Growing up, Cordella Lewis didn’t have spell check on her computer.
Instead, the 76-year-old spent her days reading and writing at a small local library in her native Jamaica.
It paid off for Lewis, of Pembroke Pines, who competed against 17 other seniors at the third annual Senior Spelling Bee at the Southwest Focal Point Community Center.
The last word she spelled correctly — diatomic — a molecule containing two atoms, won her top honors.
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“I wasn’t nervous at all being because the people in this age group are very plucky,” Lewis said. “Before I came up here I was just hoping that my memory wouldn’t let me down.”
Cynthia Greenfield, 90, was almost certain she would win first place.
But the word “Confucian’’ tripped her up.
“It was wonderful,” said Greenfield, who does crossword puzzles and plays Scrabble, and came in second. “But the acoustics in here were not very good and it was hard to understand her.”
Many of the participants got help from an organizer, who stood next to them and repeated the words loudly in their ears. The participants were also able to request definitions and the word in a sentence.
“Instead of asking her to put the word in a sentence, I asked her to spell the word,” participant Dawn Sorrentino, 83, said laughingly.
Sorrentino correctly spelled continuity, naturalism, interlinear and osmotic. It was hypotonic she got wrong.
“We had amazing spellers. We couldn’t get them eliminated,” said Sue Krawczonek, activity specialist at Southwest Focal Point and moderator of the spelling bee.
In addition to lunch at the Southwest Focal Point Café, the first, second and third place winners received $50, $30 and $20 in cash.
“I am going to go to Barnes & Noble to buy Chinua Achebe’s book,” said Lewis. And if there’s enough money left, she’s buying her daughter a late Mother’s Day facial.
“Before I came, my daughter said I was putting our reputation on the line.”
But even the ones that did not come out as winners left the spelling bee happy.
Gilda South, 85, who recently moved from Missouri, said that although she was eliminated she was able to make a few new friends.
“I had been alone for almost 20 years since my husband died,” South said. “I’m happy I did it anyway. I met the people sitting on each side of me.”
Jamela Shaerahamed, celebrated her 74th birthday at the spelling bee. She tied two balloons to her wheelchair and smiled every time she went up to the microphone.
“I was happy because I like to spell and this is the first time I’ve been on stage,” Shaerahamed said. “I thought I could have [won] it, but that’s the way it goes.”
The Southwest Focal Point Community Center will hold a senior Spanish spelling bee on Sept. 17.