One by one, each the state’s best senior spellers was eliminated from the 2008 Illinois State Senior Spelling Bee at the state fairgrounds Monday. Until the last half-hour.

One by one, each the state’s best senior spellers was eliminated from the 2008 Illinois State Senior Spelling Bee at the state fairgrounds Monday. Until the last half-hour.

For 30 minutes, Irene Clayton of Princeton and Dale Jacobs of Chicago Heights engaged in a volley of words, all served up by emcee Jerry Lambert from WICS-TV.

“Biblioklept,” Lambert pronounced to Clayton.

“B-I-B-L-I-O-K-L-E-P-T,” she correctly spelled before handing the microphone back to Jacobs.

“Geosyncline,” Lambert said to Jacobs.

“G-E-O-S-Y-N-C-L-I-N-E,” Jacobs spelled confidently, handing the mike back to Clayton.

And that’s how it went on for what seemed like an eternity.

Tropicopolitan, cochleariform, atrichia, literatim, oriency, ergot, ichthyic, xanthophyll (that one drew applause when Dale included both “L”s at the end), anoia, intertriginous, babuina, boutonniere, solenoglyph, paludal, catastasis, nuncupative, ferruminate, gongorism, oxylophyte, odontoloxia, tourelle, vizierial, spongicolous, nunuphar. ... On and on it went.

Then, at 2:30 p.m., Lambert looked up from the podium, walked over to the edge of the stage, leaned down and consulted with a panel of judges sitting below. He had run out of words.

After a total of 49 rounds and knocking out 18 other spellers, bee officials declared a tie and named both Clayton and Jacobs champions of this year’s bee. Each received $100 for their spelling prowess.

Clayton, 84, said she entered the local bee at the senior center back home, and she won, not having any idea that it would be followed by regional and state spelling bees. She had never competed in an oral spelling bee before.

“I do love words,” she said, adding that she does crosswords and reads a lot to keep her spelling sharp.

She said she knew all the words presented to her.

“I was scared I would goof up and make a mistake,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve always liked spelling. It’s a lot harder (spelling out loud) than if you’re writing them down.”

Jacobs, 71, retired after working 40 years for World Book Encyclopedia, where he was editor-in-chief. He was an English teacher for five years before that.

His last spelling bee was when he was in the eighth grade. He and his wife, Jean, both entered their local spelling bee, made it to regionals and then went on to the state bee Monday. Jean got tripped up in an earlier round on the word “bibliophile” because she thought she was supposed to spell “bibliophore.”

At their local and regional bees, Dale Jacobs placed first and Jean Jacobs was runner-up. They practiced for Monday’s bee by bouncing words from the dictionary off each other.

“It was fun. Very stiff competition,” Dale Jacobs said after Monday’s bee was over. He said he, too, knew all the words given to him.

He added that he believes youth today are not the sharp spellers they used to be.

“I think kids depend on spell-check too much and they don’t learn the words,” he said. “My advice would be that they really rely less on the electronic tools and do more memorization. And if you know the roots of words, it’s helpful.”

Some of the words that tripped up spellers earlier in the bee included variegated, epithet and luminance.

The Illinois State Senior Spelling Bee made its reappearance this year after being absent since 1997. Organizers said recurring interest, technological advances and financial support from BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois made it happen. It originally started in the 1980s.

In all, 39 local senior spelling bees took place throughout the state between May and June. Winners and runners-up went on to 10 different regional bees between June 15 and July 15. Those winners then made it to the state bee.

Other spellers who participated in Monday’s bee were: Rose Olson, Oregon; Wilbur Mennecke, Sterling; Jean Smith, Gurnee; Doris Beamish, Round Lake; Doris Phelps, Tonica; Nancy Scott, Eureka; Dora Hisey, Cuba; Nanette Ramsey and Clyde Standley, both of Shelbyville; Helen Creech, Quincy; Helen Miller, Elvaston; Millie Walter, Auburn; Sonja Freeman, Springfield; Anne Harry, Belleville; Elnora Taylor, East St. Louis; and Richard Stanley and Edith Smith, both of Flora.

Any aging network agency or organization interested in hosting a senior spelling bee in 2009 can contact Karen Schainker at 528-4035 or e-mail her at

Jayette Bolinski can be reached at 788-1530.