My Story

Robert J. Burns

In the early 1970’s, our 6th grade science class at Overland Park Elementary took a field trip to the Agriculture Hall of Fame Museum in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

What turned out to be an obscure observation hive with glass casing caught my attention! Live honey bees could bee seen with several frames of comb. This hive was connected to the wall with a plastic tube leading to the outside. I was fascinated.

Another classmate and I got an idea. We wanted to make a bee hive of our own. We had been encouraged by our science teacher, Mrs. Kern. She told us that we should find all the books that we could find on honey bees and read them over the summer. This field trip was in May and the school season was only a few weeks from ending.

That summer, spent what were then my care-free days catching honey bees in glass jars. The little honey bees were were landing on clover blossoms, collecting nectar in the school yard. I was only 10 years old. I tried to catch as many individual bees as I could in a 1 gallon cider jug without getting stung, which did happen several times.

I developed my skill at catching honey bees. I also got used to getting stung. My plans of making a small hive did not work. And, I had the problem of not having a queen bee. I really enjoyed this new fascination and had fun playing with the bees that I caught. This is how my history with honey bees begins. There was so much more that I needed to learn.

The next year…

In 7th grade at Milburn Junior High in Overland Park, KS, I learned that I could order packaged honey bees and the equipment through the Montgomery Ward Farm Catalog.  I didn’t have much money, so I got a job. I delivered papers for The Kansas City Star.  I got my first hive in 1973.  In September of 1977, the same 100-year flood that swept through the Plaza (Kansas City’s famed shopping district) had gone through our residential back-yard in Overland Park, KS. That event flooded my 3 backyard hives.  One washed away against the back-yard fence; my brother and I together carried 2 hives out of the rising waters. Those 2 hives survived.

The flood of 1977 also led me to my 2nd job.  As a volunteer, I helped clean out the muddied supply room for the Alameda Plaza Hotel coffee shop, The Pam-Pam, where my mother worked.  When I turned 16, I applied for a position, weekends onlys. After high school in 1979, I became a full-time college student. Philip Pistilli, the President of the Alameda Plaza & Raphael hotels, promoted me on my 18th birthday to work as a bellman at the Front Desk. I worked in that Bellman position until after I graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1986.

By 1980, I was up to 3 hives again. Almost all of the honey I that year, I had sold to Chef Jesse Barbosa at Alameda Plaza Hotel. Selling the honey to the hotel was a lesson in capitalism. I was able to make some hobby income. I’ll always be in-debted to Mr. Pistilli and the hotel family of people that I worked with for advancing me and giving me an opportunity. The hotel work was fun. My experience there and the many people I met, helped me work my way through many years of college and allowed me to graduate debt-free.

In 1986, I graduated from KU with a major in Liberal Arts. My concentration was in German as I had been and exchange student to Ellerau and Hamburg, Germany during high school at Shawnee Mission North. I also gained my German family.  I have extensive history with them and the several friends of the family in Hamburg that I met as result of my visit(s). They are my international family and friends.

I moved to Washington, D.C. on January 1, 1987 to try to spread my wings. I returned later that summer, in August, to a Front Office management position, and assisted with the take-over duties of downtown hotel, which is now the Marriott Downtown.

In 1989, I took a job in the financial services industry, starting at DST Systems. I was later transferred to Kemper Service Company with the consolidation of their call center from Chicago and contractual work operations at DST in Kansas City. Kemper Service Company workforce was out-sourced in 2002 back to DST Systems, where I had been for a total of 25 years and 3 months. I also worked in the credit side of the financial service sector in customer service and quality control part-time for GE Capital-Montgomery Ward Credit in Merriam, KS. This was part-time for a 9-year period, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I learned both aspects of finance: investing and credit. My investment experience has been in both Mutual Funds and Alternative. I would not be where I am today without those opportunities. Through that learning, I was elected Treasurer for both the local and state affiliated bee associations in Kansas, the Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers and the Kansas Honey Producers. I have been dedicated in the Treasurer position to both organizations for over a decade. The leaders of both groups are dynamic and passionate about successful beekeeping in Kansas. It’s a privilege to serve with them! This is not an easy task but I enjoy doing my part.

Bees, of course, are my other passion. I have been a member of the Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers or  NEKBA, since 1985. I began going to the statewide meeting of the Kansas Honey Producers in the early 1990’s for more beekeeping knowledge and the educational lectures.  My 1st national bee meeting that I attended was in 2003 at the American Beekeeping Federation, when it was held in Kansas City.

I’ve gotten to know other people here at home and around the country who are passionate about bees, too. Educators, mead-makers, researchers, soap-makers, candle-makers, book writers, market customers-from all walks of life.

What turn my life would have taken, had I not been on that fateful field trip in 6th grade. It continues to be a fascinating adventure. Check out some of my other pages to see what beekeeping has been for me.

All I can add is, parents, watch out what your let you kids go to on school field trips. You never know what ideas they’re going to come home with!