Out With The Old

By Daniel Venturi

The sounds of squealing children splashing in a swimming pool on a hot summer day can once again be heard at a former therapeutic camp in Lake Villa Township in Illinois. The facility got a second lease on life when the township stepped up to purchase it and turn it into a day camp.

Peacock Camp has 26 acres, including a beach along the 600-foot frontage on Crooked Lake, a swimming pool, an 8,000-square-foot main lodge, a 3,000-square-foot arts-and-crafts room, a picnic shelter, wooded trails, and much more.

When the township purchased the property in December 2011, it had been neglected for several years; however, the bones of the property were solid, and the history of the community needed to be preserved.

No Child Turned Away
The story of Peacock Camp began in 1939 when Margret Peacock Reynolds—an heir to the Peacock Jewelry and the Lehmann (the Fair Store) families—donated the property. It was set up and run as the Peacock Camp for Crippled Children. Each summer, special-needs children (polio was prevalent at the time) spent a week just being children, regardless of physical ailments. No fee was charged, and no child was turned away.

In 1950, the building was devastated by fire and had to be rebuilt. The new camp was larger and better, containing many accessibility amenities that were ahead of their time. The camp continued until the late 1990s and was sold to a private party in 2001. Over the years, it is estimated that more than 5,000 children enjoyed the camp. Today, many graduates of the camp still stay in touch as Friends of Peacock Camp.

Begin Again
When Lake Villa Township purchased the camp, it needed a new roof as well as HVAC and plumbing systems. The township has also been the beneficiary of 15 Eagle Scout projects to help improve the facility.

The property is very popular with residents, as it provides a perfect location for family celebrations, scout camp outings, and other community events. Now in its third year as Peacock Adventure Camp, more than 70 children from kindergarten through eighth grade enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, arts and crafts, and outdoor adventures.

In its first year, township officials—having no experience in running a day camp—reached out to High School District 117; its faculty developed a detailed curriculum for counselors to use. The number of campers was limited to 30 per session while staff members learned how to properly facilitate programming and run the camp. In the second year, 10 of the 12 counselors returned, as did most of the campers. As a result, the number of counselors increased to 15 in the third year with 50 campers. Today, two counselors oversee each of the four groups, while two counselors man each station (a total of four counselors for each group).

Onward And Upward
In past years, one of the highlights of the camp was a portable climbing tower borrowed from the Boy Scouts. This year, in partnership with the local high school district, the township now has a permanent climbing tower, an 11-stage high-ropes course, a zip line, and 19 low-ropes obstacles.

Because of the number of water activities, counselors were encouraged to obtain lifeguard training—and most did. The goal now is to get facilitator training for the ropes course and climbing wall.   

The goal of the facility is not to operate as a day care, but as an adventure experience kids will remember. The intent is to encourage children to push themselves and try new things. It is always fun to see a child who was afraid of the climbing tower on Day 1 race to the top on Day 3, or someone who was afraid to swim now jumping in the pool after only a few swimming lessons. Campers are taught to fish (catch and release), start a campfire safely, build and race a cardboard boat, and now they can challenge themselves on the ropes course.

There’s nothing dull about Peacock Camp. And the squealing sounds of children are proof of that.

Daniel Venturi is the Supervisor of Lake Villa Township in Illinois. Reach him at supervisor@lakevillatownship.org.