Chris Boettcher grew up in Germany and moved to Georgia in the 1980s. He had been trained in the television repair field, but one day while on the job, his ambitions shifted. He opened the back of a television to inspect it and several cockroaches scurried out of the box. Boettcher had never even seen a cockroach before.
The moment piqued a curiosity about all the different flies and bugs he’d come across in the U.S., and he ended up eventually venturing into the pest control field. Then, by the mid 90s, after moving to Texas, he opened his own company.
”Once I got into being an exterminator, we kept running into insects we’d never seen before, different species, types of ants … to me that was the challenge I enjoyed. You’re always running across something new. - Chris said
That curiosity was contagious. His daughter, Renee, born in 2000, grew up around the pest control business. However, instead of killing critters and rodents, Renee photographed them.
”I feel like I was born with a curiosity about creepy crawly things. - Renee said
A Cat and a Rat Trap
That creepy crawly curiosity recently took a lucrative turn when Renee photographed a cat sitting next to a rodent trap – the EZ Secure Rodent Station from VM Products – in a Ft. Worth-area stockyard. Naming the photo “A Cat and a Rat Trap,” Renee entered it into the Keller Independent School District Art Show Competition and took best in category. Then Chris, who works for Univar, a distributor of VM Products, showed the photo to VM Products Founder Ethan Vickery. The photo impressed the pest control expert so much, he wanted to reward the effort.
”It’s unique because it’s someone who grew up in the business, and at the same time she found a way to bring in the artistic side. - Vickery said
Heather Mabry, Customer Service Manager with Univar Solutions was also intrigued with her work “When Chris first shared Renee’s pictures with me, I was amazed at the detail and her artistic eye that captured these creatures. Chris’ career in the pest control industry may have introduced Renee to the world of crawling, flying, burrowing and nesting creatures; however, she is taking this world to new places through her art,” says Mabry.
Chris Boettcher and his daughter Renee
A SCHOLARSHIP IS BORN
Vickery was so impressed with the photo that he offered Renee a $3,500 per semester scholarship for her first year of college at Tarrant County College. She’ll start there this fall and is exploring the idea of entering the field of entomology.
The scholarship is not a one-time award either. Vickery is starting a scholarship fund for future college students who aspire to get into the field of pest control or entomology and demonstrate a respect for the work, insects or rodents through an artistic effort, as Renee did.
“My thought is to create something for those who are passionate about entomology, the pest control business, and bring in the artistic side,”
Vickery said. “What’s interesting is that almost everyone in our business, on some level, appreciates the insects and rodents. … We have to study their anatomy, biology and where they come from. It’s such an important part of the detective work we do.”
Vickery is also seeking out other sponsors and donors to establish an endowed fund to nurture the scholarship effort for the long haul and help families with the rising costs of higher education.
A YOUNG BUG DETECTIVE
You could say Renee grew up as a bug and rodent detective herself. As a child, she played soccer but wasn’t very interested in the game. Instead, she would be found wandering around the field looking for bugs or flowers. Today, she enjoys excursions around her neighborhood, shopping centers and nearby parks with creeks and trails where she’ll find bugs, animals and rodents to photograph.
A digital art class at her high school helped her learn the Photoshop program, and she applies these skills to some of the photos she has on her Instagram page. There, you’ll find plenty of fun photos with friends, Texas landscapes and events from her life. At the same time, you can’t miss the long-tailed rat reaching out to hold a human finger, a close-up of large black ants scurrying up the white column of a home, a large spider caught in the act of building a web, or a beautiful close-up of a hummingbird moth, so close you can see the tiny specs of pink on its hind wings.
Renee with her camera
One of her favorite bugs is a Praying Mantis, although she admits to never holding one yet. “I found one in my car before and it flew off,” she said. Boettcher also has three hooded female rats of her own – Daya, Janny and Ruby.
She’s not sure how much her father’s past pest control business and his current work with Univar Solutions has influenced her love of insects and rodents, but it certainly served as the perfect complement for her to learn more about the many different types of creatures she encountered. “My dad was in the business my whole life,” she said. “I’d find a bug and photograph it and he’d say ‘oh that’s a vampire moth.’”
Added Chris: “When I first started my business I was running it out of the house. She got involved and we’d start looking at things and paying attention and it just went from there. … She’s always been fascinated with anything living, insects or animals.”
An aunt who enjoyed photography ignited Renee’s passion for the subject, and she still uses her aunt’s Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera for most of her shots. Her first artistic inclination was for drawing animals and insects. But she loved how photographs better captured and froze moments, something videos and even paintings may not do so well.
“I like to take photos a lot more. It really feels like you’re remembering something,” Renee added.
And after Renee snaps a shot, regardless of whether there’s an infestation at hand or not, she still doesn’t want to kill any of the pests.
“She will take a fly and put it outside. She does not want to kill it. … I kill them to keep the lights on and she sets them free,” Chris said with a laugh.
Vickery embraces the public health function of pest control services, but at the same time believes there’s a time to observe some of the beauty in the very creatures his industry must control.
“Insects are really part of the natural evolution in the food chain, but our job is to control them for public health purposes, but at the same time, some of them are pretty cool to look at up close like that,” he said.