Village & Presbyterian Church Host 40th Annual Orland Park Open Spelling Bee

Village & Presbyterian Church Host 40th Annual Orland Park Open Spelling Bee
Posted on 09/26/2018

In 1979, Jimmy Carter was president, Trivial Pursuit debuted and Margaret Thatcher was elected the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom.

It was also 40 years ago that Dr. Bill Smith, then school superintendent for Alsip School District 126, held his first Orland Park Open Spelling Bee.

"I actually held my first spelling bee in Oak Lawn in 1976 during the United States Bicentennial Celebration," Smith said. "We held our first in Orland Park in 1979."

The Orland Park Presbyterian Church and the Village of Orland Park will co-host the 40th anniversary open spelling bee on Sunday, October 14 at the Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 South Ravinia Avenue.

Members of the Orland Park Village Board serve as judges for the contest.

"The Orland Park Spelling Bee is a great event that really gives Orland Park a small town feel," said Trustee Kathy Fenton. "I've been a judge for many years and I enjoy seeing the different age groups that participate and admire all of the spellers. The worst part is when we have to say, 'I'm sorry. That's incorrect.' My heart melts --- especially for the little ones."

Smith's mantra for the 40th anniversary contest is, "Spellers wanted."

"We invite everyone from anywhere to participate," Smith said, adding, "Trophy and ribbon winners from the past five years have been from 23 different towns. You don't have to live in Orland Park to participate."

Smith compiled a number of statistics from the past four decades of spelling competitions in Orland Park.

The 39 Orland Park contests have been won by adults, college students, high schoolers and a seventh grader.

"Kathleen Foley of Oak Lawn was the 'queen of the bees'," Smith said. "Mrs. Foley won eight times in 13 years."

Smith calls Orland Park's Brian Sullivan the "king of the bees" with Sullivan having won the bee five times. Smith reported that 16 of the 39 Orland Park contests were won by men.

"Half of the winners have been adults over the age of 50 with 10 older than 65," Smith said.

Those age 8-10 compete at 2 p.m., followed by age 11 through high school at 2:45 p.m. Adults compete at 3:30 p.m. with the awards presentation at 4:30 p.m.

"I enjoy the spelling bee because it's so basic and unites young and old alike," said Trustee Pat Gira. "As Dr. Smith said, this is an old time event that brings everyone together. I remember winning similar competitions at St. Justin Martyr School as a young girl and the prize was a holy card," she added smiling.

The longest contest in 2006 went nearly four hours with more than 800 words.

The average for the past years has been 450 words with the competition lasting just more than two hours.

"This has always been one of my favorite village events," said Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich. "I'm always amazed at the competition --- young and old."

Winners are determined according to age groups with 12 trophies and 24 medals presented to the winners. First, second and third place trophies are awarded for four categories, three divided according to age and the fourth category of overall winners.

"The idea of an open bee, open to all ages, came from 'Little House on the Prairie' by Laura Ingalls Wilder," Smith said. "In the Dakota Territory in 1881, the town folks got together during the long cold winter to play some Saturday sociable and libraries. They decided to have an 'old town' spelling bee."

There is no charge to participate, however pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

The competition is open to everyone age eight through seniors and participants need not live in Orland Park. Ribbons and trophies will be awarded to the top finishers.

"We're not only celebrating the 40th anniversary of our Orland Park spelling bee, we're also marking the bicentennial of the State of Illinois," Smith added.

A lifelong educator, Smith served as superintendent of Alsip School District 126 for 31 years. He has taught at St. Xavier, Lewis, Governors State, Chicago State, Loyola and Nova Universities as well as at Moraine Valley Community College.

"The Orland Park Open Spelling Been has been a community effort for the past four decades," Smith said. "Thank you to everyone at the Presbyterian Church in Orland Park and the village for all that they do to make this event happen every year."

Participants can register via email by writing to Include the name of the speller, home address, phone number, age and school attending.

Or participants may register by phone by calling the church at 708/448-8142 or Smith at 708/645-2061.