Badgers: An array of merit badges is among the artifacts on display at the Historical Society's Girl Scout centennial exhibit at Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave.

Peggy Tuck Sinko, 62, earned her 55-year Girl Scout membership pin in the 100th anniversary year of girl scouting in the United States. Do the math: 7 and 1912 — the age Sinko became a brownie in Indiana, and the year Girl Scouts of the USA was born.

In Oak Park, the first Girl Scout troop was organized at First Baptist Church in 1920, so, locally, the anniversary rings up as 92.

In 2012, some 1,500 girls and more than 500 adult volunteers are members of Service Unit 409, which covers Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, and folds into the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. That council includes some 87,000 girls and 24,000 adult leaders in 245 communities. The national number is 3.2 million Girl Scouts — 2.3 million girl members and 880,000 adult members, working primarily as volunteers.

But we digress. Let’s get local.

In March, Service Unit 409 named Sinko its 2012 “Woman of the Century,” a once-in-a-lifetime distinction to be sure, and well deserved for Sinko, says Deb Besser, the volunteer co-manager of the local contingent.

To mark that century for all area girls (and guys), Sinko has curated “A Century of Girls Leading the Way: Celebrating 100 Years of Girl Scouting (1912-2012).” The exhibit officially opened at the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest on March 12, commemorating the day Juliette Low held her first Girl Scout meeting in Savannah, Ga., a month before the sinking of the Titanic.

The exhibit will run throughout this year. For details, or to schedule a tour, call the Historical Society at 708-848-6755.

“Few organizations make it to 100 years old, so it is certainly something worth celebrating,” says Sinko, a historian and retired librarian. “We want to tell that old Girl Scout story, but we want to show how the organization has adapted and, in particular, focus as much as we can on our local Girl Scout program — their service, travel, crafts, troop activities, badges, and camping. Oh, and cookies, let’s not forget them,” she adds with a laugh.

“We have pictures from the 1930s of Girl Scouts at a local bakery in Oak Park, actually baking the cookies,” Sinko says. “It’s more entrepreneurial now, and that is something that has changed since I sold Girl Scout cookies.”

Keeping the old

During a preview tour of the exhibit, Sinko proudly points out the complete Junior Girl Scout uniform, circa 1970s — green, with accompanying sash, busting with badges.

A few steps further we find a revealing curiosity.

“These are old thin mint boxes from about 1963,” Sinko says. “They were found inside the walls of an Oak Park house when they did their remodeling project, and when they were dropped off here, they still had the cookie wrappers inside and mint residue in them.”

Also on tap is a section depicting camping in the 1960s, a replication of a typical crafted Christmas ornament from 1973, and badges and medals dating way, way back.

“Girl Scouting was huge in River Forest and Oak Park in the 1930s,” Sinko says. “We have an actual, official Girl Scout membership card for a girl from Troop 9 in 1935. Troop 9 was out of Longfellow School. I don’t know if the badges were hers, but they are appropriate to the time period.”

Halfway through, Sinko pauses to flip through an old Girl Scout Jamboree keepsake and breaks into song:

It’s a challenge to go camping. It’s a challenge to be free. It’s a challenge to go camping, so come and camp with me.

“There are so many songs we sing around a campfire,” says Jenny Roen, an Oak Parker who herself was a Girl Scout from first through 11th grade and has been a local volunteer, on and off, since. “‘Make New Friends’ is a great starter song, and a good one to know. But then there are the wacky camp songs, like ‘Papa, Put the Paper on the Wall,’ which is my favorite, and the ‘Bumble Bee Song,’ of course: ‘I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee.’ Yeah, that’s it.”

For local Girl Scout history buffs, of great interest might be an authentic 1920s-era Girl Scout handbook. It details “how to earn a Tenderfoot, second class, and first class distinction,” Sinko says, including how to earn obscure badges: e.g. the “Laundress,” the “Automobilist” and the “Telegrapher,” to name only a few.

“The Telegrapher badge required girls to take in 25 words per minute using a sounder in American Morse Code, transcribing the message in longhand or on a typewriter directly from sound, with no mistakes,” recites Sinko, a board member of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest.

