Carmel psychiatrist recalls competing in national spelling bees in 1970s


By Amy Blakely

Carmel resident Mark Ogle is a geriatric psychiatrist, seeing older patients in his office and in nursing homes and treating them for everything from depression and anxiety to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

But 50 years ago, long before he went to medical school, Ogle was a teenager who learned first-hand about anxiety and memory by competing in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

As a student at Meridian Middle School in Indianapolis, Ogle won the right to compete in both the 1974 and 1975 national competitions. Both years he represented The Indianapolis News.

The 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee will be held May 28 to 30 in National Harbor, Md. The competition will start with 245 competitors, including six from Indiana. This area will be represented by Miah Miller, 13, a seventh grader at Creekside Middle School, who is sponsored by the Indiana University School of Education at Indiana University–Purdue University.

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Competitors in the 1974 Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee with First Lady Pat Nixon at the White House. Mark Ogle is in the red jacket right behind Nixon. (Photo courtesy of the 1975 NSB Project)

Back in the day

Compared to today’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, 1974 and 1975 bees were much smaller and simpler. About 80 contestants competed each year.

“The first time doing anything, the anxiety is higher,” Ogle said. “I remember my mom was giving me grief. She said, ‘Come on, Mark, you need to study more. You don’t want to embarrass yourself.’”

Ogle placed 38th in the 1974 National Spelling Bee after missing the word “ligustrum.”

In 1975, Ogle returned to Washington, D.C., with the advantage of experience, and he spelled his way to a showdown with competitor Hugh Tosteson Garcia, an eighth-grader from Puerto Rico.

Ogle stumbled first, missing the word “brilliantine.”

Garcia correctly spelled “brilliantine” and then aced “incisor” for the win.

Ogle had to settle for runner-up, which earned him $500.

More than spelling

Both years, the days before and after the National Spelling Bee competition were a mad dash of parties and sightseeing trips for the young spellers and their families.

The 1974 bee was Ogle’s first visit to Washington, D.C.

A political junkie, he enjoyed staying in the historic Mayflower Hotel, which served as the National Spelling Bee headquarters both years.

“I remember seeing Hubert Humphrey in the lobby,” he said.

He enjoyed visiting the White House.In 1974, the spellers attended a reception hosted by First Lady Pat Nixon. In 1975, First Lady Betty Ford came out on the balcony over the Rose Garden to greet the group.

In 1975, Will Geer, the actor who played Grandpa Walton on the iconic 1970s TV show “The Waltons,” mingled with spellers and their families during the week while filming a TV special about the National Spelling Bee.

“I think competing in the National Spelling Bee really helped me learn how to perform under pressure or scrutiny,” he said. “That whole process of being on stage and having to spell, helped me overcome anxiety.”

It also taught him resiliency.

“Even though I did well, I finished second and lost. No matter how good you are at something there’s a chance others will be better,” he said.

Since the bee

After graduating from high school, Ogle earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Wabash College in 1983 and his medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine in 1987. He did his residency in psychiatry at Indiana University Hospitals in 1991.

Ogle and his wife, Annette, have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.

“Competing in the National Spelling Bee was a great experience,” he said. “It was my 15 minutes of fame.”