Peggy Sinko is the mother of a 24-year-old college graduate. Together with her husband, she is a 30-plus-year resident of Oak Park. She is the head historian of the genealogy department at the esteemed Newberry Library in Chicago.

She is also a Girl Scout.

Sinko recently received her 50-year Girl Scout pin. “Not many Girl Scouts can say they have that one,” she laughs. Sinko’s mother was a Girl Scout leader and Peg followed suit-for at least a few years. She recalls fondly a certain Theresa Guarino who was in a troop Sinko assisted with special programs more than 30 years ago at St. Giles. The same Theresa Guarino Lipo is now a Girl Scout leader at St. Giles.

Even though Sinko’s only child is a boy, she continued with the Girl Scouts throughout his childhood. “I got involved with the Boy Scouts [too], but the two groups are very different,” she said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Sinko’s personal journey with the Girl Scouts started in Hammond, Ind., where she joined as a Brownie in second grade. “We wore the little brown felt beanies and the brown dresses, and we had a neat little change purse on our belt for our dues,” she recalls.

But she wouldn’t have stayed with it if it weren’t for her leaders. “I was lucky enough to have the same two terrific women as my Girl Scout leaders from the time I started as a Brownie to when I graduated from high school,” she said. Given today’s busy lifestyles, and with careers being the norm, that isn’t very common anymore.

“My favorite memories are of summer camp-I went to one in Michigan for many years and even returned as a camp counselor. Unfortunately, it’s closed now,” she said. “There are so many options for kids now during the summer, but back then, if you could afford it, Girl Scout camp was where you went. I went for two weeks because that was all my parents could afford, but I would have spent all summer there if I could.”

At one time, there was even a worldwide camp. Sinko was fortunate enough to attend the last international encampment in Idaho in 1965. “The program was designed to bring together Girl Scouts from all over the world-10,000 girls would spend two weeks together, doing activities and making presentations about our areas,” she said. She hazards the guess that the effort was just too much. “It must have been an awful lot of work to put together,” she said.

Sinko took a hiatus from the scouts while majoring in history at Valparaiso University. “But I kept my membership up,” she hastens to add. After graduation, she and a friend spent a few years leading a Girl Scout troop in Indiana. “That was the only time I was actually a Girl Scout leader,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to continue with the Girl Scouts but not in that role. The leaders are the ones who are day-to-day with the girls-they are the true heroines.”

After she married and moved to Oak Park, Sinko became active in the local Lone Tree chapter. “I have done so many things-there are so many ways to contribute,” she said. She is currently assisting with registration. “We handle all the paperwork for the troops, and we provide support to the leaders so they don’t get overwhelmed.” Sinko also organized a program for high school Girl Scouts in Schiller Park, Oak Park and River Forest. “It was a program for older girls to give them something special to do,” she said. “We would meet once a month and do something together like go apple-picking.” Unlike those days when the three towns were all in one scouting area, the three are now in separate “vistas” and rarely intertwine.

Sinko said the Oak Park Girl Scouts have two annual service projects: a canned food drive in October and a toy drive at Christmas in conjunction with the Austin-based Fraternite De Notre Dame order.

Men in the Girl Scouts?

Contrary to popular belief, men can participate in the Girl Scouts. “A man can be a co-leader but there always has to be one woman in a leadership role,” she explained. “In Boy Scouts, a woman can be the leader; that’s one difference between the two organizations.”

Sinko recalls that Juliette Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, was very determined to keep girls and women in leadership positions, even from the start. “Juliette Low was very good friends with the founder of the Boy Scouts, and she refused to back down when he went to court to try and persuade her to change the name to Girl Guides,” said Sinko. “She didn’t want to be a guide. She wanted the girls to be scouts, to be active and as comfortable with nature as the boys.”

Sinko traveled to Charleston, the city where Low founded the scouts to “worship at the Girl Scout altar,” she said. “I went to her grave site, and it really was very moving,” she observed, “although my husband wasn’t so interested.”

Sinko said men are playing active roles locally in scouts and that St. Giles, like a few others, has “a cookie dad. There’s a father who really likes taking charge of the Girl Scout cookie sales and gets the girls all fired up and gives them strategies to sell.” Sinko believes there are many worthwhile areas for men can contribute.

She stays with the Girl Scouts because of a shared value system. “If you meet another woman, and she reveals that she was a Girl Scout, that says something,” Sinko said. “You have an instant bond, things you can relate.”

Another reason she believes strongly in the Girl Scouts is the confidence and independence it develops. “Everyone today talks about the importance of self-esteem. Having to figure things out yourself, that leads to confidence and self-esteem,” she said. Sinko remembers a time as a youth when her scout troop was camping and in charge of making a spaghetti dinner. “We were in a hurry and didn’t wait for the water to boil; we just put the spaghetti in the pot and, of course, it turned into a gloppy mess. But instead of our leaders stopping us, or correcting us, they wisely chose to let us find out for ourselves what would happen. And when we complained to them about the dinner, instead of jumping in and correcting it, they said, ‘Well, we’re hungry too, what are you going to do?’ And somehow, we fixed it. Today parents feel this need to make sure their child has the perfect experience, and they almost are afraid for anything less than perfect to happen. But to this day, I remember that experience and so do other scouts I am still in contact with.”

Staying in contact is another perk. “I am still friends with many of the women I met through scouting,” she said. “Even from my own days as a Girl Scout in Indiana.”

Remember that old saying? Any Girl Scout can tell you: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.”

Join the discussion on social media!