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Beekeeping provides focus, purpose for Damascus man recovering from stroke
Healing hobby

Beekeeping provides focus, purpose for Damascus man recovering from stroke

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DAMASCUS, Va. — Stroke survivor Preston Holmes is buzzing with excitement to tell his inspiring recovery story in hopes that other patients can be helped.

Holmes, 61, of Damascus has learned that beekeeping pays in honey and other sweet rewards.

The new hobby has helped him achieve personal goals that once may have seemed impossible to him.

Every Saturday this summer, Holmes and his wife Ginger set up a table at the Damascus Farmers Market to sell pint jars of their homegrown honey, an accomplishment they call a “blessing from God” after enduring months of rehabilitation.

Holmes hopes his story will have the power to inspire and uplift other people who are suffering with similar disabilities.

Seven years ago, Holmes suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, affecting his cognitive and motor skills. Unable to return to his Bristol Compressors job as a buyer, Holmes dealt with feelings of frustration and discouragement until a friend gave him some advice.

“My friend Tim Widener kept suggesting I keep bees, and I thought he was crazy,” said Holmes, who reminded his friend that his illness had not only affected his memory and decision-making skills but also his vision and reaction time.

Before his stroke, Holmes enjoyed hunting and fishing, but he had never had an interest in honeybees. He even felt a little uneasy around them.

After attending a few local Highlands Beekeepers Association meetings with his friend, he decided to give it a try.

By the next spring, he ordered two colonies of bees and other beekeeping supplies, including brood boxes, a protective jacket and gloves.

That first season was overwhelming for Holmes, even though his friend was available to set up the beehives and give him some pointers. “It was a lot to learn, and my mental capacity at that time was challenged.”

Holmes also had lost the ability to read, requiring him to have occupational therapy to learn other everyday skills.

The honeybees did not survive the first winter, and Holmes began suffering from grand mal seizures that required hospital time.

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He started to second-guess why he was even trying.

Determined to not give up, Holmes ordered two new sets of bees for the second spring. Widener and another good friend, Jim Anderson, came to his aid again.

“The bees really gave him something to focus on when he was going through so much. It was a good thing for him,” said his wife.

“I could tell I was retaining more information better as time went on,” he said.

His beekeeping skills really started to soar during his third season. Holmes had increased his bee colonies by learning how to catch wild bee swarms with traps. His friends also taught him how to split a bee colony by taking a portion of an established colony and transferring the hive to create two colonies.

“I’ve never had to buy bees since,” he said.

For a man who had never worked with bees until just a few years ago, Holmes may be getting a reputation for producing some of the best honey around. He named his small business Holmes Hives.

The beekeeper estimates he will collect more than 30 gallons of honey this season with more to harvest in the next few weeks.

He rents his beehives to a local pumpkin grower to help with pollination of the crop.

The life lessons he’s learned from beekeeping have helped to calm his spirit and give him hope, he said.

“Beekeeping has helped me to concentrate and focus my mind. My mind used to wander from one thing to another.”

He’s also fascinated by the culture of the honeybees — the role of the honeybee and the worker bees.

The couple enjoys watching the honeybees at work from a bee shed on their property — a place they can sit and relax anytime of the year. The shed is appropriately decorated with all kinds of bee decorations.

“I don’t think I could have chosen a better hobby to learn,” said Holmes.

“I mean what could be better than drizzling fresh honey on your cereal in the morning?” he asked.

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at

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