John Benedeck and His Feature Stories

John Benedeck (Chinese name:白朝辉) is a great feature writer. Nothing proves this more than his academic accomplishment in my BC&J330 (Magazine and Newspaper Feature Writing) class in this past fall semester.

Benedict’s reporting is thorough. His writing is colorful and creative. All papers convey a strong sense of being there. His work shows promise of outstanding professional achievement. As more and more robots are replacing humans in newsrooms, the journalism industry needs more people like him.

Some of his stories are published here with minor edits.

First-Person Story

Music Lesson

The moment of truth had come. Were we, or were we not going to McDonald’s? As usual, no, we weren’t. Week after week, I experienced the dread of making that left turn onto Hollywood Boulevard to go to piano lessons. Oh, how I hated the lessons. I was 6, my mother was resilient and stubborn, and my dad said, “listen to your mother.” So that was that, I was going.

My teacher was named Miss Sally. She was nice, I guess. Her house smelled funny, as if someone had just eaten. She had a big slobbery dog who didn’t know the words “down!” or “shut up!” It was, if anything, a nightmare. Then the lesson started. The longest 30 minutes of my life.

Scales, arpeggios, repeat. Scales, arpeggios, re- JOHN YOU DIDN’T DO IT CORRECTLY! Scales, arpeggios, DING! Finally, the lesson was over and I went home.

I hated it. Oh, did I hate it. I begged my mom to quit. I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting on that bench another minute, but my mother knew something. She had a hunch that I was destined to play, something only a mother would know. And, sure enough, she was right.

The ‘ah-ha’ moment came. It wasn’t by my own doing, rather, it was the doing of another student. His name was Billy. He was a few years older than me, and much much better at piano than me. Not that I cared. Then he began to play it.

D, A, Bm, F#m, G, D, G, A.”

“What was that?” I thought to myself and I stopped to listen. The chords repeated over and over again, building into magnificence. Who knew 8 chords could lift my spirit so high that I completely changed my mind about piano. The song was Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” I was hooked.

I would not stop until I learned that song. I couldn’t wait to start. At that moment, I changed forever. I was obsessed with piano. I begged my mom to put me in for more lessons so I could show Miss Sally what I had learned on my own. I went from learning a note per week, to tackling a song 3 years ahead of my skill-level in less than a month. It was exhilarating, opulent, and simply, beautiful.

I have been playing for 17 years now. I know that I experience music differently than others. I let music take control. I allow it to embody my fingers and guide my motions each time I sit down at the keys. All because of that one day. That one moment.

It was at that moment, I experienced the true power and nature of music.

It was the single greatest moment of my life, and all the rest of it I have been trying to match it. I haven’t been able to. It sometimes makes me sad, but I am a sentimental person. I look into the past and enjoy it over and over again.

I am grateful for music, for Miss Sally, for Billy, and most of all, my mother. She knew what was in store for me. It just took a hunch and a bunch of love.

Hobbyist Story

Reptiles As Pets

Some people collect baseball cards. Some people collect bottle caps. Some people collect stamps. Most people, however, rarely collect animals. Sabrina Sauseda, a scuba diver and biology student, loves collecting reptiles.

Over the years, Sauseda has collected almost two dozen different types of reptiles, ranging from frogs to chameleons.

“I used to think reptiles were gross and weird, but ever since I handled them in school, I grew more and more fascinated by them,” Sauseda said while holding her pet- a bearded dragon Cozmo.

Cozmo is a 7-year-old female Bearded Dragon with the appearance of a dinosaur. It has a tanish grey complexion and scales all up and down its body. It stares with such ferocity, and has claws that they use to grip both logs, and prey.

“He’s as friendly as a kitten,” the pet owner said as a matter of fact, “he could sit on my shoulder all day eating Kale with no problem.”

Cozmo was awesome, but definitely not the only reptile Sauseda has. She then pulled out another reptile that seemed to defy gravity.

“This is Jack, the crested gecko,” she said as the gecko jumped from her hand to the wall.

