Goodbye, Susan

Susan Rudnicki with her beloved Africanized bees drawing foundationless comb in a Langstroth frame, 2018, Manhattan Beach, California.

A friend whom I never met has passed away. Her memorial service was on the weekend. Susan Rudnicki was a regular reader and commented here frequently. If you’ve been following this blog over the past year or two, you have seen her insightful notes.

The things she cared passionately about, I think, were  her family, the environment, and her bees.  Maybe not in that order!  She was also a vocal advocate for the welfare and education of girls and young women in developing countries.

We had good-natured sparring matches over her advocacy of foundationless frames and the utility of Africanized stock.  I quickly learned to appreciate many of Susan’s perspectives. When I was writing a piece last year about Warwick Kerr for American Bee Journal about the arrival of Africanized bees, I called Susan. We had a wonderful hour of bee chat and she made her case for her beloved AHB cutouts. She saved bees that others would have killed and she brought them home to her backyard. She especially liked the fact that her AHB stock is varroa-resistant, so she was a chemical-free beekeeper. We talked about  lot of things in that hour and I learned from her. That interview, three months before she received a devastating diagnosis, was the only time I’d spoken to her. I fully expected to share a few laughs and maybe a beer with Susan at Apimondia this September. It won’t happen.

In January, Susan sent me a private note. The subject line was I am sick. I was crushed as I read her email. She wrote that she’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I answered immediately. First, maybe the doctors were wrong. That certainly happens. Second, she’s thin, female, avoided carcinogenics, ate organic, exercised among the bees – if anyone was a candidate to beat the odds, it was her. We stayed in touch. But pancreatic cancer takes 95% of people diagnosed within five years. In Susan’s case, it was five months.

Susan Rudnicki was the most prolific comment-poster on the Bad Beekeeping Blog. I feel honoured that she would have chosen this forum to express her thoughts and opinions so openly and freely. I’ll end this post today with a few random excerpts from her many, many comments. If you didn’t get a chance to read these notes from Susan in the past, you will quickly see why her friends, her bees, and the whole world will miss her.

December 30, 2018, responding to a post about Beekeeper Barbie:

…my dad brought home some ponies from the auction when I was 6 and that was it for my “indoor life” anyway. Completely horse crazy for the next 15 years. Still don’t have TV either.

November 14, 2018 responding to a post about Prince Charles:

I must say, that is the first time I have ever seen a dress shirt and tie under a veil! I like Prince Charles and think he has a good heart, even with inheriting a lot of tricky history and loads of burdensome etiquette.

November 5, 2018, responding to a post about philosopher/beekeeper Richard Taylor:

Well, thank you for this!! I think Taylor would be extremely concerned with the current state of wealth consolidation in the US and the world generally. The wealthy of our administration seem hell-bent on mining and extracting for profit at a ever increasing rate, while the climate science directly instructs us to be going in the opposite direction.

September 12, 2018, responding to comments in a post about lithium varroa treatments:

In the nine years I have been keeping locally adapted, feral survivor stock honey bees, gathered from swarms and structural cutouts, I have never treated for any parasites or diseases. I use foundationless, Langstroth frames and boxes, no queen excluders for an unlimited brood nest. I do not lose ANY every winter. The only time I have lost colonies was failure to supercede their queen, and those have been very few. I do not buy queens. There ARE mites in my colonies, but the number is well managed by the bees themselves and the loss to DWV and other viruses is minimal. In order for the immune and behavioral challenge response to remain well honed, the pathogen must be present at a minimal level. This is fundamental to survival fitness. This concept was at the center of the studies of the Arnot Forest Bees done by Thomas Seeley of Cornell and which he has published about in books. Modern targeted breeding and heavy management of pathogens has removed the evolutionary adaptive process that ALL organisms employ and certainly applies to honey bees. As in the rapid resistance developing to antibiotics used for controlling human and animal bacterial diseases, Vd is rapidly becoming resistant to our devised management via treatments.

