By Savannah Dawson, Photos by Owen McDermott
A memorial bench rests at site of the Lithopolis HoneyFest, held annually on the streets of Lithopolis, honoring local bee farmer Barry Conrad. Soon his wife, Carmen, will be honored with a bench near his, inscribed with a message that will preserve her legacy as the region’s foremost beekeeper: “Long Live the Queen.”
When Carmen Conrad passed on September 16, 2023, at the age of 77, central and southern Ohio lost a key founder and activist of the bee community. Now, local beekeepers must find a way to continue without their beloved “queen bee.”
The Founding of Conrad Honey and Hive
Carmen, and her husband Barry, founded Conrad Hive and Honey over 15 years ago after taking over Brad’s Hive and Honey, and it has been a staple in the Canal Winchester community ever since. They were also influential in the founding of the Lithopolis HoneyFest—an annual festival held in the village of Lithopolis, dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the honeybee.
In their time together, the pair dabbled in many different careers. From photography to horse racing, farming to candle-making, wine-making to piloting planes—this couple did it all. They were most adored for their love for and knowledge of bees, which started as a hobby of Barry’s, which Carmen came to embrace.
Barry’s son, Jeff Conrad, said that Carmen and Barry were a package deal, often found enjoying their lives together. They were married for 34 years. Carmen struggled after her husband passed away in 2020 at age 78, but she persisted and kept the family business alive.
“They did so much of the [beekeeping] together that after he passed, she could still give the same advice to people that my dad used to,” said Jeff. “People would often call Carmen for advice because they knew that they could trust her knowledge.”
Donald Thomas of Thomas Family Bee Farm was a longtime customer of Barry and Carmen’s. As a new beekeeper, he trusted the Conrads’ wisdom to guide him and his wife in the right direction.
“Carmen got the biggest kick out of me setting my [beekeeping] veil on fire,” said Thomas. “She asked, “How does someone set their veil on fire?”, but she was nice enough to switch it out for me. I’m not sure if it was because she felt bad, or because it made her laugh!”
Conrad Hive and Honey was well-known for their honey that was sold at the farmers markets on the weekends, as well as their beeswax candles, which Carmen made by hand at home.
“She would make all the candles, melt down the beeswax and everyone loved them,” Jeff said. “She would try to hire people to make some of the candles, but they were never to her satisfaction.”
Carmen often brought her grandchildren along to farmers markets, festivals, and other bee events, teaching them her way of honeymaking, candle-making, and befriending customers. She first made candles for her grandchildren to enjoy, but after they became popular, she began selling them to others.
Tess Conrad, Jeff’s daughter, is the likely heir to Barry and Carmen’s legacy. She was very involved in the bee farm and community while her grandparents were alive.
Tess traveled with Carmen to a variety of festivals, farmers markets and bee conventions across the nation. In the past few years, she helped Carmen host the National Honey Queen for the Lithopolis HoneyFest.
“Even just the week before she passed, we had the queen here [at Conrad Honey and Hive], and she would take them to schools, different shows, and get the community involved,” Tess said of her grandmother.
While local, the Conrad family has had a national impact. When Southeast Ohio magazine met with the Conrad family, mail continued to arrive. Weeks later, they continued to receive support in the form of written correspondence– letters and love coming from Wisconsin to New Hampshire.
The family spent the month after Carmen passed away trying to keep the farm running, but soon realized they didn’t have the same resources and passion for bees as Carmen and Barry. The family has decided to close the business.
The Conrad bees will be donated to the Central Ohio Beekeepers Association, where Barry was President and Treasurer for many years. The couple’s equipment and leftover stock will be sold at farmers markets and from the Conrad farm until they are gone.
Tess has been elected to take Carmen’s spot as a honey judge for a variety of different shows and events because of Carmen’s recommendation, as well as her former position as the National Honey Queen, in honor of her grandmother’s legacy.