We are VdM (at a distance): The Juntunen Pytka Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of and something to hold onto during our school’s COVID-19 closure. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people—and we’ll stay connected! Today, we’ll meet Jacob Juntunen, Meghann Pytka, and their daughter Zocha, who joined VdM in 2018. Zocha is currently in her second year in Mrs. Steinman’s Children’s House.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

Jacob: Meghann is from Rhode Island, and I am from California.

Meghann: Because geographic information is the most important thing about us.

Jacob: And sarcasm is the most important character trait of Meghann.

Meghann: I think of it less as sarcasm and more as dark irony.

Jacob: We met at Northwestern University where Meghann got her PhD in History and I got my PhD in Theatre—

Meghann: Go Wildcats!

Jacob: Did you ever even go to a football game?

Meghann: Does soccer count?

Jacob: Northwestern soccer?

Meghann: Yeah.

Jacob: Sure.

Meghann: And go Meghan Markle, our princess!

Jacob: A shared love of Poland was part of what drew us together—

Meghann: What about our love of dogs?

Jacob: True, the way Meghann tells it, at the party I hosted where we met, I greeted her rudely at the door, and she only stayed because my dog was friendly.

Meghann: He was more than friendly, he was enthusiastic. He was also very large.

Jacob: We’ve returned to Poland again and again for work and pleasure, hence Zocha’s Polish name. We’re city people, but we lived in Carbondale, IL for about 6 years until Zocha was school age. That was when we found VdM and moved to St. Louis. We’ve been here about a year and a half and love it!

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

Meghann: Theatre. It’s always theatre.

Jacob: I went to Montessori pre-k through kindergarten, and when I was in Minneapolis doing work at The Playwrights’ Center, the education director there was from St. Louis and her kids had gone to VdM! At the time, Meghann was in Cambridge, Mass on a fellowship to learn Ukrainian, so me and Zocha drove up from Carbondale to see VdM and it was love at first sight!

Meghann: Note how conspicuously absent I am. It gets better.

Jacob: While Meghann was still out of town, I bought a house, signed Zocha up for school, and told Meghann I’d packed up the old house, but that was largely not true. When Meghann got back from Cambridge, there was still much packing to do.

Meghann: I was wildly enthusiastic about this. Because moving is the best.

Jacob: She was wildly enthusiastic about the new house and St. Louis. Not so much the lack of packing on my part.

Meghann: Sigh.

VdM: What do you and your spouse do, career-wise?

Meghann: I teach everything, mostly online—

Jacob: Which is handy these days.

Meghann: I’m actually a historian.

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break from school?

Jacob: While Meghann had to postpone a fellowship to work at Warsaw’s Polin museum this summer, we are very lucky that our schools have moved to teaching online. This means, between our work, we can do a variety of crafts and activities with Zocha. We watch the Cincinnati Zoo’s livestream just about every day, have “recess” with the dog out back, and are preparing to do some YouTube dance classes in the near future…

Meghann: I keep wanting to write a book. Instead I panic recreationally.

Jacob: I’ve pretty much given up trying to write anything.

Meghann: Zocha and I also swatch lots of makeup.

VdM, A question specifically for Zocha: What’s your favorite animal and why?

Zocha: A tiger because of its sharp claws, big teeth, and striped tail! I like to be a tiger at recess!

Thank you, Jacob, Meghann and Zocha! You are delightful and we appreciate you sharing your lives with us.

Photos courtesy of the Juntunen Pytka family.