Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Deceased--Frank Neuhauser

Frank Neuhauser
September 29th, 1913 to March 11th, 2011

"Frank Neuhauser, a Speller’s Speller, Dies at 97"


Margalit Fox

March 22nd, 2011

The New York Times

The word was “gladiolus,” and though he was only 11, the boy knew it cold. As luck would have it, he grew the flower in his garden back home in Louisville, Ky.

He had already outspelled two million schoolchildren for a chance to compete in Washington, and now, on a June night in 1925, he was the last speller standing among nine finalists. Eight had already fallen, felled by the likes of “propeller,” “blackguard” and “statistician.”

“G-L-A-D-I-O-L-U-S,” he said firmly, and with those nine letters, Frank Neuhauser won the first National Spelling Bee.

For his victory, Frank earned $500 in gold pieces and a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge at which, it is safe to assume, few words of any length were exchanged.

In Louisville, there was a parade in his honor. His classmates presented him with a new bicycle.

Mr. Neuhauser, a retired lawyer, died on March 11, at 97, at his home in Silver Spring, Md. His son Frank confirmed the death.

His winning word, a cakewalk by modern standards, harks back to simpler times. The bee was begun as a promotional event by The Louisville Courier-Journal, amid a circulation war with a rival paper. (The Courier-Journal sponsored young Mr. Neuhauser and the next year’s winner, Pauline Bell, who trounced the field with “cerise.”) From start to finish, the 1925 finals lasted 90 minutes.

Today, the bee, formally known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee, involves 11 million children in local contests throughout the United States and abroad. More than 270 finalists convene in Washington for two days of competition, televised on ESPN.

The 2011 finals will take place on June 1 and 2, with the winner earning cash and prizes worth more than $40,000.

An honored guest at several recent bees, Mr. Neuhauser found himself spelling “gladiolus” for strangers to the end of his life. Later champions have faced a welter of more difficult words, which together read like found poetry: “vignette” (1952) and “soubrette” (1953); “ratoon” (1966) and “shalloon” (1971); “psychiatry” (1948), “narcolepsy” (1976) and “sanitarium” (1938).

The bee has become an object of fascination in popular culture, inspiring, among other things, the 2000 novel “Bee Season,” by Myla Goldberg, and its 2005 film adaptation; the 2006 children’s movie “Akeelah and the Bee”; the musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which played on Broadway from 2005 to 2008; and the 2002 documentary film “Spellbound,” in which Mr. Neuhauser appears.

For many entrants, the bee now entails near-constant study. Mr. Neuhauser, by contrast, practiced just an hour a night for a few months.

Frank Louis Neuhauser was born in Louisville on Sept. 29, 1913. The family name, whose spelling reflects its German origin, is pronounced NEW-how-zer.

His father, a stonemason, “had a stack of spelling books a half-foot high,” as Frank Neuhauser told The Washington Post in 1977, and on rainy weekends gave his son extra drilling at home. The father hoped for rain, the son for sun, so he could play baseball.

Mr. Neuhauser earned an engineering degree from the University of Louisville and a law degree from George Washington University. He was a patent lawyer with General Electric and later with Bernard Rothwell & Brown, a Washington firm.

Besides his son Frank, Mr. Neuhauser is survived by his wife, the former Mary Virginia Clark; two other sons, Charles and Alan; a daughter, Linda Neuhauser; and five grandchildren.

Though much has changed in the 86 years since “gladiolus,” for the time being, at least, one constant remains: The bee’s young combatants are still sponsored by newspapers, those tactile, sweet-smelling repositories of words large and small, written on real paper, in real ink.

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