The Kingswood Senior Living Community in south Kansas City held its first spelling bee last week, and the results were, well, phantasmagorical.
The 12 spellers who braved the limelight – all residents of Kingswood – battled for the coveted first prize: a $50 Price Chopper gift certificate. But they also stepped up to have some fun, provide entertainment for the roughly 60 attendees and, perhaps most important, engage their brains.
That was the key point for Kingswood resident and Kansas City native Joan Caulfield, who came up with the idea.
Caulfield has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, a master’s in Spanish and a double-major bachelor’s in English and Spanish.
Along her career path, she taught English and Spanish, became the founding principal of Lincoln College Prep in the late 1980s and was associate superintendent in the Kansas City school district in 1988.
Then she took a job as Rockhurst College’s director of school-college partnerships, taught education classes there and led the education department.
During that time, she became interested in the brain and how it worked. She wrote journal articles and started doing workshops to help teachers use knowledge of the brain to improve their instruction.
Spelling bees provide challenging intellectual stimulation, Caulfield said. Last year, she joined Rotary Club 13’s spelling team, which won Literacy Kansas City’s annual corporate spelling bee in 2013.
As the buzz intensified at Kingswood last week, a contestant in the front row gazed at the gathering crowd, leaned over to a fellow speller and said, “This is a big production.”
One with rules, too:
No foreign words shall be used.
We’ll start out easy.
The words will get more difficult with each round.
And they did.
Two wrong spellings, and out the contestant went. Correct spellings were met with a bell’s ding; incorrect ones, a gavel’s thwack.
First word: Away. “A-w-a-y.”
On it went. Rock. Paper. Floor. Dock. Report. Simple. Face. Coat. Admire. Paste. Camper.
Alligator. Redecorate. (Thwack!) Adequate. Irritate. License. Tissue. (Thwack!) Debris. Dungeon. Dictionary. Bouquet. (Thwack!) Campaign. Language.
Suspicion. Ferocious. (Thwack!) Receptacle. Remedial. Intrinsic. Covetous. (Thwack!) Chastise. Succumb. Provincial. Conscious. (Thwack!) Myriad. Cursor. (Thwack!)
The words got harder and the contenders grew fewer. Desiccate. (Thwack!) Mellifluous. (Thwack!) Catamaran. (Thwack!) Siege.
(Thwack!) Halcyon. (Thwack!)
Round 6 arrived. Four spellers left. Three spellers. Then two.
And then, 96-year-old Neal Johnson conquered the final word, quiescent – “something I’ve never been accused of,” he said – and ascended the throne.
Two second-prize winners, Barbara Schulz, 77, and Joan Bruderer, 84, won $25 Price Chopper gift certificates.
Johnson was a news broadcaster for KMBC Radio starting in 1946. He later worked for the U.S. Department of Labor for 12 years until he retired.
Caulfield, who was in the audience last week, has no plans to retire the bee.
“My dream is to take this thing citywide.”