He could walk up walls, dash across the ceiling, and leap from her hand to another with ease. It was remarkable. He had these big, beady eyes that she said he uses to hunt prey in the dark. These geckos are nocturnal.

Next, she brought out her veiled chameleon, Pascal. This reptile takes the cake. It displayed vibrant color arrays of blue, green, and speckles of orange right out of the gate. It was just like looking at a photo from National Geographic.

“Let me show you something,” she said reaching for a freeze-dried cricket.

She held it up in the air about a foot from the chameleon, and before one could blink, he snatched the cricket right from her hand with his long, sticky tongue. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Last, but not least, she brought out her red-eyed tree frog named Pearl.

“Now, I know these aren’t reptiles, but I don’t discriminate,” she said holding this wild looking animal.

The frog lives up to its name with giant, red eyes. It is all green with blue spots on its back, and has large, sticky orange feet. Even though it is a frog, it was tame as can be in her hand.

Her collection of reptiles is entirely unique and gives her an opportunity to take care of animals while enjoying herself. There are so many more animals that she has, but many of them were unsafe to handle too often. So they remained concealed.

She said she wants to work with animals and help them for her career. So, what better way than to own and maintain a miniature zoo?

Profile story

“Faro”

Prodigal. He lived in blinded leisure, unaware of the destruction he was doing to himself. It took immense downfall and a rude awakening to realize his life would end up irreversibly ruined.

This is his story.

Walter Faro is an only child to Ingrid Spellnes-Faro, an ambitious intellectual from Sweden. She loved and cared for him, and cherished him more than her own life. His father, Walter Sr., had quite a different history. He was a Vietnam and Gulf war veteran. Although he suffered shell-shock, he still loved his family more than anything.

“He loved me, I knew it. It was a different kind of love, though,” Faro said about his father, “He took care of us.”

Faro’s early childhood was maintained by the tenderness of his mother, and tough love from his father. All seemed well. Until that fateful day.

“He was in pain,” he said somberly looking down at the floor, “Even though I was young, I kind of had a feeling it was coming.”

When Faro was 12, his father committed suicide. Leaving both him, and his mother, to take care of each other. His mother now taking on the role as father.

The years to follow were far from the usual. The trio was broken by irreparable damage from war.

“The fire inside him was never extinguished,” He said, now composed, “And he couldn’t take the pain.”

Faro fell into disrepair. He dropped out of high school and began using drugs heavily. He resented his mother; unwarranted. She tried her best everyday to put food on the table, and to express how much she cared for and loved him. He continued to resent.

“I didn’t know what to do, or who I was. I felt lost,” he said regretfully.

He would act out, throwing glasses across their two-bedroom house in Lindenhurst, Ill., swearing and arguing with his mother until he would storm out, leaving for days on end. She couldn’t handle it. She wouldn’t handle it.

Faro, 17-year-old now, had reached an uncontrollable state. Finally, his mother had had enough. She threw him out.

“Rock, meet bottom,” He said about himself at this state, “I went downtown [Chicago] to stay with some friends.”

The friends were only friends for service. They were drug dealers, who offered Faro a room if he’d work for them. Although, he was far from home.

“I wasn’t paid very much, or treated very well,” Faro said, “I pretty much forced myself to feel at home. I didn’t have any other choice.”

So that’s where he ended up. He was involved in the work for six months, until he had an epiphany.

“I was a stubborn, feeble-minded kid who didn’t know how good it was to have a home,” Faro said.

He described how he would weep for his family everyday, knowing how much he had betrayed them. His whole world, his mother, lost hope, but she never lost faith.

It was now 2010. Walter was almost 18, and he decided to do something. The one thing that would turn his life around forever. He decided to call his mother.

“I knew it needed to be done,” he said, nodding his head, “I knew I didn’t deserve to go back to her, but I just needed to let her know I was sorry.”

So he did. He called her for the first time in months. Before he could say anything, she told him that she loved him.

