By Ben Welter
Terry Walfoort Jr. of St. Paul won the 1972 Upper Midwest Regional Spelling Bee. The Minneapolis Tribune, which sponsored that competition, assigned a reporter to cover the eighth-grader’s efforts on the national stage. An interview with the spelling champ follows the Tribune account.
St. Paul boy
out of U.S.
By Staff Correspondent
Terry Walfoort Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Terry Walfoort of 614 Fountain Pl., became one of 79 finalists when he won first place in the annual Upper Midwest Spelling Bee. The regional competition was sponsored by the Minneapolis Tribune.
Terry, an 8th grader at Sacred Heart-St. John School, said afterward that yesterday’s competition involved “lots of hard words. Lots of French words.”
He added, “I sort of feel that the real victory was winning the regional. Course all the losers say that, I guess.”
Terry was accompanied to Washington by his father and his teacher, Sister Marina Mardian.
Sister Mardian said that Terry had spelled “pirouette” correctly before. But, she said, “you know how you sometimes blank out.” Terry incorrectly spelled the word “pirhouette.”
JUNE 2009 UPDATE: I called Terry Walfoort, now 51, at his home in Cambridge, Minn., this week. He and his wife, Tracy, have five children between them. He’s a courier at FedEx, where he’s worked for the past 22 years.
How did he get involved in the spelling bee back in 1972? The oldest of 12 children in his family, he loved to read – everything from Mad magazine to Edgar Rice Burroughs to the classics – and he fared well in spelling tests given by Sister Marina, who was looking for potential contestants.
“Others did better, but passed up the chance,” Walfoort says. “I was willing to go ahead and give it a try.”
That meant studying words for about 30 minutes a day, three or four days a week, before heading outside to play baseball.
The practice (and a lot of help from Sister Marina) paid off. He was 13 when he won the regional tournament at the Pick-Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis that spring. Then on to Washington, D.C., for the trip of a young lifetime: His first ride on a jet plane. A stay at the posh Mayflower Hotel, where the competition was held. A visit to the White House, where he met one of President Richard Nixon’s daughters. And a stop at the FBI, where bee contestants watched agents demonstrate a tommy gun with live ammo. Walfoort still has one of the targets used that day.
Was he nervous when his turn came at the national bee?
“Absolutely,” he says. “You’re on that stage, in front of a microphone. … You’re praying that you get a word you’re familiar with.”
Does he remember the word he missed in the third round?
“I sure do. The word’s pirouette. For some reason I had it in my head that it was like silhouette.”
So … can he spell it now?
Yes, but first he politely asks if *I’m* ready. I type his response a letter at a time.
“P – I – R – O – U – E – T – T – E. Pirouette.”
He doesn’t ask if he’s right. Thirty-seven years later, he knows it cold.
|Terry Walfoort and his 11 siblings grew up in a noted St. Paul landmark, the Linz-Bergmeier house at 614 Fountain Place, shown here in about 1915, long before the Walfoorts had the run of the place. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|
|This photo, taken around 1915, shows the well-tended grounds of 614 Fountain Place, overlooking Swede Hollow. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)|