Area spellers show off their chops at 9th annual Old-Fashioned Spelling Bee

September 4, 2018

Hardly anyone hears the words effulgent or poultice in regular conversation, let alone has to spell them.

Challenging words like these, however, were just some of the many that spellers had to think through at the 9th annual Old-Fashioned Spelling Bee at Homestead National Monument, Monday.

The yearly Labor Day event drew area spellers who were placed into five different age groups. The spelling contest resembles those you might catch on TV or in schools but with one difference - all the words had to be in existence before 1936.

“These are words that Homesteaders would have been either familiar with or taught in their own schools, or in some cases the words that they would’ve gotten from books like Shakespeare and so forth,” said Robert Marcell, historian at Homestead, who co-moderated the event with Joanne Neeman of Beatrice Public Library.

This year’s spelling bee was meant to take place in the Freeman School but was moved to the Education Center as chances of rain hung around throughout the Labor Day morning.

Words got more difficult as the rounds progressed. Think you could spell myopic, for example? Tourniquet? What about succulent or indelible? In the 16 and up age category, these words stumped some in the audience, but not Jessica Freeman, who took home first place.

“I get really nervous,” Freeman admitted. “At some point I wanted the whole thing to be over with just to be done with it.”

In the 7 to 9 age group, Sloan Penner took first place, while Abbie Gill was runner-up. Spencer Byars took first in the 10 to 12 age group, with Rylan Gill placing runner-up.

In the 13 to 15 age group, Dorothy Marks was first and Bailey Schauer was runner-up. Finally in the 16 and up age group, Freeman placed first, followed by Mark Byars in second.

Champion Spencer Byars, 12, has participated in the event before and prepares by reading and studying words. His winning word was “rural.”

“I like the competition part,” Byars said. “It gets your heart pumping.”

Spelling bees were an integral part of Homesteading education, according to historian Marcell, and go back well over 100 years.

“This is something Homesteaders did and practiced in their own classrooms and own communities,” he said.

All spellers got a certificate for participating. First and second place finishers received trophies courtesy of the Daily Sun, which sponsored the event.

Labor Day weekend is typically a busy time at Homestead. On Saturday, various living history demonstrations were on display throughout the park - like candle-dipping, blacksmithing and more.

A deluge of weekend rain hampered some plans at the park however, including Sunday’s Homestead-Era Car and Truck Show that was postponed until Oct. 14.

Following Monday’s spelling bee, a presentation on old-fashioned penmanship was held at the park, with an opportunity for visitors to try their hand at quills and dip pens.

For Marcell, the annual Old-Fashioned Spelling Bee is way to showcase participants’ spelling skills, not only for locals but for people from as far away as Omaha and Kansas.

“I think my favorite part is just meeting all these interested spellers and keeping this tradition alive, he said. ”...So it’s just an honor for us to be able to keep it alive and continue this tradition for the community.”

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