Philly’s 1975 Spelling Bee champ is now a Harvard librarian

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In 1975, Mary Brockenbrough Sears won the Bigger Philadelphia Spelling Bee to symbolize Philly in the nationals in Washington DC.

Then a 13-12 months-aged eighth grader at W.E. Shue Center Faculty in Newark, Del., she had a memorable time at the 48th once-a-year Scripps Howard Nationwide Spelling Bee — which include having randomly trapped in an elevator with a common Tv set star.

Today, Sears life in Lexington, Mass., and is head of general public solutions at the Ernst Mayr Library of Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, where she suggests her bee experiences still appear in useful.

Back then, the regional bee was sponsored by The Night and Sunday Philadelphia Bulletin, which ceased publication in 1982. (The paper’s previous home in West Philly has been renovated as headquarters for biotech agency Spark Therapeutics, but you can nonetheless see the Bulletin identify in lights.)

This calendar year, Philly’s regional bee is remaining sponsored by WHYY and Billy Penn for the first time.

The WHYY-Billy Penn Regional Spelling Bee will be held Saturday, March 26, at Penn Alexander University. The winner will progress to the Scripps Countrywide Spelling Bee, which will be held the 7 days of Memorial Working day at the Gaylord Countrywide Resort and Convention Middle in National Harbor, Md. Actor LeVar Burton will provide as host of the countrywide semifinals on June 1 and the finals on June 2, each of which will be televised on Ion and Bounce.


Although this year’s Nationwide Spelling Bee is anticipated to draw extra than 200 contestants, the 1975 nationwide opposition had only 79 opponents. Headquartered in the stately outdated Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., the spelling competitiveness lasted only two times and was sandwiched into a 7 days of sightseeing and get-togethers for the spellers and their households.

Sears explained she has a lot of excellent recollections of the Countrywide Spelling Bee, but just one definitely stands out: staying s-t-u-c-k in a lodge elevator with Grandpa Walton.

Will Geer, the actor who performed Grandpa Walton on the well-known 1970s Television display “The Waltons,” was there to movie a Television specific about the Nationwide Spelling Bee. For the duration of the 7 days, he mingled with the spellers and their families, went on sightseeing excursions with them, and done a monologue for them.

“My loved ones watched ‘The Waltons’ every 7 days, so he was a pretty common face,” Sears said.

Sears was among the about a 50 % dozen folks — mainly spellers and household customers — who were in the stopped elevator with Geer for about 30 minutes.

“He was so great and friendly,” Sears recalled. “He held us chatting. He was wonderful and stored all people at relieve right until we were being ready to get out.”

An additional a person of Sears’ beloved reminiscences was taking a VIP tour of the White Household wherever To start with Girl Betty Ford greeted the spellers and their households from a balcony overlooking the Rose Back garden.

Sears also reported she relished meeting children from all about the United States. “Chatting with the other spellers was wonderful. Everybody was thrilled to be there and very helpful.”

A news clipping from The Bulletin details Sears’ victory in the Greater Philadelphia Spelling Bee in 1975
Courtesy Mary Sears

Today’s National Spelling Bee rivals typically employ professional coaches to prep them for competitiveness, but Sears and lots of of the 1975 contestants relied on loved ones customers or instructors to drill them on words and phrases from the National Spelling Bee’s official follow e book, “Words of the Champions.”

Although practice was from time to time monotonous, it was value the effort.

“I’m not significantly of a athletics person,” Sears stated, “so spelling bees ended up a levels of competition I could enjoy.”

In Washington, Sears built it by means of the 1st day of opposition, but skipped the first phrase she got on Day 2. Her nemesis was “gonfalon,” which is a banner or pennant. She spelled it “g-o-n-f-a-l-l-o-n.”

“I had not observed ‘gonfalon’ on the examine list, and it was a new phrase for me,” she said. “After I started off doing work for Harvard, I noticed the phrase generally. ‘The Gonfalon’ was the title of a Radcliffe College journal for a lot of decades. Each and every time I see it, I recall the spelling bee and getting in the eighth quality.”

Sears positioned 21st and received $50 in prize income.

The winner of the 1975 Countrywide Spelling Bee was Hugh Tosteson Garcia of Puerto Rico, the to start with contestant from outdoors the 50 states to get. He received $1,000, a trophy cup, a plaque, and a ruby-set medal.

Sears went on to get paid a bachelor’s degree in music at Wellesley School, exterior of Boston, and a master’s diploma in library and information and facts sciences at Simmons College or university, now Simmons University, in Boston.

Classes from her spelling bee ordeals h
ave stayed with her more than the decades.

“In my career, I’m continuously doing work with scientific names, and spelling is essential,” Sears mentioned. “I learned the value of specifics and persistence.”