“It felt as if it was like she was saying it for the first time,” he said, wiping his cheek, “even though she had said it my entire life.”

So, he ran.

He ran home, took cabs, trains, and walked all the way from Chicago’s west side, to Lindenhurst. He was greeted by his mother on the stoop outside the house he grew up in. She embraced him, fed him.

She never lost love, even when she seemingly lost her son.

“She said ‘if you are to stay here, you have to get a job and finish school,’” he said, shaking his head.

He found work at a pharmaceutical plant in Round Lake, Ill. His job was to fill bottles with pills. Eight hours a day, six days a week.

“It wasn’t fulfilling, but it allowed me time to think,” he remarked, “I didn’t understand it at the time, but I got it eventually, “He further remarked about his mother’s actions.

Day in, day out, he thought long and hard dressed in his full-body suit. Each employee was required to wear the protective suit to maintain a sterile environment. Where would he go from here?

He ended up getting his General Education Degree from a program at Lakes High School in Lindenhurst, and took a few classes at College of Lake County. He found his passion in literature.

“I had always found an interest in writing and stuff like that,” Faro said, now knowing his calling.

One day, on a Sunday, Faro’s mother invited him to church. He apprehensively agreed, and tagged along. Abundant Life Church is an evangelistic Christian church in Round Lake, with a small congregation.

He wasn’t the charismatic type, so he mainly stayed seated and observed.

After the service, he stood in the foyer among the dozens of people in conversation. He wasn’t engaging, until he took notice to a young girl, about his age. Laura Benedeck, a spritely, happy college student did not waste time to answer his unvoiced interest.

“Up until this point, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, or who I wanted to be. But when I met Laura, all that changed,” he said with a massive smile.

They began dating. They would go out on the typical dates, and adored each other. They accepted one another for who they were. They accepted their pasts, lived their presents, and pondered their future.

“I wanted to be with her forever,” he exclaimed while holding up his left hand, revealing his tungsten wedding band.

There were conditions. Benedeck was on her way to Illinois State University for Elementary Education, and she would not be brought down by his complacency. He knew what he had to do.

“I needed to go with her. I had to find a way into that school for writing,” he said.

Being an avid writer, Faro got to work on his application essay. He described his story and qualifications in detail. He hoped it would be enough.

The university accepted.

“My second chance had come. I knew what I had to do now,” he said sitting more upright.

He spent three years, six semesters, working on his BA in Literature. He was a profound student, acing most of his classes with flying colors.

“I absolutely loved it,” He said, “I found my lane, and ran with it.”

Both Faro and Benedeck graduated within a semester of each other. Faro graduated with high honors and belonged to the honors college.

He went from rock bottom, to surfacing his ocean of disparity.

He and Laura got married in May 2014. They now had each other to push one another further and further into success.

The next chapter had begun in his life. He no longer had to wonder what he was going to eat each day, or whether or not he had a bed to sleep in.

“I only worried about living for God, taking care of my wife, and pursuing my dreams,” he nodded again.

After he graduated from ISU, he applied for the graduate program at Penn State University for literature and new media technologies and virtuality.

He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Laura, who teaches second grade.

He is actualized. It took the love and care of his ambitious intellectual mother, Ingrid. He is now an ambitious intellectual who loves and cares for his family, and understands the importance of discipline, and grace.

“I had given my life to God, and he gave me the wisdom to pursue my dreams,” said Faro as he sighed and smiled. “I don’t intend on ever taking my old life back.”

Participatory Story

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving. Is it just for biologists or daring rescue divers? Actually, no. It is for everyone. At Western Illinois University, students from all backgrounds have the unique opportunity to take the plunge from themselves, at scuba club.

I decided to take the leap of faith myself. So, I showed up to Brophy Hall pool not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. I met up with Sabrina Sauseda, the President of the WIU scuba club and Dive Master. I asked her quick about the program and why she chose to be apart of it.

“I chose WIU, because it is one of the few universities to offer scuba as a minor,” she said while finding equipment for me to use.

