The Brown County Beekeepers Association (BCBA) has a long, rich history of supporting beekeepers and honey production in Brown County, WI and Northeast Wisconsin. The roots of BCBA can be traced to December 1918 when, during the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic, 300 beekeepers in Brown County, WI decided to band together. They proposed to “work together in the ordering of equipment and supplies and to enable all, through cooperation to get more definite help from the state apiary inspection service.” (taken from a Green Bay Press Gazette article dated November 22, 1918)
The Early Years (1918 – 1935)
Foul brood was noted to be a serious problem. One of the BCBA goals was to get local honey on many more tables in the community.
At the first meeting they proposed a 3-day bee school to be presented by Professors from the University of Wisconsin. On the same page in the Green Bay Press Gazette announcing the formation of the club was another headline about the City of Appleton, WI (25 miles south of Green Bay, WI) which read “Appleton Threatens To Close Up Entire City” if residents fail to “adhere closely to their instructions to refrain from large public meetings”. This was due to “many new cases of the “flu” being reported daily.”
The original officers of the club include: Miss Jennie Matzke of DePere, WI who was named the first President of the Association, ironically, of bee men! George Miller of Green Bay VP, Frank Mongin of Allouez Secretary/Treasurer. In February 1919 a Professor McMurray of the University of Wisconsin stated that Brown County was one of the best natural localities for honey production in the country and the BCBA responded with a plan to boom Brown County Honey Products.
About 125 members met for an annual banquet to plan the use of uniform labeling and packing the crop.The first bee school was held October 13,1920 at the courthouse with Professor McMurray as the presenter. As it turns out, it looks like the 3-day class ended up to be a 1-day class with topics: young queens, fall brood rearing, winter stores, winter conditions, quietness, even temperature, warm cellars, and outdoor packing. In August of 1921 Mr. Frank Mongin of Allouez discussed how his hobby which started with 2 hive and after a couple of years grew into one of the “largest farms ”in the county with 126 hives in Allouez, Greenleaf, Brussels and Kewaunee. He notes that to properly operate an apiary “it is necessary to do a great deal of studying and inform yourself on every point.” In 1921 there were between 2500-3000 colonies in the county and it was estimated that the number would double within a year. The number of active members was 40 and they were energetically preaching the gospel of pure honey and promoting the interest of beekeepers.
“Winn Advises Against Sale of Honey Now” screamed the headline in the Press Gazette on January 29th 1931. James Winn was the honey marketing representative of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. His reasoning for the warning was the expectation that next year’s honey production would be far lower than normal “due to predicted short crop of clover and alfalfa due to undeveloped stands when winter set in.” Also hurting honey sales was “under consumption due to the hard times and to men being out of work.” (remember is was the beginning of the depression)
Jump to October 29, 1934 when the Press Gazette reported that plans for entertaining the Wisconsin State Beekeepers convention had been completed. The announcement was made by club president Thomas Cashman Sr.. As a side note, Thomas Cashman Sr. was a club member until his passing in 1974. As the article noted, “The convention banquet Tuesday evening in the main dining room of the Beaumont (hotel) will feature several speakers and J. N. Kavanaugh, Brown county agent, will serve as toastmaster.”
Most of the club history from this period has been lost.
The meeting sites varied, usually held at the YMCA, Brown County Court House Annex even at members office space, periodically. They were held one evening every other month – February, April, June, October and November, 8:00pm-10:00pm. The average attendance was 6-10 members. In1953 there were 28 members total from De Pere, Green Bay, Oconto Falls, Shawano, Pulaski, Greenleaf, Wrightstown, Brussels –including several couples, a reverend and a Brother from St Norbert Abby.
Meeting content included movies about beekeeping and members sharing their beekeeping experiences. The State inspector visited annually to provide an overview of the state of hives throughout Wisconsin. In 1953 there were 2551 colonies inspected and 72 infected with foul brood and destroyed. Interestingly enough, the club voted to acknowledge club members and spouses and children when ill or death – $5 on flowers or a memorial card. Summer picnics were all the rage in the 1950s–most often held at Legion & Pamperin Parks. Other county bee associations were invited to join in for the potluck themed events. There were prizes donated by bee suppliers and the meeting minutes indicate that good times were had by all. A winter event everyone looked forward to was the annual Christmas party held at the Chatterhouse each December where the Association covered the cost of the dinner for each member. Clarence and Marie Pfluger were active club members leading and documenting minutes at every meeting. Clarence shared info on Brown County and State fair opportunities and encouraged club member participation –urging members to enter honey and other exhibits.
It was announced in 1955 that the State Association wanted to start having a State Honey Queen (or King) and each county association could elect their own queen and send them to the state fair. The BCBA decided to participate beginning the process in 1956. They accepted donations to help pay the expenses. Judging was based on baking, personality, beauty, ability to give a short talk, and preparation of a project book. The club selected judging committee whose members would mentor and work with the local honey queen until the 1957 state fair. The first Brown County Honey Queen in 1957 was Miss Elise Verheyen from Little Rapids. She presented a demo on making a honey sandwich spread. She spoke at the meetings about her experiences in the state competition, as well as her experiences serving as the county honey queen. The honey crops were very good with the average hive produce well over 100lbs. In 1959 motion made to change the name from Brown County Beekeepers Association to Brown County Honey Producers –obviously that did not happen.
