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Dr. Lauren Matz waited 41 years to right a wrong, only to be foiled by a pancreatic secretion.
The St. Bonaventure University English professor won $1,000 for finishing second in Saturday’s AARP National Senior Spelling Bee inCheyenne, Wyo., tripped up by chymotrypsinogen, a zymogen secreted by the pancreas
The irony? As an eighth-grader at All Saints Roman Catholic School in Buffalo, 13-year-old Lauren Pringle (now Matz) finished second in the 1972 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. She won the Buffalo Evening News Spelling Bee to qualify for the nationals.
“I know it doesn’t sound that hard, but I missed garnett,” said Dr. Matz, a 1980 graduate of SBU who’s taught at the university since 1988.
A garnett is a type of carding machine, equipped with rollers and cylinders covered with metallic teeth, which is used to open up hard and soft waste textile products.
“I hadn’t seen the word before and haven’t seen it since,” she said.
Remarkably, most of the words Matz spelled correctly Saturday she had seen before, including enfleurage, kalanchoe, loculicidal, erythropoiesis, microlepidopterous, nitrosodimethylamine, oophorectomy, pneumoconiosis, unnilquadium and ascomycetous.
After being prodded by her sister to compete, Matz — a proud and self-proclaimed “word nerd” — spent six months of her spare time poring over the 11th edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
“I just thought it might be fun to dust off the dictionary and try it again,” Matz said. “I wrote down words that looked challenging or were just interesting and kept notebooks. My mind works pretty well on learning root words, but my mind works great on memorization. If I have seen a word, I usually remember how to spell it.”
Matz qualified for the 16-person oral finals by scoring 98 out of 100 on a written test. After a lunch break, the field was whittled to just two after 11 rounds.
“It was nerve-racking for the first few rounds, but once I knew I was going to be in the top 10, I just started having so much fun,” Matz said.
Matz then went blow for etymological blow for 14 more rounds with eventual winner Tony Johnson before he spelled ytterbium correctly to claim the title after Matz’s stumble. Johnson, who also won in 2011, took home $1,500.
But Matz was hardly dismayed after coming so close again to claiming a national spelling title.
“It was really an absorbing experience, and I met so many interesting people,” she said. “And I discovered this amazing subculture of senior spelling bees in which I might try to participate.”
The AARP National Spelling Bee competitors are all age 50 or older. The event was started in 1996 by a group of AARP members in Cheyenne who wanted a fun way to challenge their peers to keep their minds sharp as they age.
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