Being president, she pretty much handles everyone’s equipment for the club. I was amazed at how much goes into a single dive. There are so many steps, I can’t imagine remembering all of them.

“It becomes second nature after a few times of doing it,” Sauseda said, “I don’t even think about it anymore.”

She first assigned me an air tank. Each tank holds up to 3000 PSI of O2, which is over 100 times more than a normal sized car tire.

She then handed me a big blob of rubber tubes. I didn’t know what to make of it.

“This is your octopus,” she said. I responded with the same confusion I started with. She went on, “It’s what allows you to breath.”

Ah, now I know.

The ‘octo’ is a series of tubes connected at the middle with an adapter. Each end of the tubes are attachments for the buoyancy compensator, breathing mouthpiece, and the second-stage mouthpiece. The adapter is then attached to the air tank.

Since it was my first time, she attached the octo to the tank. It has to be done a certain way.

I was then fitted for an air-vest, or buoyancy compensator. It’s pretty self-explanatory. It compensates my weight with the water around me so I stay seemingly “weightless” in the water.

The vest is then clipped to the octo and then Velcroed to the air tank. All my gear is now set to go.

I jumped in the water and put my fins on, which isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. I was unsure, if I was having trouble with rubber fins, how was I to breath underwater. I strapped all my gear on, put my mask on and went for it.

I submerged. Took a breath. Holy cow.

I couldn’t believe it. I was breathing underwater. I looked around at all of the other divers in the deep end of the pool. They were playing catch with a weighted ball, throwing an underwater disk back and forth, and just having a ball. It was like being in another world.

I spent over an hour underwater, it was like nothing I had ever done before. And for a first timer, I don’t think I did half bad.

It was all over, and I have an entirely new outlook on it. As a journalist, I can use it to experience and observe things first hand, beyond what most people can. All it takes, is a leap of faith, and a lot of guts.

Odd-Occupation Story

A Beekeeper

Everyone loves something sweet. Whether that be a little sugar in their coffee, or ice cream for desert. But nature offers us something, unique. A natural sweet treat from an otherwise sour creature: Honey.

It is the coveted condiment lusted after by many hungry animals. Bears are a common intruder as honey serves as stored energy for bears over the winter. But they aren’t protected from the bees’ stingers and take a few pokes in the process. Humans, however, have a more organized approach.

Alan Benedeck is a beekeeper from Sylvan Lake, Illinois. He has been harvesting honey for over 30 years and says its rewards are sweeter than the honey itself.

“Its amazing watching the thousands of bees each doing an individual task for the hive,” he said with a big smile behind his big bee net.

He wears a special bee suit to protect him from the bees. The one-piece suit fully covers his body from head to toe, and all spaces are sealed off with either rubber bands or duct tape. He can now approach the hives without worry.

“Each day is a different task,” he said with a smoker in his hand.

Benedeck uses a smoker to calm the bees down to a manageable mood. He then takes off the boxed hive revealing many frames of honey combs. Each hive contains nine frames with over 1000 individual combs.

Harvesting takes place once around the first week of July, then once around the end of August. The yield varies on the weather, amount of bees, and many other reasons.

Benedeck has many tools for removing profitable frames. First, the stink board. This board is a flat piece of wood with a layer of felt. The felt holds a potent substance, similar in smell to that of skunk, PEE YEW! It isn’t useless. The bees hate the smell just as much as we do, and the flee the hive. This makes it easier to manage the hives’ extraction.

He then removes the frames one-by-one either by hand, or with large tongs. The frames are placed in an empty hive box then placed in trailer. Once the trailer is full, he brings the frames back to his garage for extraction. This is where the heavy-duty stuff is.

The honey extractor looks like a large garbage can with a spout at the bottom. There is a machine attached to the can that spins rapidly. The frames are attached to the spinner and spun quickly to release the honey from the combs. The honey oozes down the edges of the can to the funneled spout and is poured into large buckets.

