All the buzz- Retired attorney keeps bee hobby close to his heart


By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Talk about a sweet transformation.

After earning a law degree and toiling for decades at various General Motors facilities in labor relations, George Brueck retired to pursue a quieter activity.

In fact, his quietness these days is only interrupted by the buzzing of bees. About 40,000 of them.

"I've always been interested in bees, and thought about beekeeping," Brueck, 69 said.

And when he moved out to rural Shiawassee County, he had plenty of space to pursue the hobby he had dreamed about.

"Bees are good pollinators, industrious insects, and all the crops and things we eat depend on bees, so it's a very important insect, " he said.

Like his bees, Brueck has always been industrious. He was born in Detroit but lived in Dearborn growing up and attended schools there. After high school, Brueck attended a school then called the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.

"I thought I wanted to be a commercial artist," he said, following the footsteps of an older friend.

But Brueck said he "didn't get into it," stopped, and then started working for General Motors in the early 1960s.

"I worked all over," he said, starting as a loader of box cars on the shipping dock.

Now married, Brueck began thinking long term. He decided to attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn to support his wife and two children. He graduated in the early 1970s with a degree and a major in political science.

Along the way, Brueck switched to supervision at GM and decided he needed an advanced degree no matter where he planned on going. Law was an interest, because several family members on his mother's side were attorneys. His choice was Detroit College of Law, where he could attend school in the evening while still working at GM. He started in the mid 1970s and graduated four years later.

Brueck said there never was a defining moment of pushing him into law school, but he knew the degree would offer him flexibility, whether he stayed at GM or went into private practice. He could explore options to stay at GM, and work private practice later.

Soon, an opening came up in labor relations, and Brueck took it. That began a life-long journey for Brueck through a number of GM plants. In all, he's worked in Livonia, Warren, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint, from GM to Chevy, from superintendent to labor relations supervisor. Finally, in 2005, Brueck retired after about 40 years at GM.

But even though Brueck had a law degree, he did not work as a GM attorney.

The work hovered around the legal field, and he often worked with GM's attorneys

In his role, Brueck worked with the union and management on the administration of the contract, negotiations, settled grievances, settlements, handled disciplinary matters and discharges. He met on a weekly basis with officials from both sides "to make sure they did it right."

Brueck said he retired when GM began downsizing all areas, including labor relations, offering "very lucrative" retirement packages.

Brueck keeps busy now by finally using his degree to do facilitative mediations and volunteer at the Community Resolution Center in Flint, as well as taking a few paid mediations referred by the Genesee County courts.

When he moved to Bancroft and saw all the land available, he got re-interested in beekeeping, or apiculture, becoming a full-fledged beekeeper, or apiarist. Brueck bought a hive after seeing a newspaper ad for used equipment, took classes through the County Extension Agency, made contact with local beekeepers for advice, and bought a few packages of bees, including a few egg-laying queen bees.

"They semi take care of themselves," Brueck said, but do require checking in to ensure the hives are active and producing, the bee shelves are cleaned and moved about to ensure proper growth, and that no diseases have infected the colony.

Brueck is only in his third year of beekeeping, and does it more or less as a hobby--and a sweet one at that, with benefits, such as the seven or so jars of honey he harvests. He keeps some, and gives the rest to friends.

On a warm, sunny day this June, a reporter trudged out with Brueck to his two hives. Brueck wore two long sleeve shirts, buttoned to the neck, a beekeeper's mesh, face-covering hat, and thick gloves. He loaned the full beekeeper's body suit with its zippered-to-the-neck headgear. Brueck carted out his beekeeper implements in a wheelbarrow.

Several feet from the hives, the sound of more than 30,000 buzzing bees filled the air as thousands of bees went about their work as Brueck went about his. The hives are placed off the ground and the slots bees enter and leave are mesh-lined, big enough for the insects to get in and out, but too small for mice or rodents to enter.

Inside several layers of rectangular boxes stacked on top of each other, the work of the bees goes on - queens are laying eggs, birthing cubicles are constructed for the eggs, some bees attend to the queen, others stand as guards, and most are sent out on their search for pollen, returning with their booty of nectar.

The layers often get stuck together, and Brueck pries them apart with a tool as he inspects each of the dozen or so flats inside, where honey and beeswax accumulates. Brueck also fills little cans with sugar water for feeding the queen, if there is not enough honey.

Brueck said one of the hives did well last year, but the other failed. The reasons for a colony failure is not really known, he said, but experts suspect there are compounding reasons. Disease, colony collapse and other theories abound of why a colony weakens, disorients or dissipates the insects.

He said at meetings of beekeepers, they talk about the problem often. And he said it is not unusual for two hives, side by side, for one to fail and the other prosper. Nor is it unusual for theories to differ. So lawyers and beekeepers have that in common.

The two professions have to follow certain rules, and certainly there are ambiguities and different ways of looking at things. In both trades, there is continuing education, staying up to date and learning all the time.

"You get three beekeepers together to talk about any subject and you get five different opinions," Brueck said. "Just like lawyers."

And in both trades, you gotta expect to get stung once in a while.

Published: Mon, Jul 1, 2013