July 1, 2016

Saturday Morning Spelling Bee

Obedience: O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, obedience.

Lester Ramsey

During elementary and junior high school Julie Ramsey won the local spelling competition three out of four years. That qualified her, at age 11, to compete in the regional Quincy (Illinois) Herald-Whig Spelling Bee.

But therein lay a problem: For the previous 10 years the competition had been held on a Saturday morning. For most students, parents, and newspaper staff, Saturday morning was an ideal time for a spelling bee. But for Julie, who attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Carthage, Illinois, Saturday morning was always a time to worship her God and Creator.

It seemed as though the Sabbath was an insurmountable obstacle on Julie’s path to participate in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

When Julie qualified for the regional competition once again, her mother, Barbara, contacted the Herald-Whig, asking that the date be changed to a day other than Saturday so that Julie could compete. Initial responses were not encouraging. Phone calls and letters went back and forth. Newspaper staff suggested, “Perhaps you can get a dispensation from your pastor.”

As time went on the only response from the newspaper was that it was too late to change that year’s date. With that, the family’s expectations and hopes for Julie to participate vanished. One family member said, “If she were my child, she would be in the competition, Saturday or no Saturday.”

Changing Minds

Behind the scenes the Lord began to move people and events. The first break came with the following announcement from the newspaper: “The Herald-Whig Regional Spelling Bee will be moving to an evening format for the first time this year. This change is in response to a request that we hold the bee on a day other than a Saturday. Because it conflicts with the observance of a religious Sabbath day, some students have never had the opportunity to participate at the regional level.”

Julie’s mother wrote to the newspaper editor: “Thank you so much for moving the Herald-Whig spelling bee to a weeknight. My daughter, Julie, was unable to compete twice because the date of the bee was always on our Sabbath. I do not know whether she will qualify this year (she has been working very hard), but whether she does or not, we wish to thank you for at least giving her the opportunity. . . . It makes me feel blessed to live in a country . . . where people accept and help others, even if their beliefs are different from their own.”

Learning Words

The Lord had solved one problem, but many more remained. Each contestant was given a list of about 3,000 spelling words. They ranged from easy to undefined and unlisted in most college dictionaries, such as “otorhinolaryngology,” “bourgeoisie,” or “basilisk.” Barb and Julie spent hours on the list, as many as seven hours some Sundays.

Her family prayed, and for the third time Julie qualified by winning the Warsaw Junior High School Championship.

56 1 2
Julie and Ryan and their two children

On the night of regional competition, the family paused for a final prayer in their car before entering Morrison Theater. “Lord, give Julie the ability to remember the words she knows. Give her peace. And if her story can witness for her faith and trust in You, help her win. Amen.”

The competition started with 73 students, representing 73 schools in Illinois and Missouri. By the end of the second round 56 students were left. At the third round they started into the intermediate-level words. About half of the remaining spellers were eliminated on each subsequent round. By the fifth round 15 students were left. By this time, Julie had correctly spelled: “punctuation,” “prosthesis,” “intermittent,” “diminuendo,” and “rubric.” By the sixth round Julie had correctly spelled “effluvium.” Only six contestants remained at the end of the round.

Julie confidently spelled “malleable” and “doctrinaire.” By the end of the seventh round, only three students remained.

In the tenth round Julie’s two male competitors stumbled on their words; Julie successfully spelled “auger,” and wrapped up a win by spelling “basilica.” The Lord had a blessing for those who honor Him and keep His commandments.

Julie’s reaction: “I’m very surprised.”

Julie’s teacher, Pam Thill, said, “She worked very hard. She really deserved it. She works hard at everything she does.” Julie was a straight-A student, and was also active in basketball, volleyball, track, and band.

On to D.C.

After the competition, Julie’s mother asked Sue Welch, Quincy Herald-Whig Spelling Bee coordinator, if she realized that Julie was the participant for which the date had been changed. Welch answered, “Yes, I do. And the hairs are still standing up on the back of my neck!”

Headlines in the Herald-Whig said it all, “Basco girl wins regional spelling bee! Julie Ramsey had qualified twice before but didn’t compete because the event was held on her church’s Sabbath.”

At school the next day banners and congratulations of all kinds surrounded Julie, along with offers to accompany her to Washington. One classmate even offered, “I’ll marry you if I can go along.” But Julie was smarter than that.

What does the Lord have in store for those who trust Him, love Him, and follow His commandments? He meets our needs and, at times, gives us the desires of our hearts (Ps. 34:7). What a wonderful Lord and Savior!


Julie went on to graduate as valedictorian at Warsaw High School. She then graduated from Andrews University with a master's degree in physical therapy. She and her husband, Ryan Price, have two children and live near Queen Anne, Maryland, where she works as a physical therapist and attends the Grasonville Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Lester and Barbara Ramsey, Julie’s parents, both teachers, live on a small farm near Basco, Illinois. Lester continues to teach at Brown County High School in Mount Sterling, Illinois.