Champion speller makes it look as easy as A-B-C

News-DemocratMay 4, 2014 

Elaine Hawkins was destined to become a spelling-bee champion.

"My mother met my father at a spelling bee in a one-room country school, probably in 1914 or 1915," she said. "They were married in 1918. So I'm a genetic speller. Spelling is in my genes."

Elaine, 79, of Belleville, won the Senior Spelling Bee last week at Millstadt's senior center. She beat out four other contestants, ages 59 to 90.

Elaine will advance to the regionals and maybe even the finals at the Illinois State Fair.

"I'm the Spelling Nazi on Facebook," said Elaine, a retired Discover service representative. "I'm always correcting people's spelling, especially teachers. It makes me really popular and lovable."

Can you spell "sarcasm?"

Elaine also competed in the Millstadt spelling bee last year. She was eliminated on "regime" and "dachshund."

This year, Joe Rademacher came in second. He lost to Elaine by mistakenly spelling "crevasse" like "crevice."

"It's been 50 years since I last participated in a spelling bee," said Joe, 59, of Fairview Heights, a chaplain for Family Hospice. "I can still remember the word I messed up on: hallucination."

This was the second year for the Millstadt spelling bee, part of a state program sponsored by the Illinois Department on Aging.

Contestants sat on folding chairs in a straight line, across from organizers Cheryl Mueth and Nancy Kostelac. The competition was over in 15 minutes.

"This year was very fast because there was a rule change," said Cheryl, 63, of Millstadt, a retired kindergarten and fifth-grade teacher.

"Last year, each contestant could miss one word. They weren't out until their second miss."

Nancy, a retired special-education teacher, served as judge while Cheryl read the words. About 10 spectators watched from the sidelines.

Cheryl started with easier words such as "desperate" and "incredible" and progressed to harder ones such as "bourgeois" and "algorithm."

Contestant Ron Eckert got canned on "equivalent," while Carolyn Cleveland misspelled "grotto."

"Of all the words to get wrong," said Carolyn, 62, of Millstadt, who worked at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for 30 years before retirement.

"I'm a good old Catholic girl who used to do spelling bees for holy cards at St. Martin of Tours in Washington Park. Those nuns loved those spelling bees."

Albert Lawson, 90, of Belleville, came in third. He left out a letter on the word "aberration."

"I couldn't decide if it had two Rs or one R," said Albert, a retired ironworker. "So I went with one R. It's an easy enough word, but it's not all that commonly used."

All the contestants received medals and goody bags with bath products, crossword puzzles, candy and pens.

But none entered the spelling bee to get a prize. They just like to spell.

"(Albert) works crossword puzzles, and he's always in that dictionary looking up stuff," said his wife, Wilma, 85. "He knows words that I've never heard of."

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