Benedeck then takes the buckets of honey and strains them up to six times to get any unwanted grizzle out of the liquid gold. Once the honey is strained, it is jarred, labeled, and ready for purchase.

That’s it, no pasteurization, no processing, just pure, amazing, natural honey.

Alan knows the importance of selling locally, and keeping the honey pure. He works hard so we can enjoy the delicious treat. He is among the unsung heroes who harvest it every year. So, think about that next time you are putting the sweet treat on your toast or in your tea, and thank a beekeeper.

How-To Story

5-Step Process for Scuba Diving

In the real world, breathing is effortless, even subconscious. It literally provides us with the most vital element our body needs to survive: Oxygen. Now, on land, it’s a no-brainer, but how about under water? Believe it or not, its possible for scuba divers.

The world is 75% water, but occupying it takes immense training, expensive gear, and a lot of guts. Sabrina Sauseda is a certified Dive Master at Western Illinois University. She says that preparing dive gear requires a 5-step process.

“It becomes second nature after a few times of doing it,” Sauseda said while simultaneously wiping her dive mask, “I don’t even think about it anymore.”

However, getting to that second-nature mentality takes practice. A lot of practice. Sabrina must always follow these steps.

She must always start by testing their air tank by twisting the valve at the top. If air hisses out, she’s good to go. Each tank can hold up to 3,000 psi of O2. That’s 100 times more than the average car tire. Therefore, she must handle it with care.

Once the tank is set, Sabrina then takes her “octopus” and hooks it on top of the tank. The “octopus” is a series of air tubes, connected by a single adapter, in order to provide air to the diver, buoyancy compensator, and second-stage air mouthpiece. She hooks it on by twisting the adapter as tight as it will go, then loosening only slightly for give.

The buoyancy compensator is fancy, dive-talk for air vest. The vest can be emptied and filled with water using the octopus’ air valve. Sabrina wears this vest over her torso to enable her to compensate her body-weight. Without the vest, Sabrina would likely sink under her gear’s weight. Weights can be added to the BC if either the diver is too light.

She then strapped her tank to the back of the BC, attached by Velcro straps, and snaps the BC air valve to the final attachment on her octopus.

She says her mask is the most important piece of gear.

“If I can take a mast, press it on my face, and hang my head down without it falling off, that is a good mask,” she said while demonstrating the mask test, “I have had this mask for three years now, and it’s never failed me.”

She sets all the gear pool-side and slips into her wetsuit. There are various thicknesses of suits that are for different water temps. The thicker suits are for cooler waters. Hers is 3mm thick, the thinnest they come it.

“I find it easier to maneuver in the water, as well as slip in and out of, using a thinner suit,” she said while zipping the suit up.

The draw-backs to the thinner suit is she gets colder much faster.

Sabrina plunges into the pool, puts on her fins, and straps all of her gear on, all she has left to do, is perform the miraculous achievement of breathing underwater.

History Story

Scuba Minor at WIU

In warm blue waters of the Bahamas, scuba divers dive beneath the surface to witness one of natures most beautiful wonders: a coral reef. Who are these divers? Are they natives of the tropics? Quite the contrary. They are students from a small, Midwestern college, 1000 miles away from any ocean. That’s right, at Western Illinois University, that aspiration to scuba dive can not only happen, but can contribute to your college degree.

Dan Walter is the sole operator and administrator for the scuba minor at WIU.

“Scuba was first taught here in 1962,” Walter said proudly with a grin, “I was able to look up that scuba was first offered as a four credit P.E. class in 1967. Which means that this fall, we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary of scuba at WIU.”

How could a scuba program in the middle of nowhere stay alive, and with interest? Walter knows the key: location, location, location.

“Well I tell all my students the biggest downside [to] our program, of our location, [and] where our program is located, is our conditions. We dive in dark, green, cold, murky lakes,” Walter explained as to why it is important to dive here.

The classes consist of many levels. They begin at the lowest, 108, level where divers get used to equipment, and, most importantly, breathing underwater. The phrase “Keep Bubblin’” has become the motto for the program. It reminds divers to keep breathing no matter what.

