Girl Scout troop sticks together

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

The bonds of childhood are fragile, and can be severed by any number of outside forces as kids wind their way through elementary, middle and high school. With all the changes taking place as children become young adults, it’s no wonder friends lose touch as the years go by.

But some connections endure the gauntlet of middle school, and the expectations and new anxieties that often accompany high school. 

Take for instance the eight girls who came together as five-year-old Daisy Scouts when they were kindergartners at Sycamore Elementary School. Each of those same now young women still wear their Girl Scout Troop 1094 sash.

And as they all prepare to graduate from high school, the troop and their co-leaders Leah Key Ketter and Holly Pugno sat down to talk about their remarkable 13 years together.

It all began fittingly, in front of Sycamore’s room 13, when Ms. Key Ketter asked Ms. Pugno to be co-leader of the nascent troop.

“I don’t think at the time I realized it was going to be a 13-year commitment,” Ms. Pugno said. “There were ups and downs, but there was never at time that either one of us felt that we needed to walk away, because the girls were always interested.”

Those girls—Ms. Pugno’s daughter Lilly Pugno, Ms. Key Ketter’s daughter Mae Key Ketter, Cece Selznick, Lucy Chinn, Ruby Berke, Fiona Henry, Jenna Heskin and Merry Aichele (who joined in fourth grade at the Junior level)—stuck with scouts through Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadette, Senior, Ambassador levels.

The troop is an anomaly among Girls Scouts in that seven of the eight members achieved a Gold Award. Nationwide less than six percent of all Girls Scouts reach the honor, which is equivalent to Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts vernacular.

“They really are among an elite group of young women who really pushed themselves,” Ms. Key Ketter said. 

“A lot of times I was just like, ‘You know what? I don’t need to do this. It doesn’t matter.’” Lucy said. “But then like, it just would felt so wrong and I would have felt so guilty, because it was just something that we all wanted to do together, and we all wanted to attend the ceremony together and kind of finish out this whole Girl Scout thing together. It just so felt that I would so let down my leader and my other sisters. So I just think we all just wanted to reach a sort of culmination together.”

And while the Gold Awards are a certainly a crowning achievement for the troop, it wasn’t all hard work.

The girls, and their co-leaders, spent a good portion of an hour-long interview giggling about various misadventures they’d had throughout their 13 years together. The camaraderie and shared history was just what any parent would like to have had their daughter experience in scouting. It was a fun way to spend an otherwise dreary, rainy quarantined Sunday afternoon. The mostly G-rated stories were many. Here’s a couple:

When the girls bridged to the Cadet level, the co-leaders thought they’d come “kidnap” them in the very early morning and take them to Pasadena’s landmark Colorado Street Bridge, for a bit of bridge symbolism.

“So they told the parents, but nobody told me and everyone was in my room yelling at me. And it was really chaotic and super not fun in that moment,” Jenna said. “It was awful until we went to other people’s houses, and then it was fun. And got out to Pasadena and we walked across the bridge and I think Ruby kept walking on the railing and we couldn’t make her get down, and then we all went and got breakfast. It was a really chaotic morning … and it was great.”

Another memorable bridging moment—this time to Brownies—happened in Ms. Key Ketter’s backyard.

“You had to walk over the bridge, and look in a mirror that symbolized a bunch of stuff,” Lilly said. “So, Leah was in front of me, and she told me to go across the bridge, and I was really dizzy, and I started walking, and I fell off the bridge and broke the side of the bridge. So, that happened!”

The friendships that have endured for 13 years among the girls and the co-leaders will be there forever. The memories too. As the girls discussed the intangibles of scouting and the lessons they learned, Ms. Key Ketter and Ms. Pugno were audibly touched by how much “their girls” were taking with them out into the world.

“It will help me to stay consistent and committed to future activities, clubs and groups,” said Cece. “The skills and ways of life that Scouts has taught me will also stick with me forever, such as respecting others, communication, kindness, creativity and loving the outdoors.”

“With Girl Scouts I think what I get out of it is loyalty,” Mae said. “All of us have been with each other so long, and we know how to push each other buttons. But at the same time I think we’re all supportive of each other’s individual goals and the goals that we have as a troop.”

The troop founded the popular Claremont Village Ghost Walk, which is now its primary fundraiser. It has helped to fund prior trips to New York City, Boston and Connecticut, and will hopefully help to pay for a final troop adventure this summer to two international Girl Scout Houses in Europe: Pax Lodge in London and Our Chalet in Switzerland. Travel plans though, in this pandemic, are TBD.

Lilly and Mae said they will likely be Girl Scout leaders somewhere down the line. Lucy was a  “definitely maybe.”

“I think our troop was really unique in terms of other Girl Scout troops,” Lucy said. “We had really special leaders. They taught us things that were really important to learn as young women,  like letting us talk over each other, and letting us be competitive and aggressive but also really caring and supportive and loyal. So I think our troop was really unique in how we behaved and what we did and what we learned. And that would be something that I would consider passing on to young girls, teaching these amazing assets of the Girl Scout community.”

All of the girls were a little bit hesitant to talk about the future. With the present so uncertain—most of them are still trying to figure out what the COVID-19 lockdown means for their college plans—it’s understandable. So, asking them what they’ll take with them from scouting into their dorm rooms and apartments as they enter this next chapter in their lives was met with some long pauses. After a while, Lilly spoke up.

“Lifelong friendships,” she said. “These girls have been with me since kindergarten, and I think we’ll always be some way a part of each other’s lives. And I know through the years that I’ve lost friends and I’ve gained new ones, but these core girls have been with me since the beginning.”

The co-leaders said they’ll both miss the beautiful chaos of shepherding eight girls through meetings, events and road trips every week or two.

Ms. Pugno is hoping they’ll all want to get together over winter break and have a meal and reconnect. Ms. Key Ketter said she’ll be spending more time advocating for mental health and race walking. But both said they’ll miss their troop, their girls.

“A lot of the meetings take place at my house, and my home is filled with so much laughter and joy and them talking over one another, and Holly and I get to be little flies on the wall,” Ms. Key Ketter said. “It just really stimulates your soul. It really does. It’s just a wonderful thing. My house is better when they’re here.”

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