OSWEGO — After 14 years of what he calls a “wonderful experience,” longtime pronouncer for Oswego’s Regional Spelling Bee, Vernon “Vern” Tryon says he will enjoy this year’s bee, this time from a spectator’s seat.
Tryon, 82, said despite thoroughly enjoying his tenure as a pronouncer, age and his involvement in other local organizations as a volunteer started taking a toll on his energy, and he saw the rise of other qualified candidates as an opportunity to retire as the bee’s pronouncer.
“I am getting older,” Tryon said. “I am starting to realize my hearing is not as good as it used to be, and on top of that there are perfectly qualified other people. I had been trying to cut back on some of my activities and I just don't have the same energy and drive that I had in the past. ”
Oswego High School English teacher Kurt Phaneuf, who served as a judge during last year’s bee, will take over for Tryon this Saturday.
“He has sterling credentials for such a job, and this will be a perfect time to make the break for me,” Tryon said.
Tryon got his start as a pronouncer during his involvement with the Oswego Rotary Club, when former Palladium-Times publisher and at-the-time fellow rotary member Bruce Frassinelli asked him to step into the role.
“It was just a very enjoyable task,” Tryon said. “It is a nice activity and I was very pleased to participate in it.”
The position came with its hardships at first. Tryon said he was nervous during the first couple years, but he grew confident as he prepared for each iteration of the bee.
“The first couple of years I was kind of anxious about that, I just didn't want to make any stupid mistakes and mislead somebody,” Tryon said. “I worried about a child falling out because of something I did wrong and that is why you try to catch those mistakes.”
He added that he rarely feels nervous talking in front of crowds; so long as he is prepared for it.
“To me, that is what it takes to not be afraid to speak in public is make sure you got something to say, and make sure you know what you are going to say and how and that you got your facts right,” he said. “In this case, the critical thing was that all the facts were right in front of me and I just had to say the words properly.”
This mindset led Tryon to engage in a habit of intense preparation about five days before every bee, he recalled.
“I didn't want to forget things, so I'd spend quite a lot of time each day for the four-to-six days prior to the bee and I'd go through every single word, look it up on the dictionary if I needed to,” he reflected. “It meant that the only way I know how to deal with the pressure of it was simply to bend over backward to be thoroughly prepared.”
The process evolved over the years, Tryon said, and in recent years, he started incorporating online resources into his preparation ritual.
“I was able to use Merriam-Webster to get another look at some of the pronunciations, so that was a nice resource,” he said. “Basically, it was a matter of feeling so thoroughly prepared that I wouldn't be too likely to make mistakes and I could pronounce each word correctly.”
Looking back on his preparation and his experiences at the bee, Tryon called it all a “sobering” experience.
“It was a very sobering task, because you worry about making mistakes and obviously not all of the words were familiar to me,” he said. “I know the language reasonably well, but there are a lot of words in there that I added to my daily vocabulary — particularly some of the scientific words.”
When it came time to get on the stage, Tryon said, it was all about establishing a connection with the speller.
“I think your fundamental task is to try and make sure that the speller is thinking of the same word that you are pronouncing, so that is why we always advise them to say the word back to us before they start spelling,” Tryon said. “Once they proceed to spell the word, it is on their shoulders to get it right and not to say any letter they didn't need.”
With his time as a pronouncer now concluded, Tryon reflected on what participating in the event for 14 years meant to him.
“I was grateful to participate in that kind of activity in our community,” he said. “It is another way that makes me realize, how many high quality young people we have in this town. I see it when I work with the rotary scholarship program. We really got some distinguished students.”
School officials recognized Tryon’s efforts and dedication in serving the Oswego community, not only as an integral part of the spelling bee, but also as part of the Rotary Club and his contributions to multiple faith-based organizations.
”We truly appreciate Vern’s dedication to education in the Oswego community,” Oswego City School District (OCSD) Superintendent Dean Goweye said.
Community members also expressed their appreciation for Tryon’s work during the bee.
"Vern made it look easy over these past 14 years, but that was because he cared so much about our spellers and was always well prepared,” Palladium-Times Publisher Jon Spaulding said. “I have had the pleasure of working with him for the past 10 years on this event, and I will miss his presence and the affable style he brought on stage."