August 10, 2018, responding to a post about record heat in Calgary:

I live in Los Angeles—Manhattan Beach, exactly, but the summers are getting hotter and the heat is more prolonged. Today, there are 22 major wild fires burning in our state, and so-called “fire season” which used to be Sept to Dec is now ALL year. We got a total of 4.79 inches of rain last year, all of it in Jan and March. My bees are struggling in a new apiary … in a rugged So Calif peninsula location surrounded by wild plants dessicated from prolonged drought. The heat is now so intense in summer that I have not only SBBs but fully ventilated screened tops under the top boards. My screened inner covers are the design found on HoneyBeeSuite here— Since my colonies are all foundationless (natural comb, no wires or foundation or plastics) they can melt under intense heat and crumple over. Once, I found honey running out the entrance onto the ground from some collapsed combs in my hives—I have mostly deep boxes. So, that is how I mitigate what is sure to be a ever more severe weather pattern of intense temperatures.

December 27, 2017, responding to the man who discovered that bees can think:

Thank you so much for this! von Frisch gets all the attention. This reminds me of the study of the double helix, in which Watson and Crick get the accolades by their research, but much has been made of how Rosalind Franklin’s images and research were fundamental to the W and C outcome

Finally, a month before her death, in Susan’s last contribution to this site:

I keep wild (feral sourced) Apis mellifera, and assert there are thousands of wild colonies of honey bees in the Los Angeles basin. They are far from going extinct. Also, there is no connection between “honey bee farming” and the prosperity of wild honey bees.

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

From her published obituary: 

Susan Theresa Rudnicki passed away on May 23, 2019 at the age of 63. Susan was born on February 10, 1956 in Burwell, Nebraska. She attended San Diego State University for her undergraduate years, followed by graduate work in dental hygiene at the University of Southern California.

Susan dedicated her life to the protection and proliferation of the natural world. Besides her monthly donations to financially support up to 90 different associations focused on the preservation of the environment, Susan is widely respected across the South Bay and greater Los Angeles area for a lifetime of volunteer work in botanical gardens, animal rescue, animal advocacy, petitioning progressive environmental policy, and beekeeping/bee rescuing… Susan’s home garden is widely recognized as a native wildlife habitat, pollinator proliferator, and animal sanctuary. Her garden was certified 15 years ago by the Native Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Sanctuary and became a notable landmark for native garden tours in Los Angeles…

Susan’s fierce, unwavering activism was matched by her drive to educate herself and others. She utilized the power of our interconnected world to collect sound and respected peer-reviewed research that backed up her concerns about the drastic changes occurring on our planet. She took every chance to teach others about the anthroposcene’s greatest threats to the environment and its inhabitants. Every conversation on human-orchestrated atrocities was a time where she could help others recognize how they can directly impact the conservation of the natural world. Susan did all of this because of the deep love she held for our planet. Every moment in life was a chance for her to give back, to show gratitude for nature’s bountiful glory by making others aware of our need to consistently protect it.

Susan committed the final decade of her life to rescuing, rehoming, and rejuvenating beehives across the Los Angeles area. She was consistently relied upon by LAX for rescuing swarms on airport property and countless local residents of Los Angeles who discovered hives in their walls or around their property. She spent years volunteering as the sole bee rescuer for Manhattan Beach Public Works, rescuing and rehoming beehives across Manhattan Beach in humane, chemical-free processes. She continued to mentor beekeeping apprentices all the way into the final days of her life.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, Ecology, Friends and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Goodbye, Susan

  1. Emily Scott says:

    A sad loss for the beekeeping community. I remember reading Susan’s comments – I am glad you two got to talk over the phone and on here, even if you didn’t quite get to meet in real life.


  2. Granny Roberta whose partner is living with pancreatic cancer says:

    I only knew Susan through this commentariat (and possibly the HBSuite commentariat also), but what a terrible loss. I hope she has someone to care for her varroa resistant Africanized bees.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JimDeb Corcoran says:

    We had talks on your blog at one time; how devastating! Sad news. Deb


  4. Erik says:

    I just read this, Ron. I have enjoyed Susan’s comments over the past couple years and she will be missed. So sad to hear the news.


  5. Mari Jarvis says:

    I was surprised to see a “memorial scholarship” for Susan at the 2020 Natural Beekeeping Conference, I researched and found that she is gone. She had a strong energy and was always willing to help out. A few years back she gave me some top bar “frames” to use in a cut out. Her father invented and made them and they are perfect. My deepest condolences to her family and to the beekeeping community. She was highly regarded; she will always be missed.


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Susan wrote to me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. It was completely unexpected – she had none of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer. She was gone within six months. It was a sad shock. She touched a lot of lives.
      I didn’t know about the memorial scholarship – she valued education and this is a lovely tribute to her.
      Thanks for your note.


  6. Pingback: Remembering Susan | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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