Accidental beekeeper

Duke Renslow

PHOTO/Matt Bieker

For years now, the historic Washoe County courthouse, 117 S. Virginia St., has hosted thousands of live-in residents on the building’s roof. A large beehive hangs off the courthouse’s southeastern cornice—where hives have been located since the building’s construction—but its health is in visible decline. Less known is the thriving second hive, located on the roof proper, which has been monitored by Facility Maintenance Technician Duke Renslow for the last five years.

So, how long have you worked at the courthouse?

I moved to Reno in 1967 and lived at Pyramid Lake for 25 years, and I’ve been with Washoe County for 20 years. I’ve been there this past time for five years.

What’s the story with the hive on the front of the building?

I was assigned to the courthouse originally almost 20 years ago. It was all intact. It was a really thriving beehive at the time. … You can see a big chunk of it missing, and that happened probably about four years, five years ago. And when that big part came missing, that’s when I started noticing that the bees kind of relocated to the back side of the courthouse, up on the roof. … It started out just a few little bees, and then every year, it just grows more and more. It has more members, it looks like, than the one in the front of the courthouse now.

Not many people know about the second hive. How big would you say it is?

I don’t know off the top of my head right now. I’d say at least three feet tall, maybe three feet wide.

How have the bees been received by the courthouse staff?

They’ve always been a welcome addition to the courthouse. However, about five years ago, we had an incident where one of our employees was allergic to bees and they wanted to remove that hive. And it became pretty political, and it actually went to the commissioners, and they said, “No, the beehive is going to stay right where it’s at.” It’s still there today.

You probably have the most interaction with the hive. How do they respond to you being there?

Well, I’m allergic to bees also, but as noted when we took the picture, I’m two feet away from them, and I do all the maintenance and set the equipment right by them. I’m not deathly allergic. When I’m working on all the equipment and stuff, they just leave me alone. I leave them alone. They leave me alone.

I didn’t know you were allergic. Maybe I wouldn’t have asked you to stand so close for the photo.

Oh no, I’ve never been bothered by them.

Is a giant beehive the craziest thing you’ve seen in your years at the courthouse?

Oh, I’ve seen some crazy things at the courthouse besides the bees there, but I don’t want to discuss that.