KINMUNDY, Ill. — Macy Donoho is fascinated by honeybees, and she enjoys sharing her interest with others.
Like other kids on summer vacation, Macy is enjoying her time off with recreational activities and anticipating beginning eighth grade at South Central Elementary School. And like thousands of young people throughout the country, she is preparing for fair season.
The 13-year-old is a veteran of county and state fair projects, and has competed in a variety of areas. But honeybees remain her focus. It all began with her grandfather.
“He brought my dad into it, and he brought me into it,” she said. “We have about 40 to 50 hives, and I help with every single one of them.”
Macy is doing something different this year as she prepares her project for the Marion County Fair and — hopefully — the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
“Usually, for the county fair I would take a bee box and make a display out of it,” she said. “I take a picture book and all my supplies. This year I’m going to try something new for the state. I’m going to do an observation hive.”
Her dad, Ben, helped construct a live bee display, composed of honeycombs enclosed in a wood frame with Plexiglas sides for viewing. Air flow is achieved through two embedded canning lids drilled with holes.
Macy’s project is more of a lifestyle. She has invested a lot of time in the study and care of honeybees, and even plans to make it her life’s work.
“Some beekeepers take their hives and put them in mesh boxes and take them all over the country and set them up in the fields. I want this to be my career,” she said.
She is a member of the Omega Shamrocks 4-H club, and also is active in a regional SPIN (special interest) club comprised of youth interested in beekeeping.
Convincing young people to participate in 4-H and fair projects requires a leadership style that includes subtle guidance as well as encouragement.
“First off, you have to gain their trust,” said Greg Branch, who volunteers his time to work with young people in Marion County. “You help them with their problem. Don’t do it for them; let them do it themselves. No one likes to be told how to do things. The light will come on. Turn them loose, and they’ll take care of the rest.”
Macy doesn’t need a lot of pushing.
“Bees are exactly like people, really,” she said. “People fear what they don’t understand. Just like people, bees protect their homes. That’s the only reason they sting. They just want to survive, like us.”
Despite her regular contact with honeybees, she has never been stung. She doesn’t even know if she is allergic to bee stings.
“I’ve been stung by wasps, and I swell up really big,” she said. “I don’t know about bees because I’ve never been stung by a bee. When they’re stuck in honey, I’ll take my glove off and pick them up, and I’ve still never been stung.”
She said that bees give a warning before stinging by bumping against one’s body. Swatting at them is not a good idea. Some are more protective of their hive than others.
“One hive, you can’t get within 20 feet without them coming after you,” Macy said. “If you feel them bumping you, calmly walk away.”
Like other beekeepers, Macy and her father use smokers. But they don’t often find the need.
“It does help,” she said. “People think it just drives them away. But actually, it makes them think their hive is on fire. They start drinking their honey; that’s their food source. It calms them down by them going in and drinking honey.”
Both daughters in the Donoho family are involved in 4-H. Macy has been working on projects since she was 10, and Maranda just started.
Their mother, Lou Ann, has seen value in the organization. She was not involved in 4-H as a youth.
“They’ve probably already experienced and done more things than I did in my whole youth until I got out of high school,” she said. “I think it grows them and teaches them responsibility and broadens their horizons.”