North Central News

Graduate’s career buzzes to new heights

Jul 08, 2016

In a patch of deep clover and yellow wildflowers resides a colony of honeybees tended by Scott A. Witte, M ’16.

The colony’s larger home is Cantigny Golf in Wheaton, Ill., where Witte has been superintendent for the past 21 years. He’s one of a handful of golf superintendents in the United States to add beekeeping to their course responsibilities.

The hives are located adjacent to a fairway, which affords Witte an opportunity to talk to golfers about his love for “all things green and growing.”

Witte became intrigued with the idea of beekeeping six years ago and founded The Bee Barometer Project. In part, the project aims to prove that a golf course can be used for more than watching the flight of a good drive or dust rising up from a sand trap. It can be a place for “diversified habitat and thriving valuable green space,” he contends.

A Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the 300-acre course is also home to purple martins, egrets, blue herons and native prairies – all tended to by Witte and his team.
“Honeybees are so intimately connected to the ecosystem,” explains Witte. “They provide a barometer for the environment. Healthy golf environments, foster healthy honeybees” he says, adding that “one-third of the food we eat depends on pollinators like the honeybee.”

So it doesn’t hurt that beekeeping has become a “new hot hobby,” says Witte. “We don’t want to end up hand-pollinating plants that produce our fruits and vegetables with Q-tips and cotton swabs. It’s way more efficient to let honeybees do the work the way God intended.”
Equipped with a bucket of small tools and a smoker, Witte examines the hives regularly, sometimes preferring to leave behind protective gear like gloves and head veil. To check in, Witte gently lifts the cover, avoiding any sudden movements. With the smoker, he diligently puffs smoke at the exposed surface of the hive to pacify the bees. “Bees communicate through pheromones. If they become alarmed, they release pheromones and fan it through to alert the hive. The smoke helps to calm the bees and mask some of the alarm pheromones,” he explains.

Using a tiny crowbar and clamping tool he lifts a vertical frame, exposing hundreds of bees crawling along tiny hexagon-shaped cells. A few guard bees begin to fly near, yet Witte remains unfazed.

“People are unaware of the miracle that is the honeybee,” says Witte. He enjoys explaining how honey and wax is extracted, noting in particular that bees are “masters of HVAC. They use their wings to fan the hive, regulating temperature and humidity to incubate brood and dry down honey.  In the winter they cluster tightly to keep warm.”

“I had no idea of the gripping power and allure the honeybees would have not just with me but with golfers, who inquire more about the bees than what’s going on the course itself,” Witte says.

Passion for his work is evident. But it wasn’t until earning a master’s degree in leadership studies at North Central College that Witte’s professional experience buzzed to a higher level.

Renee Kosiarek, lecturer in graduate education, Jeremy Gudauskas, associate dean of students, and others at NCC “pulled out of me what I really wanted to say,” says Witte. Intending to focus his capstone course on the Bee Barometer Project, Witte began feeling a strong pull to research the power of volunteerism, and its effects on employees participating in Corporate Responsibility programs.

Research suggests that 66 to 70 percent of workers across America are disengaged at work, says Witte. “They are just going through the motions. So how can we connect to our employee core, connect to community, and connect to cause, to incite passion and purpose among people?” A current trend, he says, is building “a case for corporate-sponsored employee volunteerism as a means to increase employee engagement.”

For Witte, the bee project became a way to do that. “I now have a great volunteer team to help care for the bees, maintain our native prairies, and assist with our bird house nesting program.

“I love to see people light up when they witness golf’s environmental opportunities,” he says. “But after growing turfgrass for nearly 30 years, I’ve become equally passionate about growing people.” Becoming a leader and “ambassador for golf’s environmental opportunities is my wheelhouse. It clicks. It’s settled in, and it’s been fun tying my masters of leadership training to all I do.”