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Community embraces spelling bee
UW team edges library for title
Bee WEB 1
Skip Putnam, left, Luke Haymond and Penny Penn of team Bee Givers consult over a word Tuesday during the Spell Check Live! 2012 spelling bee at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Steam engine work

By: Jim Dean

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Zombies, butchers and punk rockers were among the characters who battled for the title of Forsyth County’s best adult spellers.

On Tuesday night at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center, 11 teams, most sporting elaborate costumes, took part in Spell Check Live! 2012.

The annual bee is the primary annual fundraiser of Literacy Forsyth, a program that works in conjunction with Lanier Tech to provide adult education classes for those in need.

Literacy Forsyth provides a range of services, including free tutoring for adults who can’t read and those studying for their General Educational Development, or GED. There are also classes for non-native English speakers wishing to improve their communication skills, and GED scholarships.

“We provide salaries for staff members here at Lanier Tech to help adults earn their GEDs and we provide scholarships for students,” said Fonda Harrison, chairwoman of Literacy Forsyth.

“We work one on one with adults in our community to help them improve their English language and to help them prepare for the GED.”

Executive director Annaliza Thomas said the organization assisted more than 900 adults in Forsyth County last year.

“We’re trying to be very proactive about our program funding so we can continue to offer the same number of scholarships with the price increase [to take the GED exam],” Thomas said.

During the bee, three-person teams of civic club members, educators, library employees and high school students went word for word through several rounds of spelling.

They all took care to not misspell words such as precipice, pinafore, ecru and escargot.

In the end, the Bee Givers of United Way of Forsyth County — Luke Haymond, Penny Penn and Skip Putnam, who wore head-to-toe blue body suits under “Live United” T-shirts and black slacks — took first place.

They claimed the title from the 2011 champions, the Lanier-Forsyth Rotary Club, who both years called themselves the Language Butchers and wore red-spattered aprons and carried plastic meat cleavers.

Forsyth County Public Library employees came in second. Calling themselves the ZomBees, team members Vanessa Cowie, Rick Gunter and Penny Mraz wore makeup and tattered clothing to resemble brain-eating monsters.

Some of the other more colorful teams included the Punkuators, a group of elementary teachers who dressed like 1980s punk rock musicians, and the Super Bees of the Rotary Club of Forsyth County, who wore bright yellow and black shirts to look like the actual insects.

But the best costume award went to another group of elementary teachers who dressed as Dorothy, Glenda and Scarecrow from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The team dubbed themselves the Oz-some Spellers.

Thomas said teams take great interest in their costumes each year.

“[Dressing up] just makes it a lot more entertaining,” she said. “They all like participating in the spelling bee, but it’s definitely more fun when you’re dressed up like a zombie.”

Also during the event, Literacy Forsyth honored longtime supporter Tommy Bagwell, owner of American Proteins in north Forsyth.

In April, Bagwell received special recognition from the Technical College System of Georgia for his continuing support of adult literacy programs.

Harrison said Bagwell has given more than $100,000 over several years to Forsyth literacy programs. He also established a scholarship program for students enrolled in technical colleges.

Bagwell said he was appreciative of the recognition, but wanted to honor those who give their time to the cause.

“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘When you give of your worldly things, you give little. It’s when you give of yourself that you truly give,’” he said. “So to all of you guys helping out, working, volunteering, hats off to you.

“It’s easy to just write a check. And I hope in some small way, I do give my time as well.”

Thomas said she was honored to recognize Bagwell.

“He’s been a huge contributor to our program,” she said. “We know without his initial start-up help in 2008, we wouldn’t be able to have the success that we’re having now.”