Valerie Duever, is more than just your average bee queen. While a substantial part of her life revolves around her beehive farm and honeybee education, there is more to Duever, president of the Missouri Bee Keepers Association, than honey and hives.
This Brookfield, Missouri, native did not have a conventional upbringing. The oldest of six children with a father who was a violent alcoholic, Valerie wanted to escape the life she knew. She was told that she could never obtain a college degree, so she set out to prove those naysayers wrong.
“If you want something bad enough, then you’re going to go get it,” Duever said.
Once she arrived in Columbia to pursue a degree from the University of Missouri, she found a part-time job at Hardee’s working for an income, as well as for the food she would earn at the end of the shift. Counselors tried to push Duever to become a bookkeeper because she liked math, but she knew that was not the place she wanted to be. After four and a half years of college at MU, she graduated with a degree in horticulture.
Valerie met her husband, Jim, during her college years and on Oct. 6, 1984, they decided to tie the knot. Jim and Valerie moved to the St. Louis area where they resided for 20 years and had two daughters, Laurel and Heather.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed home with my kids until they would have gotten into elementary school,” Valerie said. “I try to share that with other young women especially those that are getting to that point when they are choosing to have children; plan it out so you are able to stay with your kids because there’s so much that happens within the first five years and you don’t know it until 20 years later.”
Eventually, the Duevers bought a farm in Auxvasse, Missouri, where Jim wanted to establish their honeybee hives. Valerie was never really interested in the bees because she didn’t like how they stung and she thought she hated the taste of honey. One day, Jim stuck a piece of honeycomb in her mouth, and from that day forward, she was on board with having honeybees on the property.
Because Valerie is actually allergic to bees, she handles the marketing sector of “Jim N I” honey production, while Jim is directly involved in production.
“She’s really good at detail and she balances me out,” Jim said. “Everything I’m bad at, she’s good at.”
Valerie became fascinated with how the bees interacted with each other. It was then that she and Jim decided that they were going to start taking beekeeping classes in Illinois as there were none to be found in Missouri.
After attending a few classes, Valerie joined the local Boone Regional Bee Keepers Association to feed her curiosity for knowledge. She later joined the state association to network with a larger variety of people and to find out more information about bee keeping.
“If you want to know about something, you immerse yourself into it,” Valerie said.
Valerie immersed herself so far into the state association that she eventually became the president of the organization.
“It’s very interesting, to say the least,” Valerie said.
Becoming the president of the Missouri Bee Keeper’s Association is a six-year commitment.
“In the past (the job as president) has been to help the public become aware of bees and the necessity for pollination and honey production,” Valerie said.
She not only promotes bee education through her presidency, but also through the hives she and Jim have at home. Education is their primary focus with honey production a close second.
“You can do classroom (work) all you want, but you really have to get into a hive to understand how it works,” Valerie said.
She and Jim have taught eight to 10 beekeeping classes to the public. The second year of the classes is more hands-on with the beehives.
“We do like it (teaching the classes). They are a lot of fun,” Jim said.
Valerie is all about passion. She cares for her students and sincerely feels joy and excitement when they understand the connection between bees and pollinators.
“I love the look in people’s eyes when they get it. When I’m talking to them about pollinators and they get it, it clicks,” Valerie said. “They understand that there is a connection between everything. To kill one creature has an impact on other creature. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing.”
In addition to her expertise with honey and hives, Valerie is also an experienced gardener. Grapes vines, apple trees and pink blueberries are among the many types of produce that can be found planted in their yard. However, Valerie has another, hidden, interest.
“My secret passion is stupid romance novels because they make me laugh,” she said.
After a long day of work at her full time job as an e-commerce support coordinator, Valerie looks for ways to relax her mind from “resolving electronic payments with suppliers that involve single use virtual credit cards.” With not much downtime on her hands, what little time she does have is filled with reading.
Another defining aspect about Valerie is her passion for equal rights and the need for women to have their own identities. She ran into an obstacle after graduating college when a loan officer refused to let her put her income on the form because she was “the wife.” Jim, at the time, was unemployed because he was still in college. Valerie said that experience ignited her passion for equal rights.
Srong willed, determined and passionate, whether it is her bees, women’s rights, or her family, there is no doubt that Valerie puts heart into everything she does. When Valerie stands up for those values, she does so in the most respectful way.
Valerie states, “A whisper is heard a lot louder than the slam of a hammer.”