Camp Pegnita Celebrates 70 Years!

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As Villa di Maria celebrates its 50th anniversary, it’s worth noting that Camp Pegnita, a key piece to our community and funding, is celebrating 70 years of old fashioned summer camp fun! What the community often calls “old school camp,” Pegnita has provided generations of St. Louis families with good old-fashioned outdoor time during a time when child development and health experts are recommending less and less screen time for children. Children who attend Camp Pegnita are treated to archery, swimming in the on-site pool, hikes through the creek, traditional camp games and sports, and just as important, plenty of free play with their friends, all on a beautiful 6 acres of quiet, green land in the heart of residential Kirkwood.  

Megan Eilers, current Camp Pegnita Director and former camper, then camp counselor, took time to discuss a bit of the history of this special place. It is also worth noting that Megan has taken care of the binder full of Camp Pegnita paraphernalia with serious dedication; she has kept the pictures, brochures, and other artifacts in pristine condition, which is no easy feat, as some of them are from 1947! Below, Megan describes what she finds so special about Camp Pegnita.

“We had so many opportunities for free play. As campers, we would choose a place, then create our own games without anyone directing us. That was really special to us, and that is another tradition that continues today.”

Late 1940's Tug of war at Camp Pegnita Late 1940’s Tug of war at Camp Pegnita

Camp Pegnita has changed very little since the beginning, when Peggy Strauss purchased the property with her husband Milton. The original swimming pool, which was shaped like a whale, was removed seven years ago, and a new pool was built in a more favorable location, but aside from that, the grounds in 1947 were very similar to how they appear today.

Here is the original pamphlet for Camp Pegnita from 1947! Note the tuition: $15 per week! Horseback lessons were the fair fine price of $1.25!  Here is the original pamphlet for Camp Pegnita from 1947! Note the tuition: $15 per week! Horseback lessons were the fair fine price of $1.25! The original camp wagon, the wheels of which were hung in the pavilion as chandeliers. They will now be repurposed into tables for the elementary outdoor spaces.  The original camp wagon, the wheels of which were hung in the pavilion as chandeliers. They will now be repurposed into tables for the elementary outdoor spaces. The The “Nature Hut,” where Megan remembers discovering some interesting specimens… and you may recognize that totem pole on the left!

More importantly, many of the camp traditions have remained. “What I love about this camp is that it wasn’t, and isn’t, a camp for just one kind of activity. As a child, archery was the biggest draw for me. I would strive every summer to get the ‘Golden Arrow’ award, which remains a camp tradition,” shares Megan.

Nowadays, children are offered Red Cross certified swim lessons and an on-duty lifeguard supervises swim time. Young children often solidify their underwater skills here, in addition to playing all sorts of water games with their friends!

Originally, Camp Pegnita was an overnight camp (at least on the weekends). Now, children can sign up for a week at a time, or attend all summer long during the daytime hours. Each week, a specially scheduled event such as a luau, magic show, mad science demonstration, or camp-wide field day takes center stage. And though the particular themes have changed, the tradition of weekly themes remains an original feature since 1947!

Though it feels like summertime is ages away, the sign-up for Camp Pegnita and Montessori Mornings is fast approaching. For the general public, it is February 1st, and it fills up fast! For Villa di Maria students, priority enrollment for Camp Pegnita and Montessori Mornings opened last week. If you have not received an email about this, please contact Hilary!

Thank you, Megan, for sharing some history of Camp Pegnita. There will be plenty more reminiscing in the Winter Newsletter… so stay tuned!

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