SUMTER, S.C. (AP) – Historically, man has learned to raise, cultivate and domesticate many of Earth's creatures. If a list were to be made, it would be apparent there's no limit to the kinds of creatures raised for profit or as a hobby.
In Bill Robinson's case, it was a hobby that became a small business. He also chose one of nature's most delicate inhabitants.
Robinson, a resident of the Paxville community, spends his free time raising butterflies - monarch butterflies, to be exact - and sells them.
“You'd be surprised just how in demand they are,” he said. “I get orders from all over the country for them.”
Monarch butterflies are incredibly high maintenance, requiring a lot of work and patience. The well-being of each and every one of the insects demands one-on-one attention, and as taxing as it might seem, Robinson devotes much of his time to his livestock with ease. Having an emotional connection to the concept seems to overrule any frustration.
The project has always had a sentimental connection for Robinson, who began raising butterflies for his wife, Darlene, in 2003.
“She had cancer and was very ill,” he said. “A bishop at our church in Florida suggested we start a butterfly garden as a form of therapy for her, something that would be an escape from her suffering.”
Robinson got to work immediately, gathering all the information he could before he began the project. Soon, he had things in working order, and the first caterpillars hatched from their eggs and began feeding.
Unfortunately, before those pods could hatch, his wife passed away in September 2004.
“She never got to see any of the butterflies,” Robinson said with a heavy heart. “But when I saw them emerge from the chrysalises, myself, it was soothing, almost like it healed me a little.”
That spiritually medicinal element became the heart of Robinson's project, which became the small business it is today.
“As it did with me, the sight of butterflies fluttering seems to bring peace to the troubled minds who buy them,” he said.
Watching and actively participating in the growth and maturity of the butterflies has been inspiring for Robinson on a composite spiritual and scientific level, as well.
“Nature is infinitely wonderful,” he said. “There are some things for which mankind has no explanation in terms of `why' or exactly `how' things occur. It never ceases to amaze me.”
Robinson makes it a point to share that wonder with others, including children. He regularly visits schools for events such as Earth Day, and his presentations are a hit with the children.
“They enjoy it quite a bit,” he said. “I bring several caterpillars and butterflies with me each time. Their faces light up when I release the butterflies.”
The 74-year-old man can recall several instances in which his product and his personal effort had a great impact on a customer. In turn, their joyous reactions affected him.
“Not too long ago, a lady called from Greenwood,” Robinson said. “She wanted butterflies for her friend's funeral.”
There was only one problem. It was already 4 p.m., and she needed them that day.
Instead of apologizing and declining the sale, Robinson decided he should help.
“‘Give me an hour to get moving, and I'll be on my way,“’ he recalled telling her. “‘Just give me money for gas, and I'll have them to you tonight.“’
Robinson made his way to Greenwood and delivered the butterflies. The elderly customer invited him to come along, so he joined them at the grave site, where the deceased friend's four grandchildren released their butterflies.
“It touches you,” Robinson said. “It seemed to do even more for them.”
In another instance, Robinson delivered butterflies to a church in Spartanburg where church members who had lost family members to cancer held a memorial service to remember and grieve for the ones they lost. Thirty people released butterflies, each representing their departed family member.
“It was beautiful,” Robinson said.
Seeing what the butterflies do for people firsthand on numerous occasions constantly revives Robinson's drive and fuels him to grow his business.
“It does so much for people emotionally,” he said. “It's why we do it.”