How do you spell co-champion? That’s nothing compared to what our hometown hero, Gokul Venkatachalam (pictured above), had to spell. He’s been a very successful participant in the Scripps Spelling Bee the last several years, getting the consonants and vowels of ridiculously difficult words in just the right order and staying alive until nearly the very end of the Bee. Last year, he was beaten out by the two co-champs, taking third. (Or, wouldn’t that really be like, second?) This was his last year of eligibility for the Bee, and the Parkway West Middle School eighth-grader finally made it at the ripe old age of 14, getting to share first-place honors with Vanya Shivashankar. Both families joined the winners on stage in Washington, D.C., as confetti fluttered down. GQ pointed out Gokul’s kicks, a pair of Air Jordans. (He joked with the interviewer that he was looking for an endorsement deal. Nerdy, this kid is not). He had on a LeBron James jersey under his dress shirt to pump him up. Think he got to spell easy words for Bee vets, like ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’? Um, no. Some words these kids spelled were of German origin, but not run-of-the-mill, like ‘shadenfreude’ (try ‘sprachgefühl,’ although spellers didn’t have to note an umlaut or other accent marks in words of foreign origin). Or they sounded like a rare, horrid disease … but a ‘pyrrhuloxia’ is just a cardinal variety that lives in the Southwest, only with different plumage. Most words I’d never seen or heard before and were hard to pronounce, much less spell. Nobody made them up, though. (We checked.) Fortunately, the pronouncer was a former Bee champ who’s now a university professor. Gokul’s final word was ‘nunatak.’ What the heck is that? Why, it’s our trivia question for this week.

[st. louis]
Back in the day, many kids who were college bound were strongly encouraged by parents to apply to mom or dad’s alma mater. Or, to attend a state school. And that was that, regardless of whether the parents were footing the bill or the future grad had signed up for loans that it seemed would take until retirement to finally pay off. It’s all the more complicated nowadays. But there’s plenty of help out there, and not all on the web, of course. And much of it is free … think of the savings! Recent grads, we know you’ve barely dusted off your mortarboards, but St. Louis Graduates’ High School to College Center opened for business June 1 and will be ready to help drop-ins until July 31. (Of course, college starts the next day, almost—earlier every year it seems.) A shout-out to H.S. sophomores and juniors—since most seniors going to college probably know by now where that will be: Did we mention that this opportunity is free? Reps from many of the region’s colleges and universities are on hand from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays to help kids learn about navigating the application and financial aid process. Are you all about Mizzou? University of Missouri personnel will be available on several dates throughout the summer, as will reps from M.I.T. (which stands for ‘Missouri in Town,’ or UMSL). St. Louis Community College is all over the calendar. The center can be found at 618 N. Skinker Blvd., for all you Googlers throughout the metro. (Yo … Google is free, too! How ’bout that?)

It’s just another day at the beach. In Kirkwood, at The Magic House. The mega-fun attraction, which has added on over the past decade to resemble two or three mansions cobbled together, has trucked in 10 loads of sand. No, they didn’t dump it inside, although that probably would have been more fun for kids than the law allows. Once again, Sandcastle Beach has been created behind the museum. At this writing, and scheduled for completion June 7, a magnificent sandcastle was still under construction by Dan Belcher, renowned artist, landscape architect and sand sculptor since 1990. What arose from his shaping of 75 tons of wet(ish) sand was an Asian-themed construction topped by a pagoda. Even the best competitors would admire something this beautiful … Belcher is a champ. It must take chutzpah to build something this spectacular that you know will be just a memory in no time, but Belcher and his ilk are used to it. The wind and tides ensure that the ones erected and shaped at the seashore don’t last nearly as long. But does that matter to the kids who flock to the beach armed with colorful plastic buckets and shovels? Probably not. The attraction is free of charge with regular admission through June 28. So, go get sand in your shoes.

[sunset hills]
Laumeier Sculpture Park is quite the benefactor. Well, after a fashion. The constantly evolving museum in Sunset Hills has loaned a pair of works to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for five years as part of the Lambert Art & Culture program. Both cast bronze, Charles Arnoldi’s Eclipse, 1990, and Isaac Witkin’s Hawthorne Tree, 1987, have been moved to the ticketing lobby of Terminal 1 in new seating areas featuring wide-window views of the airfield. The sculptures have been in their new locations since May 1. The works join Zhu Wei’s China China, 2003, on loan from the Gateway Foundation, in the same area. So, stop to smell the roses, I mean next time you’re rushing through the airport, admire the art. There’s always a later flight. What? You have very important business?! Hey, this is art! Calls to mind the video of a world-class violinist performing a piece near the busy stairway inside a subway station. Most commuters passed him by like he was just another busker. A few stopped to throw some money into the violin case. They had no idea what they were being treated to. They would have paid richly to hear him with the symphony.

UCity.6-10-15[u. city]
Leo Drey of U. City was the original treehugger. The timber conservationist and philanthropist, who died May 26 at age 98, was not only a prominent name in philanthropy locally, but also nationally. A decade ago, he was at No. 6 on Slate magazine’s list of the nation’s top 60 philanthropists. His most significant gift? Forests. Drey began acquiring Ozarks timberland in the 1950s, much of it bought for the former owners’ back taxes, but he was anything but a timber baron. His holdings eventually grew to nearly 160,000 acres to become the largest private land area in Missouri—our entire state park system covers less land area. Drey (pronounced ‘Dry’), however, wasn’t interested in building resorts or even so much in lumber. He amassed the forest land for the public interest, leasing much of the acreage to the state for $1 a year. In the late 1960s, Drey ‘gave’ 44 acres to Burroughs to found Drey Land, an Ozarks retreat used for orientation with new students—reportedly, the school was to pay $1 a year for its use. A 1934 grad of JBS, Drey was a forester at heart. In the 1950s, he invented the selective cutting process of individual trees at a time when the established industry practice was clear-cutting entire hillsides. Part of his legacy is 61,000 acres northwest of the Bootheel, the Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry, managed by the Missouri DNR. This vast area of timber is within the Pioneer Forest and owned by the L-A-D foundation, established by Drey and using only his initials (Leo A. Drey). Wilderness areas include trees as old as 400 years, hardwoods and old-growth cedar. The Daily Beast referred to him as ‘The Lorax of the Ozarks,’ in honor of the legendary tree protector of Dr. Seuss fame. Indeed. Drey was founding president of Missouri Coalition for the Environment. He married the former Kay Kranzberg in 1955. No shrinking violet herself when it comes to public service, she and her late husband were dubbed ‘Green Giants’ by St. Louis Magazine. She survives him, along with daughters Eleanor and Laura and son Leonard.