Photo by Mark Alan Lovewell.
It’s Monday morning, and Troy Cyphers is running across a lawn flapping his arms and pretending to be a turkey. If the enormous white building behind him were still a hospital, he might be committed. 
But the building with three porches, two balconies and a commanding view from the hilltop over the Lagoon to the outer Vineyard Haven harbor is a summer camp, and Mr. Cyphers, freshly graduated from college, is the camp’s co-director. Behind him, in hot pursuit, is a pack of screaming six-year-olds.
This is the St. Pierre School in summer number 63 with the third generation of the St. Pierre family now at the helm.
What’s remarkable is that such an imposing structure — the former marine hospital — is all but hidden away right on the edge of Vineyard Haven’s downtown, tucked up on a hill at the corner of Skiff avenue and Lagoon Pond avenue.
But for plenty of Island parents in the summer, St. Pierre is a well-known landmark and a vital institution. That’s because its core mission is doing what few other camps do — giving working Islanders a place to send their children for 35 hours a week. Camp runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“I especially like the all-day part,” says Amy Rogers of Aquinnah, whose six-year-old daughter is a camper. “A lot of the camps here are half-day. By the time you drop them off and go to work, it’s time to come back and pick them up.”
It wasn’t always so at St. Pierre. For 40 years, it was a boarding camp, and then in the late 1970s, as the economy forced both parents to earn an income, St. Pierre switched over to a day camp and focused primarily on the needs of Island parents.
“Parents need a full-day camp,” says Barbara St. Pierre, daughter of the camp’s founders, Dorothy and Raoul St. Pierre. “And we are here for the parents of the Island.” While most camps didn’t start up until July 3, St. Pierre was up and running June 19, four days after school let out.
Tuition is $190 for the week for Islanders, or about $5.40 an hour. Compared to the half-day camps which routinely charge about $135 for a 15-hour week, St. Pierre starts to look like a bargain.
Along with the bargain, campers also get what would have to be called some hardbitten digs. While the building oozes with history and character — tin ceilings, 15 feet high, and sturdy oak tables that make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time — the linoleum floors and plaster walls are cracking and a grand floor-to-ceiling window upstairs is held open by a crutch.
It helps a lot if you have a sense of humor. Parts of the building date back to just after the Civil War, and the setting just kind of blends in to create the whole St. Pierre experience. When Ms. St. Pierre and her daughter, Grace Scarano, catch sight of the crutch, they laugh, noting the building’s earlier life as a hospital until the end of World War II.
And, of course, there are traditions that have grown up around the building’s own eccentric qualities. What summer camp would be complete without some ghosts?
That was the thinking of Gene Baer, the former camp director who went on to become an art teacher at the high school. Mr. Baer invented Lammas Night as the camp’s midsummer spook night.
“I realized what that camp needed was a ghost walk,” said Mr. Baer, who borrowed his idea from Shakespeare and the witches’ Sabbath days. Campers come back at night dressed in costume and take a walk through the building’s darkened cellar, holding hands with other campers on the same dark journey. “That place is scary enough in the daytime. At night it was magnificent.”
It’s certainly the first thing that pops into the mind of eight-year-old Madison Ibsen when asked what she likes about the St. Pierre camp.
“It’s creepy on Lammas Night,” says the third-year camper. “All the counselors wear something scary. There are no lights on, and the doors rattle. It’s really cool.”
In an era of specialty camps, where kids go off to learn tennis, or to focus on soccer, theatre or art, St. Pierre is the utility player. Along with the night of ghost stories, the camp serves up a wide range of sports and games to fill the day. Swimming takes up a good chunk of every day, and the camp takes pride in producing competent swimmers with two trips a day to Eastville Beach.
Diane Dmitri is already impressed with the progress made by her five-year-old daughter. Fearful of the water when she showed up a week ago, she has a new self-confidence and is already showing off new water skills, “floating on waves,” says her grandmother.
St. Pierre doesn’t even shy away from that sport that makes so many insurance underwriters nervous — archery. They start them young. 
“Some people think it’s too dangerous,” Mrs. Scarano explains to a dozen five and six-year-olds. “We know it’s not dangerous when everyone listens.” The goal isn’t necessarily to hit the target, but just to get off a good shot, she says.
Mrs. Scarano has just earned her doctorate in education from Cornell University. Growing up in the St. Pierre family, she got hooked on teaching. Now she will teach teachers at a college in Maine. With her new training, she’s convinced that the camp’s broad-based formula is ideal for building self-esteem in the young campers. 
“Every kid gets to shine in at least a few areas,” she says. And with the variety of offerings — volleyball, soccer, wiffle ball and basketball — there’s flexibility for both campers and counselors. Since they’re not locked into one sport, counselors can improvise based on campers’ needs or interests. Tuesday, campers played archery baseball. A bullseye equaled a home run. “Every year there’s something unique,” Mrs. Scarano says.
After 63 years on the Island, the camp’s legacy runs deep, and a favorite pasttime for Barbara St. Pierre is to start recounting all the alumni campers. Edmond Coogan, the Tisbury selectman, went to St. Pierre, put in time as a counselor and then sent his own children to the camp. They later became counselors. In an old picture from the 1970s of campers lined up on the front porch, there’s Charlie Green, now the high school soccer coach, with his tell-tale shock of blond hair.
Tyler Burt, a former camper and a high school valedictorian, is now the sailing instructor. And there’s Jeffrey Kramer, one of the Cronigs clan and now a producer for the television hit show, Ally McBeal. His face is captured in some of those old photos.
“That was one of the best times of my life in that place,” says Chris Baer, son of Gene Baer, and now a teacher at the high school himself. “I still catch up with a lot of old friends from there.”
And there’s a whole new crop of friendships and memories forming this summer. Seth Seeman and Evan Schwab came back from their morning wiffle ball game, winded but smiling. They had hiked down the hill and up the street to Veteran’s Field. Mr. Seeman, a Yankees fan, had pretended to be Derek Jeter. But there’s little time for a post-game show. The vans are starting up, the kids are upstairs changing, grabbing towels. It’s beach time.