a freshly prepared demonstration hive whenever he would leave one with us for a few days before taking it off to show the public. On such occasions we would usually spend some time sitting on the deck and enjoy  listening to stories from his many careers.

Here follows the text from the memorial booklet.

Roger Allen Sutherland (an avid beekeeper and perpetually energetic soul) often quipped, “Don’t tell me to stop burning the candle at both ends; just give me more beeswax.” This philosophy, along with his good humor, virtuous nature, and ability to find great joy and satisfaction in hard work remained with him and inspired all around him throughout his 88 years of vibrant and productive life.

Roger was born on January 8, 1930 in Toledo, Ohio to Farley Allen Sutherland and Estella Marie Dewey. He spent his childhood in Trilby, Ohio, where he began work at a very young age harvesting fruit, delivering newspapers on foot by age 10, and starting his first real job as a straw boss at Brock Farm at age 12. He attended Whitmer High School where he was often the jokester in the classroom. On one occasion, in biology class, he was clowning around. His teacher marched him back to the rear of the room and sat him down in the vacant chair next to Mary Ellis (his future wife) and said, “You sit here and maybe some of the good from her will rub off on you.” It certainly did. Roger and Mary Folger Ellis married April 5, 1952 in Toledo, Ohio and enjoyed nearly 66 years of marriage together.

Roger was always a steadfast and supportive rock for his family. In his life and career, he had an unwavering ability to lead by example. His family and friends admired his drive to be an active lifelong learner and teacher and appreciated his innate ability to practice humility and bring people together. Roger’s captivating storytelling skills, humility and humor put everyone at ease and not only made him an effective leader, but also an impactful citizen, and an all-around wonderful human being. Even in death, his dedication to the betterment of society continued as he donated his body to the University of Michigan Anatomical Donations Program.

Education and service were a theme throughout Roger’s life. He studied at Bowling Green State University (1948-1952), continued his education through the Frank E. Bunts Educational Institute, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, served during the Korean War as a physical therapist for the army at Army-Navy Hospital in Hot Springs, Ark., and Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, Penn. (19531955), and earned two master’s degrees (Education and Biology) from the University of Michigan. He had a 34-year career as a biology educator, beginning at Allen Park High School in 1957. In 1964, he became the first biology and botany teacher and chairperson of the biology department at Schoolcraft College. During his 27 years at Schoolcraft, teaching anatomy and physiology to nursing students was his primary focus, he started the nation’s first human cadaver program at a community college, was twice named “Educator of the Year,” began what would become a 51-year passion for beekeeping, and left a wonderful legacy of generosity.

He was the ultimate volunteer, and gave freely of his gifts and time as leader for the Boy Scouts (Troop 30 Dixboro), 4-H, SE Michigan Beekeepers Association (34 years, including roles as vice president and president), Michigan Beekeepers Association (30+ years as a board member), Michigan and Washtenaw Audubon Society leader (23+ years, including service as president and receipt of a lifetime achievement award from the Washtenaw chapter in 2003), Michigan Botanical Society, Naturalist Camera Club of Toledo (15+ years), and Huron Valley Michigan Botanical Club (7 years). Roger also served as a frequent nature program presenter for large numbers of classrooms, clubs, and church groups. He and Mary conducted countless classes on wildflowers, maple syrup, beekeeping and led many nature walks and excursions for various organizations over the years. Outside of advocacy for nature, Roger also made time to pause and enjoy the natural environment with family and friends as a fishing and canoeing enthusiast.

A notable example of Roger’s unbelievable energy was his dedication to walking 3 miles every day since he experienced a heart attack in February 1992. For the past 22 years, Roger has consistently continued this ritual (with several forced breaks due to medical issues over the years), all the while collecting recyclables along the side of the road. He collected an awe inspiring $10,712.40 worth of can deposits during this time.

Roger and Mary have been influential members of their local community since moving to Warren Road in 1967. Roger was instrumental in advocating for Warren Road to become a designated Natural Beauty Road. He also expressed his ingenuity on his property and in his workshop over the years by creating and cultivating an incredible flower and vegetable garden year after year, breaking custom nature trails for each of his 12 grandchildren, building and maintaining a coop honey house, and creating an elaborate sunken garden and a custom greenhouse, among many other interesting projects, including what he refers to as his “25-year woodworking project” of creating 12 sets of keepsake train cars for each of his grandchildren (132 total train cars).

Roger’s legacy and passion for family, science, and creativity lives on in his wife Mary, their five children and their spouses, Marie Powers, Stephen Sutherland (Christie), Ellen Neal (Mike), Anne Curtis (Barry), and Peter Sutherland (Mary Caplon), 12 grandchildren, Jeffrey and Forrest Powers, Kenneth, Daniel, and Jacob Neal, Laurel Truax, Lindsay Sutherland Gvakharia, David Sutherland, Kayla and Jessica Curtis, Whitney and Laura Sutherland, one great grandson, Asa Neal, and countless other beloved friends and family members. He is preceded in death by his parents, Farley and Estella, and his siblings Jeanette Eloise Sutherland and Charles Albert Sutherland.