Tampa woman is state’s first senior spelling champ


“I regarded (writhe) as a pretty easy word,” she said. “I was amazed. I thought they’d probably give me something really difficult (for the final word). I was a little tensed up.”

Vajnar, a former high school English teacher and current substitute teacher, decided to enter the contest in Salina after being persuaded by a friend, Dee Duggan.

“She’s the one that got the entry form and everything,” Vajnar said. “Dee definitely thought I should do it. And I guess I probably did it to see if the ol’ brain still works––if I still had it in me.”

The grade-school blue-ribbon spelling winner said she hadn’t participated in a spelling bee for “well over 50 years.” Because of that, she said she didn’t have any expectations going into the Oct. 11 event.

“Well, naturally I hoped I could win it, but I certainly wasn’t counting on it,” she said. “I don’t feel as if I’m nearly as good a speller as I used to be. I quite frequently have to look up words anymore, and I thought, ‘If I get the right words, OK, and if I don’t I’ll probably go down the first time or two.’

“But I was just doing it for fun, it didn’t really matter if I won or not. But naturally it’s more fun if you win.”

Vajnar competed against 47 other contestants during the opening round of the bee, a written test of 50 words. The field was then narrowed to the 17 contestants who received perfect scores on the written portion.

The 17 contestants then moved to the stage in the Bicentennial Center for the oral portion of the spelling bee.

“Early on (in the oral contest) I was totally relaxed because I didn’t have any expectations one way or the other. If I got spelled down, no big deal,” Vajnar said. “But when it got down to like four or five people left, I began to get really nervous. By the time there were just two of us, I wanted (to win).”

As the winner of the state spelling bee, Vajnar received a plaque and an all-expense paid trip to Cheyenne, Wyo., to compete in the National Senior Spelling Bee in June 2008.

“I’m looking forward to that. I’ve never seen that part of the country at all,” she said.

And while she is looking forward to traveling, she said she probably won’t do much in way of preparation for the contest.

“I don’t really expect to do a whole lot of studying for the national,” she said. “I suppose I might find a teacher that has a word list of tricky words, I might get it and look at it. And, my friend Kim (Frantz) is giving me a word of the day.”

Vajnar defeated Delphine Holston of Abilene to win the state spelling bee.

Lawrence Wetter of Salina finished third.

The state spelling bee was sponsored by the Salina Senior Center, Salina Parks and Recreation 50-plus program, AARP of Kansas, the Kansas Association of Retired School Personnel, Kansas Area Agencies of Aging and Kansas State University at Salina.

Seniors age 50 and older were invited to participate in the event.

Judges were retired U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker; retired broadcaster Max Falkenstein, voice of University of Kansas Jayhawks for 60 years; and Rep. Josh Svaty, D-Ellsworth.


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