Joe Arvey, father of James Arvey, was an active member in the club back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
February 1962: An article in the Green Bay Press Gazette newspaper indicates Wisconsin was 4th in honey production with 92 lbs per colony with an average price of 17 cents per pound.
August 12, 1962: Minutes should show “we are sponsoring a honey queen for 1962.” Motion made and carried. Treasurer’s report accepted as read, balance $63.09. 8 members present. Motion made to have the beekeepers picnic on June 24th as pot-luck.
October 11, 1962: President Kazmierczak will crown out Honey Queen Mary Zelten on achievement night. Mr. Burchell will provide transportation for the Queen to our state convention. $20 will be required for her expenses at the convention.
November, 1962: Mrs. Toebe contacted the Old Dutch Supper Club and found that we could have chicken dinners at the Christmas party for $1.75 per person. Members approved.
May 9, 1963: BCBA Elections were held and motions carried. President – Mr. Arvey, Vice President – Mr. Landreman Secretary – Mrs. Pfluger, Treasurer – Mr. Burchell
October, 1963: Green Bay Press picture shows Joe Avery and Honey Queen, Mary Van Gheen with the caption, “Joe Arvey, of the Brown County Beekeepers Assn., bestowed the Honey Queen title on Mary Van Gheem, Little Rapids, during the 4-H achievement program.”
1970: Joe Arvey is joined by his wife in the club
- Floyd Burchell displayed a chart on bee anatomy and life to be used when giving talks – club is considering purchasing
- Club is discussing how to increase membership and promote honey
- suggestion to hold meeting in a bigger space such as the court house annex – ended up meeting at the regular spot YMCA
- Meeting attendance remains low 4-6
- Christmas party well attended with 22 members and guests
- December 1970 -Joe Arvey set up a checking account for the club – 2 signatures required president and treasurer
- 2 club members had a net honey crop of 354 pounds and donated the proceeds to the club
1971: membership drive to help increase membership and attendance – 16 pd members
- Suggestion made to buy charts Floyd Burchell showed at an earlier meeting – life and history of honey bees, wild bees and honey bees, idea tabled for now.
- March 11, 1971 -Clarence Pfluger brought old documents from club – years of documentation and the members went through and sorted everything. They only kept the most valuable ones – he donated a file for all of the valuable items.
- Christmas gift exchange limit increased to $1.
- 28 members and guests in attendance
1974: throughout the years there were a good number of memberships that were couples.
- No funding to continue the State inspector
- Suggested that the club pool orders for bees for everyone in the BCBA
1975: Map committee still working to get members to mark their hive locations
1976: unable to get a booth at the Brown County Fair
- Raymond Duffy President
- Meetings now moved to alternate locations from the YMCA to Northeast Wisconsin Technical Institute and East De Pere High School
- Membership dues raised from $1 to $2
1978: The Club President was Raymond Duffy. He submitted his resignation due to an accident, but it was rejected by the members. He had been a longtime club member and was very involved and well liked.
- Common practice at this time was for beekeepers to kill their bees once winter came and just replace them in the spring. Packaged bees were inexpensive.
- The club discussed “Cyno gas” which was used to kill the bees. Ray’s daughter shared that her dad did not practice killing his bees in the winter. He overwintered his bees in the basement of their home.
- Paul Hartman, a Horticulturist from UW extension provided guidance on to the club throughout the year.
- One meeting activity that was enjoyed by all was when club members traveled to other areas visiting apiaries and came back, sharing slide shows at the meetings.
- Bruce Rumage from Arkansas arrived on the BCBA scene and he joins the club- keep following his name.. a good story is coming.
- Meeting attendance in the late 1970s continued to be low and the club searched for ways to improve it.
1979: it was suggested that BCBA apply to have the WHPA State Convention in Green Bay in 1979 or 1980.
- The club voted on moving forward with the application to hold the convention at the Downtowner Hotel.
- Dues were increased to $5 per individual and $7.50 per family (includes spouse and children under age 18). 1-year free membership for youth until age 18 (which we still do today).
- Meeting frequency increases from every other month to every month.
- As a fundraiser for the club, Bruce Rumage suggested the club hold an auction of old bee equipment and the money would go to the association.
- Suggestion to form a co-op to give members a commercial rate when buying equipment and supplies – lots of discussion including other clubs that tried it did not recommend it. The co-op idea was eventually shot down.
- In April 1979 the Club Newsletter was born – this was a place that club members could express opinions freely. The majority of the club was in favor of the newsletter.
- June 1979 Bruce Rumage was elected President. He started a glass hive. Nothing else was written about it though.
- Closing out the decade, a pesticide committee was formed to look at spraying crops/ canning factories, Port Plaza Mall allowed the club to promote honey and a suggestion was made to sell honey at the farmers market. It was reported that some honey from China was found to have chunks of metal in it. Questions arose as to why Brown County does not have a Honey Queen. The club revisited the idea and put it to rest.
- Interestingly enough, Dadant & Sons asked for volunteers to work the honey booth at the state fair on a Saturday morning and NOBODY volunteered.
- At the close of 1979, Ray Duffy suggested that all county associations write up the history of their association – No such documentation has been found for BCBA.