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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, May 20, 2024
Dale Bee Hat Cropped.jpg
Courtesy of Dale Marsden

Beekeeper’s business buzzes at the Dane County Farmers’ Market

Dale Marsden’s initial love for bees came from his days chasing bumblebees as a kid on his family’s farm. 

“We used to chase bumblebees out of the stacks of lath in the sheds before we could take the lath out to the tobacco fields,” Marsden said. “We'd get those bees a little bit upset.”

So when his brother-in-law, Harold, approached him and his brother with beekeeping equipment in 1963, he was more inclined to take on the project. 

“We realized that after my brother-in-law brought those empty boxes of gauze and stuff and left them on the farm,” he said. “It's just very interesting.”

Decades later, Marsden’s passion for crafting honey became Marsden’s Pure Honey LLC, of which he is the founder and owner. His jarred honey, honeycomb and creamed honey (offered in locust or dandelion flavors) have been fixtures of the Dane County Farmers’ Market since 1978, and Saturday morning shoppers strolling through the market will find him stationed at his honey stand with a smile and his signature beehive hat.

Initially, Marsden said beekeeping was a hobby that helped him make money while attending school at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“I got up to about 27 hives during college and helped pay for my college,” Marsden said. “And of course, it wasn't so expensive those days. I could sell [a] one-pound jar of honey for $1 and a quarter. Now, they're eight or nine dollars.”

Marsden was drafted into the U.S. Air Force as a navigator immediately after graduating from UW-Whitewater with a degree in math and physics. He went to California for navigator bombardier training.

During his time in the Air Force, Marsden flew bombing missions in Southeast Asia and was eventually stationed in South Dakota.

“I went to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and flew as a navigator with them for about five years,” Marsden said.

Marsden said he experienced a “bee withdrawal” while in South Dakota and sought out a local beekeeper to help him set up hives near the Air Force base. Marsden was eventually sidelined from his active duty in the Air Force after contracting Hepatitis A, preventing him from being deployed until recovery. 

From there, Marsden moved back to Wisconsin with his family, where he bought 70 hives and returned to honey-making.

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Marsden said his first winter beekeeping resulted in the death of many of his new bees. However, he recovered and now cares for 50 hives.

“I came back to Wisconsin after I'd ordered some bees,” Marsden said. “I ended up not being able to have as many bees as I wanted, but I had 70 hives and lost a bunch of them. But I've ordered more bees.”

Upon returning to his honey-making business, Marsden said he also worked a full-time job as an industrial engineer. Marsden also served in the Wisconsin National Guard and later in the Reserves. He retired from the Air Force in 1992.

“After a year I joined the Air Force guard out of Milwaukee in KC-135 [Stratotankers] and flew with them for five years as a refueling mission,” Marsden said. “I refueled airplanes, did a lot of flying all over the country and South America, and I think we went to Alaska and Europe.”

During this time, Marsden also went back to school at Madison Area Technical College and received a degree in commercial art, selling his honey at the Dane County Farmers’ Market beginning in 1978. 

With this degree in commercial art, Marsen drew inspiration from a coworker’s bee drawing to create his logo for Marsden’s Pure Honey LLC.

“I used that bee design to make some pins,” Marsden said. “I got the design idea for the bee from that, and then I had the lady at research at my company that was a commercial artist develop that picture better. And from there, I had my logo and everything.”

As a wearer of many hats, perhaps Marsden’s most famous is his iconic beehive hat. Marsden said he gained inspiration from his neighboring vendors at the Dane County Farmers’ Market.

“The guy over there had a big brat hat,” Marsden said. “Then this guy came in between us on a daily basis, him and his wife had a cheesehead and a cowboy cheesehead hat. They said, ‘Hey, you gotta have a hat.’”

Marsden said  he found the beehive hat at a beauty consignment store. He’s worn the hat ever since.

In his many years of beekeeping, Marsden said there is no fear to be had of the honeybees.

“It's not so scary to get stung a little bit,” Marsden said.

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Ellie Bourdo

Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.

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