All the buzz

Retired GM attorney keeps busy with bustling beekeeping hobby

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,” said Brueck, 69.

And when he moved out to rural Shiawassee County to his girlfriend’s place, 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.

Brueck has always been very industrious himself. 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.

One he married, Brueck began thinking long term. Should he just stay at GM, or go to college to become a teacher?

“It seemed like a nice, secure job,” Brueck said. “It appealed to me.”

Until he found out he‘d have to student-teach, which would eliminate working at GM and making good money. So he decided to stay at GM and attend the University of Michigan-Dearborn to support his wife and two children. He graduated in the early 1970s with a degree and majored 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.

“And so I looked for a program that fit in with what my schedule was at GM,” Brueck said.  The perfect fit was at the Detroit College of Law, where he could attend school in the evening while still working. 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.

Brueck knew he did not want to remain a supervisor at GM forever, so he began talking to people there he knew and found several in personnel and labor relations who also had law degrees. “They said they liked it and it was helpful to them,” Brueck said.

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.

“I wasn’t with the legal staff, but it was sort of legalistic work,” he joked.

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.”

He said he made many friends, both in management and the union, and enjoyed the interaction with people.

“And everyday you never knew what was going to happen. It was something different everyday. It could be frustrating, and hard, but that’s what I liked about it. I enjoyed trying to work things out, find solutions with problems,” he said.

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

“I never felt any pressure to retire, but you sort of see the handwriting on the wall, he said. “Had it not been for that, I would have been happy to keep on doing what I was doing. I enjoyed it.”

Brueck and his wife divorced in 1989, and he now lives in Bancroft with his girlfriend, an electrical engineer for a Flint GM plant, but maintains a place in Grand Blanc also. He has two sons, Kraig, who is also in the Flint area, and Kris, who lives in Germany with a wife and children. Brueck recently spent a month there visiting.

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.

“I don’t know if it’s really practicing law, but it’s closer,” he jokes.

When he moved to Bancroft and saw all the land available, he got re-interested in beekeeping, or apiculture, becoming a full-fledged beekeeper. The practice has been around for 15,000 years – there are depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees, although efforts to domesticate bees are visible in Egyptian art from 4,500 years ago.

In the 1700s, Europeans began to grasp colonies and the bees’ biology, actions, traits and habits, and started constructing workable hives.

Brueck bought a hive after seeing a newspaper ad for used equipment, took classes, 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 to ensure proper growth, and that no diseases have infected the colony.

Brueck is only in his third year as an apiarist, doing it more or less as a hobby – and a sweet one, 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, this 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 buzzing bees filled the air; tens of 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.

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.

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.

“Nobody really knows why,” he said. “There’s tons of theories, and a lot of stuff written about it.”

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.

“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.

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