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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The St. Pierre School of Sports is for sale

The St. Pierre School of Sports, a Martha's Vineyard Island institution, has closed it's doors after 70 years.

Started in 1939 by J. Raoul St. Pierre ( or as we were instructed to call him, "Sir") and his wife Dorothy, St. Pierre's School of Sports has been an Island tradition for generations of kids.

My family's history with the school begins in 1950, when my father, Gene Baer, became a councilor there. The camp was in a different location at the time, it was at a massive beach compound that included a mansion and a pine-paneled lodge.
"Sir", a Harvard educated trial lawyer, was brilliant at creating a vision of old school New England charm and selling this vision to others.
His "pine-paneled Lodge" was a really just a garage, complete with grease pit. This impressive property was rented. He threw cocktail parties on the beach for parents and councilors alike. He was a regular "Thurston Howell III".

In 1959, St. Pierre somehow managed to buy the old Marine hospital for just one dollar.
This is where the camp has been located ever since.
Sir ran the "School" (camp) with a blue blood flair and a military style.
Time was often military time, "canteen" rations
( candy) was given on Fridays at 15:00 hours.
The main focus of the School has always been archery, sailing, fencing and sports.
Sir was said to be excellent at all of these.

The St. Pierres never changed a thing about the hospital, that's part of what made it so intriguing.
They kept all the original Marine hospital signs up for the rooms.
The "X-ray Room" was the dining hall.
The "Operating Room" was the St. Pierre's bedroom.
Here again they didn't alter a single detail except to pull out the operating light (leaving the hanging electrical cords) and move a bed directly underneath.
A gun always lay on the night stand. More than once Sir shot at neighbor kids messing around on the grounds at night.

For the campers to sleep on, they kept all the original Marine soldier's bunk beds. Even the mattresses, with vintage blood stains, remain authentic.
The attic of St.Pierre's is full of old marine relics such as ancient nurses uniforms encrusted in blood.
The cellar contains the operating table, dentist chair, and a locked cell room full of shot- up beer cans that Sir used as as target in his indoor shooting range.

In the 1970's, my father helped run the camp once again.
Because of this, my brother Chris and I were given "scholarships" for many years.
I don't think the St. Pierre's ever made much money in all 70 years of running this camp.
They simply relied on Sir's ingenuity and Dorothy and Barb's hard work to keep their door open. They gave scholarships freely. My father says that whenever he would try to give St. Pierre money, Sir would say "Oh come on, Gene, we're old friends".

In this photo you see in the upper left-hand corner, "Sir" St. Pierre, Dorothy St. Pierre, and their daughter, Barb (in yellow). Barb also liked to be called "Babs", "Tassels" or "Bubbles".

Barb was fun. She taught us a thing or two that we probably never should have known at that age, but this was all part of the experience! Barb eventually ran the camp for many, many years.

Dorothy or "Dee" was a sweetheart. She worked the hardest of anyone. She was the heart of the school, she made all us kids feel loved and at home. "Fine, fine, perfect, perfect" was the credo Dee lived by.

Here I am at around age 12 ( on the left). Note the cabins in the background.
Those are the old nurses cabins. They were falling apart and we weren't supposed to go there, but of-course we did.
In the grounds below to the right, (not shown) was the old incinerator, where they reportedly burned the bodies of some of the Marines in the days when it was a hospital.

Every afternoon, we went sailing on "M 15" and "M 16" ( Sweet Sixteen).
The boats were ancient. My father recollects that these boats were old even when he first sailed them in 1950. Imagine teenagers sailing these rickety boats full of younger kids all the way from Martha's Vineyard to Nantucket.
My father says that Sir "believed in kids".
He simply believed kids could do this, and he was right.

Emily and Gracie are the daughters of Barb. Like their mother before them, they grew up to eventually run the camp themselves.

The St. Pierre's could have sold the old Marine hospital years ago and made a bundle, but they didn't. Three generations ran this camp instead.
On an island where property value is at a premium, and taxes are through the roof, this is no small feat. How they managed to keep the doors open for so many years, I guess we'll never know.

Now that St. Pierre's is up for sale, and will soon become some rich person's summer trophy home, I guess it is truly a thing of the past.
It belongs to a time when there was no fear of lawsuits. A time when parents would send their kids away for the entire summer with no sunscreen, bug repellant, or money.
A time when kids were set free to explore the world... to sail the seas, to fence with friends, to swim a mile every day, to jump off tall piers, to swim at midnight, to test their limits.
When Sir sat on the porch of his kingdom every afternoon, this was his payment time.
He was king of all that he surveyed, he was lord of the manor, he was "Sir".
Many, many thanks to the St. Pierre family for enriching and shaping our lives and the lives of generations of kids on Martha's Vineyard.
We will always cherish the memory of "The St. Pierre School of Sports".

Post script: Great news! St. Pierre's is now the Martha's Vineyard Museum!
There couldn't be a happier ending to this story!
The memory of the St. Pierre family and the generations of children their lives touched,
will live on in this wonderful museum!

