Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content 88-year-old wins inaugural senior spelling bee

MATT STEINER Updated: September 27, 2012 at 12:00 am

Jeanette Noble’s day didn’t begin very brightly at the Summit Glen Retirement Community in Colorado Springs.

The 92-year-old fell in her bedroom around 8 a.m., then she spent much of the day at the emergency room. Noble thought she might have broken her windpipe, but that wasn’t the case. Doctors released her and the woman from Minnesota hurried back to the apartment complex on Old Farm Drive.

After all, the energetic — but slightly sore — senior had a spelling bee to compete in.

“I’ll just have to hold a cold pack on it,” she said, gingerly moving her right arm moments after misspelling the word “chaotic” and settling for second place in the field of 15 participants.

Shortly before the bee began, one seat remained empty at the front of the activities room. Lisa Matthews, who works at Summit Glen, said the chair was for Noble.

“She told me she wasn’t going to miss the spelling bee,” Matthews said, noting Noble was tough. After all, she and other residents at the complex went whitewater rafting in 2011.

The retirement community’s inaugural spelling bee was won by 88-year-old Chuck Woudenberg, who cruised through five rounds and claimed victory — and a brand new fuzzy blanket for a prize — by acing the word “defamation.”

Woudenberg, a 40-year Colorado Springs resident, credited his spelling skills to avid reading and years proofreading in his print shop. He said activities such as the bee are important for seniors.

“This keeps our mind active,” Woudenberg said. “And it’s a good social environment.”

The bee had an audience larger than the field of contestants. Fellow Summit Glen residents laughed, cheered and sometimes even tried to help their friends spell the words that got increasingly harder until 12th-grade-level challenges began to thin the field.

The competition was part of a initiative by the Hawthorn Retirement Group, which runs Summit Glen and 23 similar facilities in the United States.

The Colorado Springs community is taking part in a four-week program called University of Hawthorn School of Health and Wellness.

Events each week include bean bag baseball and lectures featuring guest speakers such as a historian, a police detective and El Paso County commissioner Peggy Littleton.

The program began Sept. 10 and ends Oct. 5. Residents earned points whenever they partipated and will receive a “degree” at a graduation ceremony during the last week of October, Matthews said.

“They will get diplomas,” Matthews said. “I’m not sure about gowns, but I’m hoping to get caps for them to wear.”

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