Her own specialty was the art of Semaphore flag waving, but Sinko says the ones here were donated by another local Girl Scout. In the 1930s, Sinko’s mom used to practice her Semaphore flag alphabetic signals with another Girl Scout in her front yard. Mastering this form of nonverbal communication, she says, was a requirement to advance rank in the early days.

She still pulls them out once in a while when she dresses up like a “captain” at special Girl Scout meetings to demonstrate them. She also demonstrates how to assemble a bed roll, even though Girl Scouts have used sleeping bags and bunks in cabins during camp-outs for years.

“With an anniversary like this,” says Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest. “We are not going to turn into a Girl Scout museum, so we don’t want to take everyone’s memorabilia and add it to our existing collection. But I do think this is an opportunity for anyone who has something really unique and memorable to share it with us.”

Sinko has been involved with Girl Scouting here for over 30 years, despite having a son, no daughters.

“But I was a girl scout all through high school in Indiana, had a wonderful experience, and through it really understood on a personal level how an organization such as this has the power to positively impact girls’ lives,” says the current registrar for Service Unit 409. “Girl Scout people like to laugh, are adventurous, are willing to go out of their comfort level, and not afraid to be silly. And from the get-go, this organization really saw itself as having something for every girl. That is really the mindset. It is one of the reasons I have stayed involved. It’s all about the girls.”

The Cookie Mom

Even though she was warned by her peers not to do it, for the last five years, Miriam Moore, 48, has been the “cookie mom” for her daughter Camille’s Girl Scout troop at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest.

For a woman who doesn’t like cookies, getting girls to sell them is a piece of cake.

“I’m thinking I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in finance, so this is probably the perfect job for me,” says Moore, who herself was never a Girl Scout, but through her volunteerism has earned several “badges” of recognition for her ongoing efforts, including creating an Excel spreadsheet and e-buddy account to project and track sales for their annual fundraiser.

This year, the 12 girls in her Troop 4-1490 sold 2,100 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, of which 153 boxes will be donated to PADS during their upcoming service project there.

Seventh-grader Camille is one of this year’s top sellers, with 145 boxes.

“I go back to the people I sold cookies to last year and email them,” says Camille, who plans to earn her Gold Award, the top award in Girl Scouting, and says her favorite cookie is Tag-A-Longs, the ones covered with chocolate and have peanut butter in the middle.

They used to be called peanut butter patties, she explains.

Margie Cekander, volunteer coordinator for the approximately 150 Girl Scouts in River Forest, prefers thin mints.

On Super Bowl Sunday, right before the game starts, or anytime the Bears were playing in January, or when the temps dip down to 0-14 degrees (it seems), it’s time to sell cookies door-to-door

“My husband would always take our daughter around, and afterwards he would say, ‘No one can say no to a cute little girl ringing the doorbell,'” she recalls with a laugh.


Timeline

March 12, 1912: Juliette Low organizes the first Girl Scout troop in Savannah Ga.

1920s: Nationwide, Girl Scouts bake simple sugar cookies with their mothers, wrapping them in wax-paper bags and selling the cookies door-to-door for 25-35 cents per dozen.

October 1920: Volunteer leader Ms. Everett Morris, at First Baptist Church organizes the first Girl Scout Troop in Oak Park.

1927: The Oak Park Girl Scout Council is formed and Camp Lone Tree opens in Three Rivers, Mich.

1930s: Girl Scouts lead community relief efforts during the Great Depression by collecting clothing, making quilts, carving wood toys and gathering food for the poor.

1937: The Oak Park Girl Scout Council becomes the Lone Tree Area Girl Scout Council.

1940s: During World War II, Girl Scouts operate bicycle courier services, collect fat and scrap metal and grow victory gardens.

1948: Lone Tree Area Council acquires Camp Wild Rose in St. Charles.

February 1959: Lone Tree Area Council acquires Camp White Deer in Wisconsin, and conducts its first summer session in 1962.

August 2000: Oak Park becomes part of Girl Scouts-Illinois Crossroads Council, serving over 32,000 girls. Over 1,000 Oak Park girls, age 5-17, are Girl Scouts.

July 1, 2008: Oak Park becomes part of Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the largest Girl Scout council in the country.

March 2012: Girl Scouts of the USA marks its 100th anniversary.

Sources: Peggy Sinko and Girl Scouts of the USA

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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