Nine years ago, John Peckham, an English teacher at West Seneca's East Seneca Junior High School, tied the lessons of spelling and concern for others into a neat package.
He organized a spelling bee for seventh- and eighth-graders. Aside from encouraging his 12- and 13-year-old pupils to spell and use the English language properly, he enlisted them in the task of raising money for Cradle Beach Camp, the 40-acre playground off Old Lake Shore Road in Angola, where 800 boys and girls with special needs enjoy a 12-day summer fling.
The money is funneled through the Buffalo News/Rotary Club Crippled Children's Camp Fund.
The pupils signed up sponsors, who donated money for each word spelled successfully.
The school's bee has become a tradition, and Cradle Beach has received $1,000 each year since its inception.
John Peckham died a few years later, and the spelling fund-raiser was picked up by Tom Shiley, another East Seneca teacher. Shiley died soon after, and now another teacher -- who did not want to be identified -- carries on the tradition. Peckham's and Shiley's names were never used when they ran the program, either.
"The students deserve the credit," Peckham said at the outset.
The other day, Mike Swaczniak, 12, Kim Bolis, 13, and Amy Williams, 13, top spellers and fund-raisers, came to The News office with checks for $1,061.
"We want to be the best we can be," Mike announced. "That's what Mr. Peckham and Mr. Shiley would want. We're doing this for them, too."
The pupils' gift and others have lifted this 45th annual Buffalo News/Rotary Club Crippled Children's Camp fund drive to $50,702.06. A list of today's contributors is on Page C12.
Gifts are still needed to help Cradle Beach Camp operate next July and August. They may be mailed to The Buffalo News Camp Fund, Box 100, Buffalo 14240. All will be acknowledged.
The East Seneca pupils are not alone in their support of the camp.
Each year, several classes send gifts, many instead of exchanging gifts during the pre-Christmas school day. Pupils of two Level 5 classes at Hamburg's Armor Elementary School and from Hamburg Junior High School sent donations.
Teachers at City Honors School sent their annual gift in honor of their teaching colleague, Jack C. Anthony, the Cradle Beach Camp director for 30 years.
"We know how important Cradle Beach children are to him and we want to help him and his staff keep that Christmas spirit alive next summer," teacher Diana Rochford wrote.