Veterans Find Solace in Beekeeping
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Beekeeping is one of Mike Roche’s passions. In the 1970s, Roche and his wife, Diane, bought a do-it-yourself beehive kit. The plan was to raise bees on their farm in Virginia, but life had other plans. Roche is a Vietnam veteran and remains active in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has caused the family to move. As they prepared to move, the unused beehive kit stayed with them. Year passed, but eventually, when Mike was working for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the couple resettled in Virginia where they revived their dream of raising honey bees. One day, thousands of bees arrived by mail at the U.S. post office. The bees began thriving before long, and the Roche’s pattern of harvesting honey in the kitchen became a staple in their life. A few years later, the hive had died up and beekeeping was a former passion. But within a few years, their hive died off and beekeeping slipped out of their lives. After retirement, Roche had continued the hobby. Mike Roche served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, but he didn’t use beekeeping as therapy, says Diane. “It was something that was enjoyable, and peaceful and dealing with the bees that he just loved.”

It was particularly telling what similarities serving your country and bees carried. “All bees work for the welfare of the hive, and that mattered a great deal to my husband. Particularly after his experience in Vietnam,” says Diane. He didn’t want to be the only veteran that knew the joy of beekeeping.

In 2013, Masterman crossed paths with Mike and Diane Roche through the Bee Squad’s Hive to Bottle program, which exists to help beekeepers with managing colonies on their own property. One day on a visit to Roche’s farm, Masterman, mused after witnessessing Roche’s joy, about creating a beekeeping program specifically for military veterans. Mike Roche was immediately sold and told her that he’d write a blank check. That’s how the Bee Veterans program first got started.

Bee Veterans is more than a program, it’s also a home. It’s location, by the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, is unique and the apiary feels homey. The Bee Veterans Apiary was christened in the fall of 2015. Since then, 20 veterans have participated in free hands-on programming. Veterans had decided to bring their loved ones on the venture, making the program a family friendly place.

Such is the story of Air Force veteran Colin Moening. He worked side by side with his childhood friend Pete Schwen. Moening retired from the U.S. Air Force a couple of years ago after serving for “25 years, two months, and two days,” but his Air Force schedule always seemed to be a deterrent.  Moening and Schwen spent many evenings at the Bee Veterans apiary. Today, the lifelong friends are learning about winterizing the bees.

“I feel pretty privileged to be able to come here,” says Moening. He plans to start two bee colonies at his cabin north of St. Cloud next year,  but the first step is learning about the hobby. Moening states, “You come back to the community after being in the military and you don't necessarily know a lot of people and where to go. It’s a great opportunity.”

Christian Dahm, 29, is a U.S. Marine veteran and Bee Squad employee who built this hive as an experiment. Dahm has been part of the Bee Squad family ever since Masterman awarded him a veterans scholarship to take an introductory beekeeping class a few years ago. Roche will always live through the program. Masterman says she’s learned to let the veterans show her what the Bee Veterans program should look like. Early on, veterans told her that they wanted the apiary to be a space where they could separate their military experiences.

A bench will eventually will be placed on the property with Roche’s name on it, to honor the man that started the vision.