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Neighbors of Kane County

St. Charles senior speller snags state’s supreme spot

Sep 13, 2016 09:17AM ● By Neighbors Magazines

John Wohlert

Hieroglyphic.  Bouillabaisse.  Rigmarole.  Cloisonne.

Not your everyday words.  Just ask St. Charles Park District Adult Activity Center member John Wohlert.  Wohlert has encountered, and mastered, these and many more in his years as a competitive speller, but if he has a favorite, it would have to be “hieroglyphic.”  That was the one that earned him first place in the Illinois Senior Spelling Bee held on August 15 at the Illinois State Fair’s Senior Day.

Wohlert’s road to the state championship began with winning the St. Charles local Senior Spelling Bee in March.  Co-sponsored by the St. Charles Park District and the St. Charles Public Library, the spelling competition is a fun way to keep one’s brain sharp while building friendships.  After winning the state title, John was a verifiable celebrity at the Pottawatomie Community Center.

“We are so proud of John,” said Meghan Papke, Adult Activity Center Supervisor. “It was an amazing accomplishment.”

Sponsored by the Association of Illinois Senior Centers, the Illinois Senior Spelling Bee competition takes place at local, regional and, finally, state levels.  The state is divided into 13 regions and the top two finishers from each region go on to compete at the finals.

Wohlert has been competing in Senior Spelling Bees since 2014 and has finished first at the local level all three years, and taken regional titles two years.  This year, he took home the first prize honors at the state level.

“I was very fortunate that day to finish first,” said Wohlert.  “I was up against a formidable competitor, Lisa Barker, who has won the bee for twelve years.” 

To become a formidable competitor himself, Wohlert studies words.  An avid reader and a polished writer, Wohlert takes pride in his ability to spell words correctly and use proper grammar.  In preparation for competitions, Wohlert studies spelling bee word lists and thumbs through the dictionary looking for “gotcha” words that could come up in competition.

“Sometimes words that are fairly common become difficult to spell when you are under the pressure of a competition,” said Wohlert.  “I’ve been in eight bees in three years and have been asked to spell ‘spatula’ each time.” 

Fortunately, he’s gotten it right.

And while knowing that there are two “r’s” in “embarrassment” but only one in “harassment” is important when it’s your turn at the microphone, it’s equally important to maintain one’s focus and concentration, according to Wohlert.  A bee can begin with a dozen or more competitors and can last for approximately 2 hours. 

“There’s a level of tension that builds up over a long period,” said Wohlert.  “You find yourself mentally spelling along with your competitors as the rounds go on.  It’s hard to tune out the parts that don’t relate to you.”

While wordsmiths like Wohlert may have to wait until next year to compete at the local level, they can start planning now on going up against the reigning state champ.  A personable and intelligent man who is proud of his accomplishment, Wohlert, nevertheless, doesn’t resort to braggadocio.

He saves words like that for the spelling bee.