Staff Spotlight: Team spells its way to V-I-C-T-O-R-Y

Daguerreotypes. Pointillage. Naumachia. Hobbledehoy. This is a sample of the spelling words the team of Ruth Kallio, associate director of the Office of Budget and Planning (OBP), and Karen Zaruba and Susannah Livingood, research associates in the OBP, and encountered to win the Junior League of Ann Arbor Corporate Spelling Bee fundraiser Feb 12.

Karen Zaruba, Susannah Livingood and Ruth Kallio (Photo by Todd McKinney)

“There were words that, if I had been the only one spelling, I would have had to guess,” Kallio says regarding the complexity of the words the team faced.

The trio had little trouble winning the bee by correctly spelling the words cabochon and diadem, however. “These were a lot easier than some of the words we got,” Zaruba says.

“We had some really lucky guesses along the way but we definitely knew how to spell the last two words,” Livingood agrees.

The team did little formal studying, although they were provided with the Paideia, the book used by contestants studying for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and the source of words for this bee. “We figured we would just rely on ourselves,” says Zaruba, who taped difficult words all over the office as a fun way to practice. “Either we could spell or we couldn’t.”

Although they had few scheduled practices, the team has a good deal of experience with words. Zaruba and Kallio are avid readers, and Livingood took several etymology classes in college.

Even so, the team from OBP—which provides data and analytical support to University decision makers and develops and administers the general fund budget—did not foresee a victory in the bee. “I didn’t expect us to win this year, until we got into the finals. Then I thought we had a good chance,” Livingood says.

The three faced stiff competition with 30 teams participating in the bee. In the preliminary round, teams were split into six groups. The winning team from each group advanced to the finals. Contestants had 30 seconds to answer. The winning team’s strategy was simple, but effective. “We each wrote what we thought and then quickly compared notes,” Zaruba says.

Zaruba and Kallio had participated in spelling bees in elementary school. For Livingood, however, the bee was a first-time experience. “It was fun to do something other people remember doing as kids that I missed out on,” she says.

Outside of work, the three have a variety of interests to keep them busy. Livingood does embroidery and Kallio enjoys cross-stitching. Both are avid beaders and quilters. Having just completed her doctorate, Zaruba expects to catch up on gardening, entertaining and spending time with her 3-year old son.

The Junior League holds the spelling bee each year to help fund various projects. This year’s money will go toward building a playground for the Alpha House, a local homeless shelter.


Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.