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County spelling bee seeks organizer after nearly 30 years of donated time and money

Posted at 6:13 PM, Mar 02, 2024

BILLINGS — The Yellowstone County Spelling Bee concluded with James Lasater, an eighth grade Castle Rock student, taking home first place after successfully spelling "Icarian" on Saturday morning.

“The kids deserve somebody that can be there, 100% for them, and that’s what today is all about – celebrating their successes and their hard work," said Julia Lillethun, who has organized the event for the last 27 years.

Many student spellers shared how the event served as a confidence building exercise.

“I’m a very, like, self conscious person; so, to be able to (participate in) this, it boosts my confidence," said Samantha Kiesow, a spelling bee participant.

Some volunteer organizers said the event has a long history of reinforcing student confidence.

“I was up here, on this very stage at one point, in like fifth and sixth grade … after that I was like, ‘well, I can do this,'" said Jacalyn Terland, the event's pronouncer.

She said when she participated in the Yellowstone County Spelling Bee that Lillethun was still in charge of it's organization. Today Lillethun said she is ready to step down from her role.

“I just turned 59 and this old lady’s tired … I have been doing it for 27 years and I don’t get paid to do it," said Lillethun.

She said she hesitates to step down from organizing the bee because she is unable to find someone willing to volunteer the time or the money.

“The budget is $2,000 … a good bee is usually around $5,000 … a lot of times I’m supplementing it out of my own pocket to keep it going," said Lillethun.