End of 'Honey Capital' Era
Last of original farms dissolves
RANDOLPH — As Rick Dominisse makes a bee line for retirement he’s found that his life as a beekeeper has been a sweet journey.
Dominisse, and his wife, Karen, recently sold Dominisse’s Honey Farms, marking the end of an era. Rick’s parents, Dwight and Elvera, started as one of the original honey farms in Randolph in the early 1940s when the town became known as the “Honey Capital of the Nation.”
White-suit and yellow-shoe wearing Woodrow Miller from California gave seven Randolph families their start in the beekeeping business.
“The honey capital was named by this guy in California (Miller). He named this town the ‘Honey Capital’ because we had the highest percentage of bees per capita in the United States,” Rick said. “We’re the last of the connections to Woodrow Miller. We’re the end. We have beekeepers here still but nobody that actually sat and had dinner with him.”
Miller leased bees to Dwight and Elvera in 1941, effectively giving them their start. The honey house was set up on Main Street in Belden, now home to the Belden fire hall.
“The big advancement of bees was because of World War II in the time when sugar was in a shortage,” Rick said.
In those early years, after a summer of producing honey, the hives were winterized in place - on a hope and a prayer that enough would survive to start the process again the next year. In the spring, queen bees were purchased from the West Coast from southern beekeepers and mailed to Nebraska to replace winter losses, maintaining a colony of around 2,000 hives.
A new honey warehouse was built in 1963 in Randolph.
Growing up, Rick and his brother, Gary, worked the bees and performed some of the honey extraction duties, eventually taking over the family business in 1971.
At that time, the brothers began shipping bees to Texas in an effort to minimize winter losses and found the Piney Woods area of east Texas a good fit.
“That way we’d always have full numbers come summer,” Rick said, describing spending the month of March there with sometimes nothing more than his bees and a sleeping bag under the stars. “Texas is (almost like) a whole different country and it’s a lot better place for hive reproduction.”
In 1985, a portion of bees were sent to North Dakota to produce sunflower, clover, canola and buckwheat honey.
Colony numbers grew to around 4,000 and while in Nebraska were stationed at hundreds of different locations in Cedar, Pierce, Knox, Dixon and Keya Paha counties.
“You’d get to where a lot of them (landowners) were real good friends. It was back in the old days where everything was done with a hello and a handshake,” Rick said.
The Dominisses often traded honey for use of the land and most farmers wanted bees, Karen said.
“They’d be calling here, asking for them,” she said.
See HONEY, Page 5