Story By Taylor Nichols
“Jeopardy!” winner and Washington-born Ken Jennings is one of few people that often get stopped on the street and asked random trivia questions. When Jennings was in St. Louis, a doorman wouldn’t let him into his hotel until he recited all the U.S. presidents to ascend to the presidency from vice president.
“I assumed he didn’t do that for everyone,” Jennings said.
On April 26, Jennings came to Bellingham to co-host the 17 annual Trivia Bee benefitting the Whatcom Literacy Council alongside KAFE Radio host Scotty VanDryver.
Both Jennings and VanDryver volunteered to host the event, which is one of three annual fundraisers held by the Literacy Council.
By win 74, Jennings had accumulated $2.52 million and a cult following, and had broken two American game show records.
Jennings’ love of trivia began at an early age.
“I would run home from school every day to watch ‘Jeopardy!’,” Jennings said, and his passion for trivia continued into his college years at Brigham Young University, where he was the captain of the quiz bowl team.
Jennings was born in Edmonds, Wash. but grew up in South Korea and Singapore. After moving back home to attend the University of Washington, he transferred to Brigham Young University. He now lives in Mountlake Terrace, Wash. with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 7.
Before his appearances on the show, Jennings was a computer programmer, but said that his success on “Jeopardy!” allowed him to change his career.
He is now a published author and has recently released his fourth book, “Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids,” in which he investigates whether common things parents tell their children they should or should not do, such as not swallowing gum or standing in front of the microwave, are true.
Jennings said that he now gets to travel around the country to host different events like the Whatcom Literacy Council’s Trivia Bee. He also writes questions for the National Quiz Tournament LLC, a company that organizes quiz bowl tournaments nationally.
To prepare for his first TV appearance, Jennings said he used to watch “Jeopardy!” standing behind his recliner, using his son’s Fisher Price toy as a buzzer. “I feel like it paid off,” he said.
He also made flash cards with his wife, and studied the “potent potables” category, which contains questions about alcoholic cocktails, as he doesn’t drink.
The Trivia Bee was held in Bellingham High School’s theater, along with a silent auction where guests could bid on items donated by local businesses and organizations, such as tickets to The UpFront Theatre.
Local law firm Adelstein, Sharpe & Serka’s team “The Foreign Legion III: The Foreign Legion and the Prisoner of Azkaban” were the winners of the bee for the third year in a row.
Trivia teams from all over town such as The Bellingham Herald’s “Fighting Deadlines” and Village Books’ “The Village Idiots” competed for the first place trophy.
The teams answered questions from categories like Science and Nature, History and Geography, and Culture and Entertainment as well as a Potpourri category, with questions on miscellaneous topics.
The Literacy Council’s goal is to help adults in Whatcom County learn to read and write, apply for jobs, earn a GED, and assist them with computer and math literacy, said Valerie Lagen, a boardmember of the council.
The council’s mission statement says that it aims to “empower adults to achieve their goals and change their lives through literacy.”
Lagen said that the recent budget cuts colleges have experienced, including funding to GED programs such as the one at Whatcom Community College, has created a gap between adult students and colleges and that the council is “filling that gap.”
The council is funded through local business and individual donations as well as fundraisers, and has helped more than 8,000 adults in Whatcom County since it was founded in 1978.
The council operates mainly through volunteers in the community, and only employs four full-time staff members. “We have fabulous community partners,” Lagen said.
Katherine Freimund, executive director of the council said that while donations and proceeds are still being counted, they estimate that the Bee and auction made more than $27,000.
All proceeds went to the Literacy Council to fund tutoring, classes, and resources for adult learners.