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Akron students buzzing about beekeeper's job

"How many bees are in a hive?" asked a first-grader.

"A gazillion?" another speculated.

There are about 40,000 bees in a hive during the peak of its activity.

"And they're all one family," says beekeeper Phillip Kenline. "Imagine having that many brothers and sisters," he added to squeals from his audience.

Kenline, also a member of the Akron Board of Education, fielded lots of queries from eager pupils this day during his annual presentation to first-graders at Akron Central Elementary School.

The event brings to life "Honey Bees," a story by Jesus Cervantes, that the pupils have been reading as part of their lesson on how communities work together, said teacher Ardell Olin.

Kenline told students that each bee, like species of any community, has a specific task to perform, from collecting nectar to making it into honey and wax. He also explained the jobs of the queen, worker and drone bees.

His show-and-tell presentation had lots of props, including hives, honey, a smoker, a bee vacuum, hornets' nests and a beekeepers' suit complete with a net hat and long gloves, which a few pupils got to try on. He also distributed honey sticks and gave samples of delicate hornet nest "paper" to teachers to share with their pupils.

"Have you ever been stung?" the students asked.

Occasionally, he admitted, mostly while removing unwanted bees from the walls and eaves of barns, homes and even a cinder block warehouse.

He demonstrated his homemade bee vacuum that carefully suctions bees from unwanted places for transfer to hives. And the smoker, which interferes with bees' sense of smell, making them easier to handle. And several other tools used to remove honey combs and beeswax from places bees are not welcome before those spaces are closed in to keep the bees out.

"Imagine having thousands of bees in the walls or ceiling of your house. You have to get them out because ants, mice and other bugs like honey and what's in the beeswax, too," he said.

Kenline assured the pupils that they can watch bees without getting stung, but cautioned them to never disturb nests.

"If you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone," he said.

Quite a few of the first-graders called out answers to questions based on what they learned in Kenline's presentations to them when they were kindergartners. He does his presentations to the two grade levels in the spring and early winter.

"What do we feed the bees?" A chorus of "sugar water" was shouted out as Kenline nodded and demonstrated how the glass bottle feeder is used.

Kenline and his wife, Emily, a student aide at the school, started doing the bee programs about five years ago when their son Marcus was in first grade. He is now in the middle school.

Kenline's interest was sparked many years ago by the beekeeper spouse of a civilian employee at the Naval Air Station in Atlanta, where he was stationed.

He is retired as a command master chief after 30 years of service. When it comes to bees, he describes himself as "a rinky-dink hobbyist" who maintains four hives on his Akron property.

Beekeeping is enjoyed by the whole family, which also includes son Eric, a manager at Walmart, and daughter Kimberly, a student at Clarkson University.

The family hopes to expand its number of hives to between eight and 10, reaping the rewards of the raw honey, some of which is available for sale. And they're considering marketing beeswax products.

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