Lindy Blakely

Lindy Blakely

They’re the Queens of the Bee

Once again, the Queen Beezz proved they have what it takes to wear their royal tiaras, by earning top prize at the fourth annual Junction Literacy and Youth Centres’ Spelling Bee Challenge April 6.

Easily coming up with the correct spellings of words such as jodhpurs, inoculate and palooka, the team triumphed for the third year in a row.

Team captain Lindy Blakely said the Queen Beezz began as a team when she registered as an individual at the first year’s event. Organizer and Junction executive director Debbie Schiller put together a team that included Blakely and six others.

“Our team of strangers then took second place in the competition,” said Blakely, “The following year, five of us returned and Debbie asked if we would accept two newbies and that was fine with us…we’re easy to get along with.”

That year and the following, the Queen Beezz tied for first place with the Okanagan College Faculty team, the Eggheads.

This year, Blakely and teammates Terry Hurst, Tish Woodley, Juliette Cunningham, Carol Halle-Bowering, with newbies Barbara Hartley, Wendy Thomson, Sharon Lawrence and Erna McCulla, handily squashed the competition.

“We’ve never really had a strategy,” said Blakely. “We haven’t ever met to practise but a few of the girls have independently reviewed the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary word list for spelling bees.

“And then we just get together on Spelling Bee morning, ready to have some fun and prepare to cope with whatever comes up.

“We never argue. We mostly let the majority rule or we just go along with the gal who presents her version with such earnest passion that we just know she’s right.”

But even the champs were tripped up by a few words this year: tyrannosaurus; flibbertigibbet and aficionado.

“What brings us back? We are all passionate about supporting the Junction and its literacy programs for all age groups. We really enjoy spelling as a group. We appreciate the friendly competitive nature of the Spelling Bee teams and the energy generated by the participants,” she said.

But Blakely said while there is no actual practising taking place before the event, all team members are avid readers, play a mean game of Scrabble and have a love of language.

An only child who grew up in Vernon, Hurst  discovered books early and was soon reading beyond her grade level, and doing well in class spelling bees.

“My high school teachers instilled a love of the English language, and words have always fascinated me,” she said. “As a stenographer, I worked for both Provincial and Federal Departments of Agriculture in their entomology divisions. Spelling long Latin insect names soon became second nature. Later,  as a legal secretary for many years, more words were added to my vocabulary.

“It seemed inevitable that writing would follow, and my fascination with local history led to the compilation of a Brief History of Vernon, an Illustrated History of Vernon, as well as research articles for the Okanagan Historical Society Annual Reports.

“I’ve always felt that because English is the only language most of us know,  there is no excuse for not knowing it well, which is why I’ve long been a supporter of the Junction Literacy reading programs.”

With a bachelor of social work degree, Halle-Bowering worked in the addictions field for more than 20 years. But with an interest in teaching, she obtained a bachelor of education degree and a master of education with a specialty in counselling. She currently teaches in the Social Work and Human Service Work programs at Okanagan College, has a private counselling practice and tutors for the Junction Literacy Centre.

“I love to read and when I was a kid I loved to read dictionaries — I still do and love finding out about the origin of words,” she said.

Woodley gives thanks to her Grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Ramsay, who instilled in her student a love of words.

“The bottom line with spelling is that you find it fascinating or you don’t. I’m one of the lucky ones that find it fascinating,” said Woodley. “There was a big chart on the wall with all our names, and every week presented another chance to get a gold star beside your name if you spelled the most words correctly.  It wasn’t only the thought of more gold stars, but being a good speller was exciting and made you feel proud of yourself.

“Years later, when I was working for The Writers’ Union of Canada, I met a writer who could actually read both Greek and Latin, a meeting which resulted in my own language adventures in the Classics Department at UVic.  In studying Latin I came to appreciate how the roots of our English words provide a key to their meaning and their history.

“Last but not least, Scrabble came into my life, and many a happy hour has been spent creating words, correctly spelled, of course, from a jumble of letters. But being a member of the Queen Beezz team keeps one humble: you go into that spelling bee thinking you’re a good speller and when the words are read out you suddenly realize you’re not quite so sure about the spelling as you thought you were.

“The Spelling Bee is a totally great event and a good reminder that knowing how to spell words is way more interesting than relying on spell-check.”

A retired nurse and former real estate agent, Blakely is coordinator for the One to One Reading Program at Kidston school, where she also works as a tutor.

From attending a one-room school on the Prairies to Queen of the Beezz, it’s been an interesting journey for Blakely, who said her personal literary experience is a good example of what the development of an early love of reading can do for a child.

