For two months straight, Lauren Matz had a date with her dictionary after washing the dinner dishes.
Thankfully, she was studying an abridged version – only 1,600 pages. As she flipped through the pages, she would fill up Steno Pads with words that looked to be “good spelling words.”
“I studied fiercely,” she said.
The dedication paid off.
On July 12, Matz, a St. Bonaventure University English professor, won the National Senior Spelling Bee in Knoxville, Tenn.
“I love words,” said Matz, 55. “I just love thinking about words. I love knowing words. I like increasing my vocabulary. I like thinking about how words came to be and imagining the stories – like, how would anyone think we need a word for this particular concept, and how would they come up with this particular word?”
Her winning word: “harmattan,” a dusty West African trade wind.
Last year – her first year in the competition – she finished second.
Matz, who grew up in Buffalo’s Riverside neighborhood and attended Mount St. Mary Academy, also finished second as an eighth grader in the 1972 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
For winning the senior bee, Matz received a $1,000 check, the second edition of the Merriam-Webster visual dictionary and “a very handsome trophy.”
Matz learned about the senior spelling contest about five years ago from her sister, Susan Scharf, who read about it in AARP The Magazine. .
“I’ve been talking about spelling my whole life,” Matz said. “I’ve always been a fan of spelling.”
Fifteen seniors – age 50 and older – were designated bee finalists after a “pretty brutal written exam” eliminated nine other contestants. The written exam included 60 words and took 1½ hours to complete, she said.
In addition to the winning word, Matz correctly spelled (in order): “clayey,” “shalloon,” “tremolitic,” “spinneys,” “claqueur,” “chauffeuring,” “bodhran,” “iridescence,” “bobeche,” “sullage” and “Hmong.”
This was the first year for the senior bee under a new sponsor, moving from AARP, which ran it since 1996, to the non-profit National Senior Spelling Bee Inc.
Matz reflected on her experience from her campus office at St. Bonaventure, where she was preparing for fall classes – and studying the English language, stimulating her love for words.
“I’ll probably keep spelling competitively,” Matz said. “I’ve been stung by that bee.”