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Guy Kelley with honey
Guy Kelley of Bloomingrose, Boone County, has been keeping bees for more than 55 years. Here, Guy hoists a quart of his hard-won honey. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Guy Kelley

The Beekeeper of Bloomingrose

By Kathy O. Smith Hundley

One recent Memorial Day weekend, our family traveled from Ohio to West Virginia for a reunion. While we were there, we decided to pay a visit to Lorene and Guy Kelley, my sister-in-law and her husband, who live up Toney’s Branch, past Bloomingrose, Boone County.

Guy Kelley is 70 now. He has been making beehives, keeping bees, and collecting honey for more than 55 years. “It was really my dad Guy Mason Kelley, how I got into beekeeping,” Guy tells us. “He had two or three hives of bees, and us kids would help him. We were living basically right here where we’re at, only the next house up. I’m the only one of the kids got into beekeeping. The others, they won’t mess with bees. They’re even afraid of the honey!”

Guy’s dad told him that their ancestors were probably Dutch and Irish, and they were all coal miners. Guy worked in the coal mines about 12 years. After a tour of duty in the Army, Guy married Lorene Hundley of Packsville, Raleigh County. The couple lived in Chicago for a few years, then moved to Elyria, Ohio, where Guy worked in a foundry. While in Ohio, Guy started back into bees. He had about 37 hives there.

“I lived right in the back row of a bunch of houses. I had a lot of property in behind me, so it didn’t bother people too much,” Guy recalls. “But anytime anyone got stung, it was Kelley’s bees! I worked at a foundry there for 15 years. Then I got sick, and it was cancer of the stomach. They cut out 65% of my stomach, and it still gives me problems sometimes with eating. I was put on permanent disability, and I had to cease all kind of work.

“That’s when I moved my wife Lorene and our six children back to Bloomingrose, up Toney’s Branch, at the head of the holler, where my folks and sister were still living. I brought all my bees and beekeeping supplies with me, and I set up my hives again. Been doing it ever since.”

While we visited, the sun was shining, and Guy was standing out in his yard staring up at one of his fruit trees. Bees filled the air. “Look up yonder,” Guy said. “The bees are swarming. The hive was getting overcrowded, so they made some new queens so the old queen could leave and take a bunch of those bees with her.”

The queen must have stopped right there on that branch, because there was a reddish-orange mass about the size of a large football hanging on the notch of a branch and extending on up. It was nothing but bees on top of bees, crawling all over each other, alighting on each other, and drooping down like candle wax. “I’m thinking about catching that swarm and getting them to set up in one of my empty hives,” Guy said.

Over on the hillside behind him, I could see three tidy rows of white wooden boxes, some of them with cinder blocks on top, some of them stacked two or three high. It looked like he had about 30 or 40 hives there, surrounded by an electric fence and flood lights. Guy said that there were other hives about to swarm, too. But this swarm was convenient, because it had stopped on his property and in a low tree. “The other bees,” he said, “there is no telling where they will light. If it was on top of a 100-foot-tall tree on a steep hillside somewhere down the holler, then I might just have to let them go. I don’t climb them trees no more.”

Pretty soon, Guy decided what he was going to do.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.