Raised in a small, isolated Saskatchewan town of about 60 people, Blakely was the second of six kids raised with a frugality common to that place and time.

The town had two small general stores, a post office, a country cafe, a railway station, and one elevator. What it didn’t have was a library.

“That was an unaffordable luxury which would have been regarded as ridiculously frivolous by most of the townspeople and the farmers in the area,” she said.

But in the one-room school she attended until Grade 8, Blakely became entranced with reading early on and worked her way through the few school bookshelves in short order, reading the books over and over.

“Luckily, our dad was a very dedicated reader and, coincidentally, was also our community news reporter, sending a weekly column to be published in a small city newspaper 50 miles away,” she said. “The newspaper then came to us by train a few days later and we could revel in reading our old ‘news,’ which we already knew all about anyway! But the paper also contained regional and world news.

“Apart from that, recreational reading for adults and kids was hard to come by.”

Reading salvation came in the form of the travelling library program, which loaned books to communities and individuals.

“Our dad had the foresight to enroll us in the program. Every three months or so a  gray-painted heavy wooden chest would arrive on the train. It was packed with probably 100 books or so, for children and adults, and it was about the most exciting thing I could imagine! It was way better than Christmas because we received very little each Christmas, but just look at all these books!

“I quickly became an insatiable reader and after I had worked my way through the kids’ books, I started in on the adult books, like a mouse working its way through a big hunk of cheese. With the help of a dictionary included in each shipment, I read through every adult book in those chests, including secretly reading the raunchy trashy ones — oh, the things I learned! I just loved reading and by  Grade 4 I was outspelling the Grade 8s, the early beginnings of a devoted spelling queen.”

In Blakely’s hometown, the norm was for young girls to leave school after Grade 8, taking on any jobs they could find and/or get married at a young age.

Instead, when the time came to continue on to high school, her parents arranged for room and board accommodation in the city 50 miles away. Because she wanted to become a nurse, she was advised to study all the sciences plus French and Latin all four years.

And while Blakely refers to the language as “that gruesome Latin,” she admits it has played a part in her ease with spelling.

“I did very well in high school because of my literacy level which aided me in readily digesting the course content, qualifying me to enter the degree nursing program at the University of Saskatchewan. I became the first female from our little town to attend university.

“I became very aware that acquiring solid literacy skills allowed me the freedom to become whatever I wanted to be and to go wherever I chose. That freedom brought me much joy in my nursing profession, and allowed me to have many adventures, to travel to many countries and to choose a pleasing lifestyle.”

Blakely said throughout her life she has withnessed the frustrations faced by those with limited literacy skills.

“It makes me all the more determined to introduce as many children as possible to the joys of reading and the accompanying benefits of confidence,” she said. “We should be so grateful for the Junction Literacy’s One to One Reading program, now in every school  in our district, which does exactly that in such an effective and enjoyable way.

“I hope parents and grandparents will see the importance of surrounding kids with books at home and regularly  reading to them right from babyhood.”

n n n

Admidst much laughter and cheers over correctly spelled words, and groans over the mistakes, this year’s bee was a winner for the Junction Literacy and Youth Centres.

The number of tables increased from 17 to 18 this year, a gain of $1,000, and the event gained a gold sponsor with Interior Savings, for another $2,500.

“Although unfortunately we lost our presenting sponsor which means a loss of $5,000 so next year we’ll work hard to find a $5,000 presenting sponsor and hope to attract 20 tables,” said Debbie Schiller, event coordinator and executive director of the Junction. “This is our only fundraiser and it’s immensely important.  Without it, both centres (Teen Junction and Junction Literacy Centre) would have to drop programs and/or services.

“We believe that competent literacy skills and the healthy development of youth are cornerstones of society.”

Thanks to community supporters, all services and programs are provided at no cost to youth.

“We’ve had 80 different youth in here who were at risk of being homeless,” said Schiller. “Most are living in poverty and are either not in school or having trouble staying in school. We provide safety for them.”

Planning for the annual Spelling Bee Challenge takes place all year, with chair Bev Gess picking up words and posting them on her fridge.

“They include the most commonly mis-spelled words, and words from other spelling bees,” said Schiller.  “Our reference for all spellings is the Oxford Canadian Spelling Bee dictionary.

“Our bee committee ‘tests’ the words in advance. We spell for a couple of hours and give our opinions on the word — funny, tricky, too hard to hear or pronounce. In the end, only Bev and Maureen Curry, our enunciator, know which words are used.”

And the words that stumped most of the tables? Flibbertigibbet and desiccate, followed by luminescence in the tie-breaking round.

For more information on The Junction Literacy and Youth Centres, see