Now, for the obvious question. Being so far away from ideal scuba locations, why Western Illinois?

“The best thing about our program is the conditions,” Walter said seemingly to contradict himself. He went on, “Because if you can learn how to dive safely, sanely, and comfortably in these conditions, you can go anywhere and do anything and be the best diver they have.”

But it isn’t all buoyant boot camp. Every Wednesday, people from any college path or background can experience the plunge for themselves at Scuba Club. From broadcasting students, to law enforcement justice administration students, diving is for everyone.

“We pair you up with a very qualified scuba diver,” Walter said, “We get all the gear on you set it up, and teach you some rudimentary things of what not to do specifically, and then we Shepard you around the pool so you can try it, before you buy it”

Rookies and professionals dive side-by-side in full gear and essentially, test drive the scuba experience.

Experience is everything to Walter. He emphasizes that it isn’t pointless to get as much experience as possible. A wide variety of majors and occupations can utilize this skill. That is why a scuba minor is so valuable.

“Compared to like a dive shop that takes a couple weekends and say ‘Ok, here’s your card, go have fun’, we spend 16 weeks and you really know your stuff by the time you’re out of here,” he explained.

The few scuba classes at WIU can provide unlimited possibilities. This hidden pearl, surrounded by corn fields, has led to the success of many students in its 50-year lifetime. No matter who you are, you are likely to find scuba success, in a very unlikely place.

Explanatory Story

Tuning A Piano

With the subtle twang of the strings and the light, melodic ensemble of notes, nothing quite sounds like the piano. 88 keys of pure harmonics and a skilled pianist can make for a fine performance. With many strings, come much work and practice.

Much like the musician who plays the piano, it takes just as much practice and time to master the tuning of the piano. Tim Paul, the owner and founder of Piano Trends Music in Crystal Lake, IL has been tuning pianos for nearly half a century.

“I have been tuning pianos since I was just a teenager,” he said while coincidentally tuning a piano.

It takes keen eye, a steady hand, and a musical ear to be able to get a piano’s tone just right.

Each note on the piano has between three and five strings. Each of those strings must match in pitch, otherwise the piano will sound significantly off balance.

Paul first takes a rubber mute wedge and places it between each of the strings per note. He tunes the string individually, turning a tuning pin with a lug wrench. He said its important to do this octave by octave, starting in the middle, since a pianos timbre is different as the notes go higher or lower.

He repeats this process for a full octave, starting at middle C all the way up to B5, then moves on to the lowest part of the piano.

The process is tedious and time consuming, but if done right, the lowest-end quality piano could sound like a Steinway B 9-foot Concert Grand.

Paul’s skills don’t come cheap. He usually charges between $100-$200 to tune a piano, but since he sells pianos to most of his clients, he offers this service with a purchase.

He has cliental ranging from the wealthiest on Chicago’s North Shore, to the common college student. It comes to show that if you can sell a skill, your value is limitless.

Commemorative Story

Higgins Going Down

Desolate, empty, and now, just a memory. Once the tallest university building in Illinois, Higgins Hall served Western Illinois Students from 1966 to 2010. Due to unforeseen expenses, and health risks, the University deemed the building unfit for renovations and took it offline indefinitely in 2013.

Its fate was sealed.

The building opened in the late sixties as a residence hall for women. It was 20 stories tall with a large, panoramic dining center on top. Some would say it was ideal for student life. Not long after, its nearly identical twin, Thompson Hall, was built. They both loomed on the horizon for miles around.

With time, comes decay. If not maintained, buildings of this scale can fall under disrepair. That time had come for the towers.

The university considered remodeling both buildings up to current standards. However, that would have cost over $70 million. The university opted to redo one building, while leaving the other in the hands of a demolition crew.

Higgins was chosen to go down.

Facilities Management Engineer, Chris Martin, gave details on when it is expected to be taken down. Since Martin was unable to meet for a more current interview, his responses were taken from a previous interview from December of last year.

