Volunteer Spotlight: Catherine VanderHeyden

Volunteers are integral to everything we do at HBRC. Catherine VanderHeyden has been volunteering with the Honey Bee Research Centre (HBRC) for six years and we are honoured to share her story below.

Are you affiliated with the University of Guelph?

I am alumni. I took Human Kinetics Honours Biology.

Were you involved with HBRC when you were a student here?

No, I took the Apiculture and Honey Bee Biology course.

What field are you in now?

“I was partly through my degree and then I applied to respiratory therapy and became a respiratory therapist and moved to the States for 10 years. Then I came back. My kids had grown up and gone away. I remembered that one of the courses that I had taken and enjoyed the most was the Apiculture and Honey Bee Biology course, and my sister suggested that maybe I consider taking the introductory beekeeping course and consider bees. We had moved to a property of 10 acres and I thought ‘sure why not?’ So, I took the introductory beekeeping course in 2015 and when I finished that course, I thought, ‘oh there’s a lot of responsibility with bees, I don’t think I know enough to take on these on my own’. So, I asked if they took volunteers and Paul said yes, and I became the Tuesday volunteer”.

“I’ve been there for the past six years and watched the changes in the growth and I have to say that while I found the bees absolutely fascinating, I can honestly say that I have never been part of a more positive and more exciting group people. Every summer we have new young people come through and it gives you all the confidence and hope that the world is in good hands. All the young students that have come through are responsible, and they’re confident, and they’re outgoing. They care about nature, and they care about what’s going on around them, and Paul creates a positive environment [where you] just always feel like you want to do your best and you want to do more and to be a part of that – it is just very exciting. Then when you throw on top of that the research that is done and the value of that research, you just can’t be in a better place. So, the honeybee research centre is contagious. “

Is there something that more broadly speaking made you more interested in bees? What inspired you to take that apiculture and honey bee biology class?

“How honest should I be? Somebody said if you take the bee course, you’ll get a really good mark and I thought, ‘hey great, what’s the average? Sure’. Then when I took the course, I found it so fascinating that you didn’t have to study. It was just, you just wanted to know more. So, I took it because it was supposed to be an easy credit and I found that it was my favourite credit of pretty much all the classes I took at Guelph”.

Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share about your time at the HBRC or the future of the organization?

“Just a couple – You know I have been involved with the new building and the process and I think and after going to Apimondia in Montreal, it makes you realise how much respect there is in the world of bees for Paul Kelly, and I think the University of Guelph has an opportunity to become a real world leader and maintain that position. With the pandemic, we now realize that there can be shared education. The Honey Bee Research Centre has the opportunity to become the focal point of it, and be the place where they collect the information, and they can become command central so to speak. Having seen how many people clustered  to our booth at Apimondia to look for Paul, to find out what was going on [I found that] it was it was really exciting to be a part of that and it made you realise what it means, on the world stage, to be a part of the University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre, and I think that, like I said, they have an opportunity to make it as big as they want it to be with this new centre and maintaining their focus on the educational part of it, the research part of it. It would be important to have it happen while Paul is there to transfer the positive atmosphere of collaboration between people that are working on campus.

You’ve really seen how global the influence of the HBRC is.

“It is, and at Apimondia, I mean we were kidding about this because he’s so humble he would never even admit to this, but it was a standing joke there was a line up for people to see him, every day, all day long. Really I don’t know how he wasn’t totally exhausted at the end of. At the bee lab we used to have a cardboard cut-out of Paul, and we said we should have brought it. Like I said, it was eye-opening to see how much respect he has worldwide, and when you talk to him, he could talk forever about bees because he truly loves them. He has taught so many people so much about bees and he’s held on to what I think are good teaching principles. What we’re here for is not to give somebody the answers they’re looking for, it’s [to give them] the answers that are real. His primary concern is always looking out for the bees and he’s maintained high integrity with the research that’s come through, with the work that is being done, and always with the best interest of the bees at heart. You know we are taught right from the very beginning that before you put a lid on a hive you sweep all the bees away to make sure you do your very best to not injure any of them. To keep that kind of a balance in today’s world, I think, is quite respectable, and I think that they’ve done it and done it incredibly well. If they can take that and make it the centre of an educational wheel where everybody else is sharing information through them it would be something that would be a real feather in the cap of the University of Guelph”.

Thank you, Catherine, for your years of dedication and service at the HBRC.

If you would like to join the HBRC as a volunteer, click here to find out how. To read this issues donor spotlight feature Cheryl McEwen click here.

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