By MARY RAINWATER
PALESTINE — The Palestine Regional Medical Center team correctly spelled the word “simultaneously” Friday night to win the 14th Annual “Bee” for Literacy over seven other teams.
The team consisting of members Lisa Safford, Laura Villareal and Nancy Bailey won after just one round with the second-place team, the Palestine Library Friends. The “Friends” team of Joyce Anderson, Carol Herrington and Jude Vurgason missed the spelling of “magnanimity,” which led the PRMC team to spell the final word.
“It is a great honor to have won — we had some major competition,” Safford, wife of Palestine Regional Rehabilitation Hospital Director Ron Safford, said after the spelling bee. “We really tried to put together a team that was fun but also well-balanced — each having different backgrounds and experiences to bring to the team.”
The first part of the spelling bee began with eight teams going through a record-breaking 11 rounds with words such as “burgoo” and “Machiavellian.”
Taking third place was the Herald-Press team of Angie Alvarado, Beth Foley and Cheril Vernon, who were eliminated in the 11th round with the word “grandiloquent.”
Other teams and their spellers included: Republican Women of Anderson County and Associates (Janet Holser, Lynn Broughton and Paul Holser); Palestine Evening Lions Club (Alan Russell, Edna Winkler and Cathy Russell); NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (Cheryl Austin, Elaine Fulcher and Kathleen Smith); First Baptist Church (Forrest Bomar, Carol Metteauer and Elizabeth Ponder); and Trinity Valley Community College (Judy Bundy, Linda Horton and Sherry Nash).
Before the spelling bee began, guest speaker and literacy program student Leonel Sis from Guatemala, told the audience how the Anderson County Literacy Council changed his life.
Sis first came to the United States seven years ago and began working hard to save money to send to his family back home, eventually saving enough to build a house for his mother.
“My mother is an angel, and my father worked very hard every day of his life to provide for my mother, myself and my six siblings,” Sis said. “While my father was unable to spend time with my family, he always worked hard and was an honest man.
“I learned so much from him.”
Sis then had Bee pronouncer Jack Selden read to the audience the story he wrote about how his life has been changed by the literacy program. Sis wanted to hear his story read by someone else, he explained.
After a few years in the U.S., Selden read how Sis eventually came to the realization that he had forgotten to think about his future — how he wanted to learn to read and write English.
“I had tried to do it by myself for several years — I could not shop, go to restaurants or pay bills without someone to interpret things for me,” Sis’ reading said. “So I joined the literacy program and took as many classes as I could.”
Wanting very much to learn the language, Sis began visiting Palestine “hang-outs” where he could converse with anyone who was willing to help him hone his English-speaking skills.
“Everyone wanted to help me,” Selden read. “Even people at work tried to teach me words relating to my job — eventually they allowed me to manage a job.”
Since he began attending classes at the literacy center, Sis said his life has completely changed.
“The literacy program has given me a second chance in life,” he said. “I have self confidence — I can eat out, pay bills and shop by myself. I have wings to fly and I can make all my dreams come true.”
This year’s annual spelling bee was held in honor of the late Wanda Campbell, a former teacher and founding member of the Anderson County Literacy Council.
“Much of the credit for what goes on with the Anderson County Literacy Program goes to Wanda Campbell,” council chairman Maxine Barnette said during a tribute to the longtime volunteer. “Even before she started the literacy council, she was tutoring Asian students in her home.”
Campbell, who passed away on March 11, served as a the literacy council’s tutor-student coordinator. She started the literacy council in 1988 with a handful of students and worked with them until right before her death in March.
“She died doing what she loved,” Anderson County Literacy Council Director Shirley Nichols said during a recent interview. “She dedicated her whole life to that program. She dedicated her life to be with the students because she loved what she did.
“That’s why it’s important that we continue what she started and lived for,” Nichols said.
Proceeds from the spelling bee, held at Palestine’s First United Methodist Church, benefit the Anderson County Literacy Council.
Judges for the bee were Anderson County Court at Law Judge Jeff Doran, Palestine Municipal Judge Bill Curley and Anderson County Treasurer Sharon Peterson. Anderson County Judge Linda Ray served as the master of ceremonies and Jack Selden served as the pronouncer. The Rev. Scott Dornbush gave the invocation.
“Queen Bee” Kathrine Newton helped the audience with its special audience spelling. The Rev. Jay Abernathy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Paletine, won the gift certificate for the audience spell.
First Baptist Church of Palestine won the cheering competition.
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org