Summit County Beekeepers Association is thriving in the era of virtual meetings

Reporting, writing and photos by Teresa Sroka 

Robert Najjar, President of the Summit County Beekeepers Association, fondly recalls a childhood memory in Lebanon, when a neighbor who kept bees cut a piece of the comb off and gave it to him. 

“Cubes of the comb honey,” Najjar recalls. “Until today I still remember that taste, and I couldn’t wait — when I started beekeeping, I couldn’t wait until I could do that.”  

In the 3 years since he has been President of the SCBA, membership has grown, structure is being added, and while many organizations struggled to adapt to meetings via Zoom, Najjar used his business know-how to quickly and successfully transition into the virtual meeting world. 

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With new virtual classes just finished and beehives at Crown Point Ecology Center waiting for the warmth of spring, 2021 is shaping up to be a busy year for the organization.

“When I jump into something, I jump in with both feet,” Najjar says. 

Najjar came to beekeeping by way of his garden in the Richfield community garden. “I was looking for a support system, and I found them right in my backyard,” he says.

After joining the group, Najjar was an active member, helping with events and expressing ideas to strengthen the organization. His mentor, then-president Greg Varnes, asked Najjar to take the post of Treasurer. Then, “I don’t know why, but they elected me president. I told them, I don’t know a lot about beekeeping, but I know a lot about business.”  

Robert, an electrical engineer, worked for four years at Goodyear before starting his own business,  Digital Integrated Systems, in 1992. His work includes IT and cybersecurity. 

Running his own business and being SCBA president means a lot of demands on Najjar’s time. The morning we spoke, he was preparing for an SCBA meeting in the evening. They sold out of their 100 seats, so he had to field phone calls and texts and expand the capacity of the Zoom call. 

“There are clashes sometimes, and I have to prioritize,” Najjar says. 

Expanding the Zoom number fits right into what Najjar, a self-described “visioneer,” has in mind for the SCBA.  

“I tell them at every meeting, I want this to be the best club,” Najjar says. “I want to work with the community, I want to work with the schools to expand knowledge. Our mission statement… is about education and awareness of beekeeping.”

Even when group gatherings may again take place, Najjar says Zoom meetings are here to stay. “By the time you rent a hall, and you have to find a speaker who is willing to travel two or three hours, and book a hotel, it is a lot.”

With virtual meetings, Najjar says they have been able to host national and international experts on beekeeping at their meetings. To combat the loss of community that exists with virtual meetings — the casual post-meeting chats, easy exchange of conversation, and sharing — Najjar and vice president Randy Katz have formed a mentorship committee.

Najjar’s passion for his hobby is evident in every aspect of his work with the organization. Najjar quotes Les Brown as his motto for everything: “Reach for the moon, for even if you miss, you will still land among the stars.” 

If you would like more information about the Summit County Beekeepers Association, visit www.summitbeekeepers.com

Teresa Sroka lives in Fairlawn and enjoys traveling, spending time with her family and hiking with her husband, Dale. She can often be found in her studio creating quilts or in her kitchen baking. She believes we make the community better by getting involved.

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