The Anatomy of a Club
By Gwen Rosenberg
Originally Published in Bee Culture Magazine - August 2008

I think it was Mark Twain who once said that "I would never want to be in any club that would have me as a member." Not me. Wanting me as a member is my only criteria. I am delighted to pay my dues and become a part of any club willing to put up with me. I belong to a bee club and a dog club and a cooking club and have phased myself into and out of knitting clubs, book clubs, poetry clubs, wine clubs, and that's not counting volunteer organizations, professional and academic associations. While my name rambles along membership rosters like pollen on the wind, there is one thing that remains constant- the club anatomy.

Not the human anatomy, but the composition of the club; the types of individuals responsible for meeting together once a month to discuss some order of minutia and squabble over by-laws. In every club, regardless of the uniting factor, there are a distinct set of characters, and I mean characters, that comprise the anatomy of that club. The faces and years may change, but this cast of characters remains largely unchanged.

The bee club in particular is a marvelous specimen, anatomically speaking, of such an organism. The outside observer sees the whole organism promoting bees and selling honey. In reality it's mob of men and women who generally can't agree on the day of the week let alone the best beekeeping practices or price of honey. If you belong to a bee club, a pigeon racing club, a local flyfishermans club, dutch rabbit enthusiates, giant remote controlled airplane flyers organization or any other club then the list that follows will look very familiar to you.

If you've ever been forcibley dragged to some gathering of people who all want to talk about the same thing, then you will also recognize the following people who I have cleverly assigned anatomical nicknames.

Allow me to introduce you to the spine of the bee club. If the spine of an animal is the central player in all function for survival, then this person is single handedly responsible for the life of the bee club. All bee clubs, in order to survive, have at least one workaholic member. They usually head some laborious comittee or some other high ranking position which is high on work and low on recognition. Whatever their position, it is generally assumed that without this person the club would cease to exist. They cannot say no to responsibility, and view the bee club in a big picture kind of a way. They worry about legacies and things for posterity and other lofty goals. They have great ambitions and noble intentions. I suspect that this person is the original founding member and they are reincarnated every half century or so to toil away in the bee club and preserve it for another few decades. Without getting into a religious debate, I wonder if this is beekeeper heaven or beekeeper hell.

In mythology, Sisyphus had to push a rock up a big hill for eternity; in beekeeping you return over and over to find volunteers to operate an observation hive during the town's Memorial Day picnic. These people are the backbone of any club and are driven by such a passion that they infect other members. Thank this person often because if they decide to leave, the club collapses in a heap, stops breathing and dies instantaneously.

If there is a backbone, then there is a pain in the tailbone so to speak. This member is usually also on a committee or holds some other office but does not work nearly hard enough to justify all their complaining. What they contribute is overshadowed by how much they talk about what they contribute. Tailbones show up to the field day that took three months to plan, and complain about the weather. They probably also take home all the leftover snacks after the meeting. Tailbones are cheap, noisy and contribute little, but every club has one. The one positive is that there can only be one tailbone because tailbones hate to hear other people complain.

The opposite end of the tailbone is the brain. Brains are great, not every club has one but they should. The brain is someone who has all kinds of skills that they share generously with the club, usually without even being asked. Brains will show up to a meeting with a custom built honey display table they whipped up in their wood shop. Some can build websites, navigate IRS tax codes and even work that gigantic coffee maker. They worry about details that would complely escape most members. Very often the brains are the unsung heros of the newsletter. Brains have lots of good ideas and good solutions. Always ask the brain of the club for their opinion. Aging brains and spines sometimes turn into nervy types. It may be tempting to think of these members in terms of sciatica or root canal but this is not an accurate portrayal.

There are always nerves lingering around clubs. They are one of my favorite types of club members. These people are experts. They have a tremendous amount of experience, mountains of advice and piles of reasons why you're probably wrong- and they're probably right. These men and women have been keeping bees and attending meetings since before you were born, seemingly no matter how old you are now. These are the members who insist on parlimentary procedure when electing the same offiicers that have been elected for the past eight years. They frequently play devil's advocate, resist changing the honey prices and simultaneously complain that the club doesn't make enough money. Ususally these are the only people who volunteer to mentor new members and they'll even give them a crack at a swarm. They may forget your name, but they won't forget beekeeping blunders, ancient club gossip or the names of the individuals who helped shape and build the club into what it is today. All clubs have thier share of drama and upheaval and when catastrophy strikes your club, look to the nerves to put it in perspective and tell you the story of how a similar thing happened not too long ago...

The appendix is in interesting little mystery. No one knows what it does, no one knows if we are better off with it, or without it. In a club, there are usually a fair number of these types of individuals. They do not attend meetings, picnics or holiday parties. They do not volunteer to work and they do not voice opinions on club business. They pay thier dues on time every year and receive a newsletter every month. In the absence of an explanation we make assumptions like that these are members who subscribe to the newsletter as an idle threat to family members who are allergic to bee venom, or maybe they are just really, really busy, maybe they don't even keep bees but have a love of reading meeting minutes. If you recognize yourself as an appendix, what gives? And why don't you save the club 42 cents and get the newsletter sent to your email?

New members are all heart. They are totally smitten with their newfound hobby and are full of ideas and energy. They can be exhausting and niave, but usually the new members are a joy to any club and should be treated delicately. Do not allow negative voices to diminish all that enthusiasm (See pain in the tailbone). In time, hopefully, these optomistic newcomers will season into the hands and feet of the club by volunteering at activities, holding office and generally making it possible for the club to flourish.

Hands and feet are responsible for field days, honey sales, and the snacks that appear at every meeting. Ususally they are juggling the responsibilities of work and family and enjoy a brief respite to talk about bees. Be a hand or a foot at your club and if that's not possible then bring a snack to share and ask the new folks about their bees.

Every club has a soul. The soul of a club is the combined energies of the club members who have gone to forage in the great ethereal field. Their names are no longer on the roster and their memory fades with each passing year. The soul's presence is still felt in the people who were introduced to beekeeping by these bygone members.

It is the greatest accomplishment of a club to survive, grow and make more beekeepers. It should be every member's goal to contribute to this legacy. Make your contribution by sharing a talent, advice or peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.