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How do you spell …? Fundraiser challenges all

Paulette Church enjoys her final Snowdown Spellebration as executive director of the Durango Adult Education Center. The event, held at the Henry Strater Theatre, is one of the center’s main fundraisers. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Paulette Church enjoys her final Snowdown Spellebration as executive director of the Durango Adult Education Center. The event, held at the Henry Strater Theatre, is one of the center’s main fundraisers.

In these days of spell checkers and texting, spelling is becoming something of a lost art, although you’d never believe it from the excitement at Spellebration on Wednesday evening.

Before a packed house at the Henry Strater Theatre, 13 teams vied for the title of Spellebration Champion of 2013 while raising money for the Durango Adult Education Center. It always starts out pretty easy, because the teams of three are given the word lists for the first two rounds.

But after that, watch out! When designing the competition, judges pull words from a multitude of foreign language derivations as well as medical and scientific terms. Every team has strengths in some areas, but it takes well-roundedness to pull off a victory.

For the third time in the event’s history, Empowered Energy’s team, Revenge of the Word Nerds, took home the title after successfully spelling “capriccioso” in the final round. Team members were Melanie Brubaker Mazur, the publisher of the Pine River Times, Jenny Pritchard and Lori Schell.

But major kudos have to go to the First National Bank of Durango’s team, which not only made it to the finals for the first time in the event’s history, but almost took home the traveling trophy. The team, made up of April Bates, Beth Candelaria and Jan Lewis, also gets credit for one of the best team names, The Flux Capacitors.

The Bookish Boys and Terrifying Teacher, aka the Maria’s Bookshop team, took home the prize for best costume, which was a good thing since they were the second team eliminated. Their team featured Kathleen Costello, Scott Hunter and Shay Lopez.

As a disclaimer, I didn’t just cover the event for Neighbors, I competed for the second year on The Durango Herald’s team, the Newspaper Nerds. We made it to the final few teams but, alas, were unable to repeat as co-champions. The word that took us out? Babirusa, a pig-like animal that lives on some islands in Indonesia. I had to look it up, and discovered that not only are they difficult to spell,they have the potentially fatal design flaw of their tusks growing in a curve back to their skulls, which, once the tusk penetrates the skull, means lights out.

Anyway, I will not forget the team that passed us that word, Jerry Zink, Betsy Fitzpatrick and Margaret Babiarz, representing Stone Age Inc., also known as StoneHead and the SesquipedALIENS. It is so on for next year.

Beth Lamberson reprised her role as mistress of ceremonies in the persona of Waldo, with the audience playing the game of “Where’s Waldo?” for her grand entrance. She was joined by newbie master of ceremonies Gary Penington, who came as an “AV geek” complete with cords, a cassette tape and a VHS tape, but forgot what would have been the ultimate punchline, an eight-track tape. It was the overhead projector with a transparency for the logo and rules that stole the show.

The event was bittersweet, as it was the final year Adult Education Center Executive Director Paulette Church will be presiding over the festivities. She is retiring later this year, but she’s leaving the center much stronger than she found it. She always gets into the spirit of things, this year borrowing a circular slide rule from her husband, Clyde, who’s an engineer. The slide rule, which has to be a collector’s item, also contained the periodic table circa 1967. Anna Caplan helped her hand out the prizes.

Maggie Bowes and Andree Stetson were word judges. Jan Murphy tracked the dollars (teams could pay once to buy back in after a mistake or once to pass a word, which is how the SesquipedALIENS nailed us). Stephanie Moran tried to keep the teams on time. Nico Baker kept track of who was up next. Kathy Rush helped everyone hear what was going on, and Barbara Dodds and Patricia Ey handled the tickets at the door. My teammate Cora Younie served as liaison to the Herald, which continued its tradition of sponsoring the event.

Kelly Quach deserves a ton of credit for not only coordinating the entire event, which is no easy task, but doing it with such good cheer.

Every team got a prize thanks to the generous businesses in this town. I can’t imagine how much they get hit up for donations for Snowdown alone, not to mention the rest of the year. Ken & Sue’s, Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours, Durango Mountain Resort, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Anytime Fitness, Hassle Free Sports, Jean Pierre Restaurant & Bakery, The Ore House, Irish Embassy, Digs Restaurant, Durango Brewing Co., College Drive Café, PJ’s Market and J.C. Penney and Co. all provided gift certificates for the competitors.

Thanks also to the generous audience members, who helped the Durango High School and Durango Adult Education Center’s teams buy back in.

The only thing missing? Where were BP and the other banks, who tend to have side wagers. The wagers drive up the amount of money the Durango Adult Education Center receives to continue in its mission of filling educational gaps and helping adults and families “Learn – Grow – Succeed.” Maybe next year.

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Whether they’re enjoying Snowdown for their birthdays or recovering from it, I hope the day is special for Kate Errett, Grace Jensen, Mary Kay Lambert, Robert Whitson, Tristan Miller, Bruce Kuhn, Dave Trautmann, Gordon Clouser, Bev Graham, Tonya Mulkey, Cole Ulrich, Sally Burchett, Katie Dudley, Janet McCoy, Karen Overington, Ann Lowe, Jane Steel, Wyatt Manson, Chris Howe, Sydney Milner, Cindy Donelan and Russ Leidy.

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Getting roses for their anniversary before the florists run out for Valentine’s Day are Eric and Debbe Speck, Doug and Connie Bishop, Craig and Sandy Goodell, Rollie and Ella Roth, and Dallas and Olivia Reynolds.