Secret Lives of Staff: Dave Lesher—Beekeeper (and much more)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

There’s much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see on campus. In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.

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Give me a half hour with anyone and I’ll come away with a story. Every person has one. Some have more than a few. Take Dave Lesher, for example.

This piece was supposed to be about Lesher’s beekeeping hobby, but his activities, interests and talents—his “secret lives”—are many.

In addition to being a police services officer at Penn State Behrend and a beekeeper, Lesher is also a professional photographer, distance trail runner, cyclist, gardener, home brewer, clean-eater, and a website programmer/designer. Oh, and he’s also a veteran, husband, and father.

Clearly, when Lesher is interested in something, he goes all in. But serendipity plays a role in most of his ventures, too.

Twenty-five years ago, when he was working at a grocery store after having completed basic training in the U.S. Army Reserves, a coworker mentioned she was attending a municipal police training academy. Lesher enrolled a week later.

After graduation, he was hired at Behrend. It’s a job he said he has enjoyed since day one.

“I really like the people here,” he said. “In my role, I come in contact with a wide variety of people and I enjoy interacting with everyone from the janitorial staff to the Chancellor.”

He even likes educating students who have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble.

“Often, the student has just been misguided or made a mistake and the incident can be turned into a learning experience,” he said. “I’d say we can do that 95 percent of the time.”

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Honey habit leads to hobby

A serious health scare a decade ago inspired Lesher to begin exercising and taking a closer look at the foods he was putting into his body. He eats clean now, avoiding processed foods, meat, caffeine, artificial dyes and additives, and most forms of sugar, with one sweet and all-natural exception—honey.

“It’s expensive, though, and I was eating a lot of it,” he said. “So I started doing some research on beekeeping and got some bee boxes.”

He found his first set of bees on Craigslist.

“This guy was tearing a house down and found the walls were full of honey-bees, so he offered them up to anyone who would come take them,” Lesher said.

“Cut-outs,” as such bee acquisitions are called, are tougher than simply scooping up a homeless swarm and encouraging them into a new home.

“With a cut-out, you’re invading their territory and they will defend it,” Lesher said. “Swarming bees are actually safer to collect. They swarm when they are looking for a new home, so they have nothing to protect and are usually happy to climb right into a bee box.”

Lesher is pleased to offer them a home, and the college’s maintenance and operations staff are just as thrilled to have someone nearby to call when swarms are found on campus.

Except for the occasional replacement queen, Lesher doesn’t buy bees. He prefers to collect native bees since they are used to Erie’s climate.

Lesher has a beekeeper’s hat, but doesn’t wear a full suit because honey-bees are rarely aggressive. He’s been stung only twice.

The average hive makes sixty to eighty pounds of honey a year, which is harvested in the fall. Only a portion of the honey is taken, however, as the bees have to have food for the winter.

“My hives are new this year, so I won’t take any honey,” he said. “I want to keep them happy so they’ll stay and produce more next year and then I can take some.”

From programming to photography to political science 101

A different kind of buzz—talk about the then-new World Wide Web—caught Lesher’s attention twenty-plus years ago. He began reading about, then dabbling in, website programming and design. He soon had paying clients (he still has some today) and a concern about finding adequate photography for their sites.

So he began reading about photography. You see where this is going, right? Today Lesher also works as a professional photographer. He shoots family portraits, senior pictures, and weddings.

Another hat he wears? College student. This fall he’ll complete his degree in General Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Political Science.

Man in motion

You may wonder where Lesher gets the stamina to keep up all of his hobbies, jobs, and activities. It’s a strength that is, no doubt, hard earned on the trails and roads around Penn State Behrend where he’s logged thousands of miles.

Last summer, he did his first ultra run, the Megatransect, a formidable thirty-mile race up, on, and around Bald Eagle Mountain, just south of Lock Haven—with former Behrend engineering professor and trail-runner Dr. Chris Colston.

“The funny thing is that when I was in the Army, I hated running,” he said. “I never thought I’d start doing it competitively. But then I got interested in it and ended up buying the gear and doing some races and… you know, how it goes.”

Yes, with Lesher, we do know how it goes now—all the way.

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8 fun honey-bee facts

  1. Honey-bees are not native to the United States. They were imported by European settlers.
  2. Honey-bees, while instinctual, aren’t very smart. “I have to have different landing strips on my hives or the bees will go in the wrong hive and be killed as invaders,” Lesher said.
  3. Honey-bees use dances to communicate. For example, when honey-bees find food, they do a choreographed “waggle” dance that instructs the rest of the hive where to find a food source.
  4. Honey-bees keep each other warm and fed over winter. Honey-bees keep the hive at about 92 degrees in winter, feasting on the honey they have collected all summer.
  5. Honey is harvested in the fall. Hives typically contain about sixty to eighty pounds of honey; some must be left for the bees to eat.
  6. Unhappy honey-bees will leave. If conditions in the hive are not suitable, the queen will call for a swarm and they’ll swarm and depart.
  7. The honey-bee queen is the sole reproductive female in the colony. She lays 1,000-to-3,000 eggs per day. Female worker bees perform all other colony duties. Male drones exist only to mate with a virgin queen.
  8. Drones are dead before winter. Drones are a liability to the wintering hive and are not allowed in after fall, so they die outside.

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Collecting a swarm

Lesher provided this video of a swarm he collected:

 

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