“Everything, including the carpeting, will be stripped out,” Martin said, “The building will be nothing but concrete by the time explosives are added.”

The building, at this point, was in total ruins. Apart from looking halfway decent on the outside, the inside looked like a scene from a zombie apocalypse film. It was haunting. There were pool tables, old beds, and even left over desk supplies still organized in an office from the worker who once occupied it. The building was a giant lost in time.

Once the building had closed, the property was site to many breaking and entering, as well as vandalism. The police did their best to hold down the fort, but failed on many occasions. They wanted nothing more than for the building to come down.

Eventually, earlier this year, the building was stripped of potentially reusable items. The carpeting, tiles, and wall trim was then cut out, leaving only the shell of the once student city.

Only its ultimate fate lied ahead.

A few months of waiting passed, and finally an implosion date was set. July 1. Almost 50 years of service, gone with the wind.

The day had come. The building was rigged with C4 explosives and caution tape was put up. All that was left to do was countdown.

5…4…3…2…1…POP! POP! POP!….CRASH!!

Just like that, 20 stories of concrete and metal, left in a heap in mere seconds.

Higgins was home to thousands over its 47-year lifetime. Its what many called home. It was an icon on WIU’s humble skyline. Its twin, Thompson pays a sort of homage to it, and will house students for many years to come.

Business Story

Honey

Liquid gold. A flavor so rich, King Midas wouldn’t be able to possess it. Molten, sweet, and good on everything, I am, of course, talking about honey.

Honey is natures coveted condiment. Produced by armies of bees, of which they work day in and day out, and harvested by those who dare go near them. Leave that to the experts. The professionals who suit up and face thousands of bees for a small yield of honey. That’s exactly what Alan Benedeck does. Alan is a beekeeper for his business Sylvan Lake Honey.

In a suburb northwest of Chicago, Alan keeps seven hives. Seven hives that house 300,000 bees each. Each bee, he says, has a specific purpose.

“The drones take care of the hive, the workers go out and gather the nectar, and the queen mates with the drones,” He said.

Just when I thought the complexity of it all couldn’t get deeper, he began to explain the different types of each of the three categories. He said that drones nurse the bee larva, guard the hive from intruders, ensure the queen is comfortable and safe, and so on. The workers train young worker recruits, locate water and food, guard the hive from the air invaders, and so on. However, the queen just simply mates. That’s it.

When it is time to harvest honey, Alan suits up in his special bee suit and begins the day-long process. In order to calm the bees, he starts a small fire in a smoker and blows the smoke over the top of the hive. This lulls the bees into a daze and allows him to maneuver around them easier.

Each hive is shaped like a stack of boxes. Actually, that’s exactly what they are: boxes. Each box contains 9 frames of honeycombs. The combs are hexagonally shaped and contain one of two things: brood, or honey. The frames with brood must not be removed as they contain new bee larvae. The ones that are mainly honey are removed for extraction. Alan usually retrieves ¾ of the frames from each hive.

He gathers the frames, loads them on a tractor, and heads back to the extraction station. He set up this station in his garage. It looks like a science lab in there, complete with a big steel tank centrifuge. One like you’d see in a DNA lab.

The extraction process begins with the removal of the excess wax. A thin layer covers each comb in the hive in order to contain it, but that doesn’t do much help when we want to get the honey out. A hot knife does the trick. Once the layer is pealed, the frames are placed in the extractor and spun rapidly. The honey comes pouring out of the frames to the bottom of the tank and is retrieved from a spout into a large bucket. Once in the bucket, the honey is then strained several times and jarred.

That’s it, no pasteurization, no processing, just pure, amazing, natural honey. It is sold locally only by word of mouth. No marketing plan, no mass production, just pure amazing, small business. Alan does what he loves, and sells what he loves. He knows it is exclusive and rare to find such a pure product. Sylvan Lake Honey wouldn’t do it any other way, and neither would his customers.

 

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