Receptionist spells her way to glory

Winner Erin Myers / by J. Sedgwick Aaron

A part-time actress and law firm receptionist who correctly spelled "juxtapose" became the Rogers Park adult spelling champion Wednesday in an event that raised over $4,000 for an adult literacy program.

Afterward, winner Erin Myers and her visiting father celebrated with a bourbon.

The event, which drew more than 60 people from Chicago's North Side, was the brainchild of nightclub manager David Meihaus, who hosted the event at the Morseland club at 1218 W. Morse Avenue.

Proceeds went to benefit the Howard Area Community Center's adult literacy program.

Contestants, who paid a $10 entry fee, were asked to spell randomly selected words like "disguise" and "amoeba." All but seven were eliminated in the first rounds. "Tonsillitis" took out one contestant. "Decorticate" stripped another of her chance to win.

Emcee James "Jazz" Anthony Zoccoli, a member of the Strawdog Theater Company troupe, kept the pace brisk and the contestants in line as "Fojammi" performed ballpark style keyboard accompaniment.

Three Chicago public school teachers served as judges. Paul Curtain, a special education teacher at Prosser Career Academy, acted as timekeeper. Laura Westernvelt, a journalism teacher at Amundsen High School, was the official spell checker. The bee's official pronouncer was Saundra Hensel, a drama teacher at Amundsen who relied on an enormous copy of Webster's Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition.

Meihaus plans to make the spelling bee an annual event. He would like to organize a citywide network of nightclubs to hold their own spelling bees, culminating in a city championship.

"One in each of the 50 aldermanic wards," he said. "It would be huge."