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"A Girl Scout is Loyal" — The Girl Scout Laws

LADUE • Valerie Walch is still very much the leader.

She and her assistant, Ann Augustin, signed on with Girl Scout Troop 1759 in 1968 and kept it going through Junior, Cadette and Senior Scouts, until 1976.

The girls rode wagon trains through western Kansas, took father-daughter float trips, paddled canoes in Hudson Bay and traveled to Europe. They camped in many styles (primitive, hammock) and places (on the grounds of a chateau in the south of France). They earned the money themselves.

On Saturday, the leaders and 19 ex-Scouts, now 51 and 52, came from all over the country, leaving their adult careers and families behind for a 35th reunion. The campground was Walch's Ladue backyard.

The idea first came to Sharon Pangle Miller, now of Phoenix, who started a Facebook group to spread it and find others. Walch, her daughter Gretchen Nord of Minneapolis and her friend Gwen Goldenberg Rubin of Ridgefield, Conn., joined her in organizing things.

They started the 99-degree day getting reacquainted at a pool party and moved to the cookout. Except for the addition of chilled adult beverages, it was just like old times.

Walch, 75 and dynamic, had everything ready for Saturday night. There were reunion T-shirts; there were bandanas, worn creatively in hair or around necks; there were food and mess kits, and ditty bags for washing them.

The women were divided into patrols; their original-issue names were on the Kaper Chart, affixed to a large tree. The Bluebirds made buddy burners for cooking Sunday morning's breakfast; the Cardinals put up the big tent; the Nuthatches did dinner prep; the Woodpeckers were in charge of cleanup.

"A Girl Scout's Duty Is to be Useful and to Help Others"

Val Walch's husband, Stan, a lawyer, said no to digging a firepit, citing a past incident involving a gas main.

But, Valerie Walch said, "We had divine intervention" the weekend before. A windstorm uprooted an apple tree, creating a hole perfect for a firepit. (A plan to dig a latrine came to naught; an indoor powder room served instead.)

Gretchen Nord tended the fire, uncomplaining in the heat. "Children today can't go on a weekend camping trip," she noted, stepping over one of the stumps that formed the seating. "They're too busy playing their games. I feel really bad that my girls don't have this background. It gives you a lot of life skills."

Ann Gilbert Randazzo of Kirkwood led the tent-pitching, easier with today's high-tech tents than those of 40 years ago. Meanwhile, her sister Jane Gilbert of Creve Coeur — her nickname was "Fun Facts" — and the other Bluebirds sweated over the buddy burners, for cooking Sunday's breakfasts.

(A buddy burner is made by coiling strips of corrugated cardboard, putting them in aluminum foil, then soaking them with wax. That is covered with a metal can, punctured with ventilation holes.)

Gilbert, a hyperorganized woman who worked on Fair St. Louis the same weekend and is involved in most facets of parish life at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ladue, attributes her skills to her time in Troop 1759. "This is where I learned it," she said, "from Val and the Girl Scouts."

Something else she learned: "Everyone has a role, and a valued role."

"A Girl Scout is Cheerful"

The troop started at Price Elementary School in Ladue, moving to Ladue Chapel in junior high. Girls joined from an assortment of public and private schools and became friends.

After visiting the handwashing station — a bar of soap in a pantyhose foot, a milk jug of water and a towel hanging in a tree — it was time to fix individual dinners of Hamburger Surprise (a hamburger patty, a hash brown patty, veggies, seasonings, a dollop of Cream of Mushroom soup), wrapped in foil and placed on the campfire's coals.

While it cooked, there was time to talk and look over photo albums and trip logs, Instamatic prints of girls in striped polo shirts and amusingly sarcastic commentaries by Martha Pennington, now of Kirkwood.

A late-comer, Ellen Jenkins, arrived, and the others squealed: "You have different-colored hair!"

Someone else observed: "We all have different-colored hair!"

"Look how quickly we've reverted to our 15-year-old selves!" said Gilbert.

"A Girl Scout is a Friend to All, and a Sister to every other Girl Scout"

"This is just really neat for me," said Jenny Taylor Thornhill. Thornhill and her family live near New Orleans, "and we lost everything in Hurricane Katrina." Her old friends will help her rebuild her picture albums.

Back at the campfire, toasting marshmallows for the requisite dessert of S'mores, Sharon Pangle Miller talked about the fun of seeing friends for the first time since junior high, and about Val Walch.

"Mrs. Walch did so many nice things for us, and gave us so many opportunities," Miller observed.

"She gave us a sense of empowerment — and that has stayed with us all these years."

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