Photo credits: Jacqueline Baer, Mark Lovewell, and Andrea Roth Sanna


  1. That was really poignant and lovely. I know it sounds old fashioned, but so many things have become so crass, common and mean nowadays, which makes a remembrance like this special. Thanks for sharing. Wish you could buy it and open an art school and gallery. Like a writers' colony. Hmm?

  2. What a perfect post for the first few days of summer! Good reading!

  3. What an incredible story! You definitely had a unique childhood there on the Vineyard. You are so fortunate!

    Like Zoe said, it would be so great for yet another bohemian spirit (like you!) to be able to acquire that property and continue the legacy of open-minded creative pursuits!

  4. Wow...beautifully and brilliantly written. you should send this in to the local paper there, as i am sure so many share your love and gratitude of St. Pierre School of sports.

    PS. i love that picture of you. so cute.

  5. You are my fave blogger of all time.


  6. Thanks so much, as you can see.. St,Pierre's has been on my mind.
    My mother was the official photographer of the camp, and has endless photos somewhere. I can't wait to see what she's got!
    I'd love to bring on the "Sir" photo gallery!

  7. Thanks so much for this. I needed it. I was a Vineyard kid who went to St. Pierre for about 5-6 summers (your brother Chris was certainly there) from about 1980, and of course knew your father (and mother) well. These details came flooding back - all strikingly similar to yours, though I was a few years later at the camp. The Sweet Sixteen, the signs above the doors, "canteen," the incinerator, archery...and endless summer days on the beach. It was an integral, irreplaceable part of my childhood. I don't think it would be too nostalgic to call it idyllic - certainly at times. Thanks again --

  8. Wow! This brings back memories. I loved the camp, I was there from 1972- about 1975 I believe. I see Emily a lot around town. I never got to any of the reunions in Jamaica Plaines though.

    Sailing was such a peaceful thing and I loved the camp for all the memories I cherish from that time.

    Andrew Carr
    (Now: Andrue Carr)
    fb Bloodyrue Andrue if you want to contact me.

  9. Oh, just read the Gazette article. Barbara mentions the defunk elevator.
    hmmm the last time I looked inside that elevator there was a pallet of Black Label Beer cases in it.

  10. Thank you so much for this posting. I went to high school with Barbara at Holy Cross Academy in Brookline and later worked with Dorothy at Katharine Gibbs School in Boston. My husband went to Boston College with the younger Raoul in the 1960s. One of my children's favorite memories is a dinner given for our family in Dorothy's gorgeous Jamaica Plain house.

  11. I was a counsellor at St. Pierre's in 2000 and enjoyed reading some of its history and your experience.

  12. Thank You Gretchen for a great trip down Memory Lane. I was a couple of years behind you in school and had your dad for art at Tisbury School. I lived on Skiff Ave. right next to the incinerator and tromped around the grounds all the time exploring.

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  15. There ought to be a Grande reunion of all the members. I have seen several over the years but a lot I wonder whatever happened to them.

    I would be willing to produce a video of the event for MVTV.

  16. My son Attila attended St. Pierre in 1983 I believe. I chaperoned field trips to splendid beaches all over the island in my Jeep Cheerokee that the kids nicknamed "The Raspberry"...still wonderful memories. What a lovely family...and what a loving tribute.

  17. Great to hear the stories. I was a sailing counselor for two years at St P, in 1984 and 85 I think and had some really great times there.

  18. Here is a message to you from my cousins, Grace and Emily.

    To our dear fellow St Pierre alumni our mother, Barbara St Pierre, passed away suddenly on January 3, 2013.

    She has a special place in so many of our lives and will always live on in our hearts.

    Please join us as we celebrate her life.

    Wake will take place on January 18, 2013 5-7pm at
    Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home
    Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road
    Oak Bluffs, MA

    Funeral Services will take place on January 19, 2013 at Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, at 11:00 am followed by a graveside service at Oak Grove Cemetery
    Vineyard Haven, MA
    Reception to follow at a location TBD

  19. Hello;
    Thanks so much for your trip down memory lane... I was camper / CIT in '66 and '67. it was a wonderful experience. In 9th grade in Warren Jr Highschool, Newton Mass, I met Sir as my 9th grade english teacher. He was a regal and proper in the class room as he was a camp. At camp Sir taught us Shakespeare every morning, and then we fenced, shot, and sailed in the afternoons. Had fun overnights on Katama Beach, where Ed Cougan (?) and Raoul JR. dressed up as the BEAST OF KATAMA and scared the p_$$ out of all of us.

    Each year the councilors and CIT's arrived a week early and painted the outside of the hospital, we climbed the 4 story scaffolding, played "flight of the phoenix" with it, scraped, primed and painted the exterior over the 2 summers.

    We dove for fresh clams and Dee may clams casino, we caught Flounder in the lagoon and Dee made filets. It was a life experience i would not have traded for any other. I still clearly remember Sir, his mannerisms, Dee's love and many of the camper and councilors... Thanks for this page, it has brought back many more memories. I am so glad that the Historical Society is preserving it. I hope to be able to visit it again soon.

    Sam Baker
    Waban Mass (Now Dallas Texas)
    Newton South High School '69