Mix and match

Camp Pillsbury is not your typical woodsy, lakeside summer camp. 

It’s not remote, secluded or even a little bit rustic. 

Instead of cabins, Camp Pillsbury lodging is comprised of dormitories on a beautiful 20-acre campus in the city of Owatonna, population 25,000, 65 miles south of the Twin Cities. 

Held at the former Pillsbury Baptist Bible College — now known as Pillsbury College Prep and Camp — Camp Pillsbury lets campers experience the feeling of attending a small campus in a quaint college town.

Though some aspects of Camp Pillsbury give a nod to traditional camp life, such as togetherness, friendship, team building and a communal dining hall, others are completely unique.

From music to magic

Camp Pillsbury, going into its third year this summer, offers more than 100 programs to choose from including circus arts, music, magic, even aviation at North Star Aviation at the Mankato Regional Airport (for an up charge). 

Pillsbury employs talented experts from various fields, including — to name a few — performing arts, fashion design, cheerleading, gymnastics, rock music and culinary arts. 

While there’s a strong emphasis on the arts, Pillsbury also offers sports — soccer, basketball, watersports such as tubing, and extreme sports such as skateboarding. 

Campers will also find traditional camp activities such as horseback riding. 

Freedom of choice

There’s no set routine of swimming then lawn games, followed by crafts. Campers decide what they want to do and plan their days accordingly, inspiring many to call Camp Pillsbury “the dream summer.” Attendees simply follow their dreams. 

Campers who go for two weeks can select three majors for morning sessions and three minors for the afternoon. Campers can change their minors daily, allowing them to experience many activities.

A kid could potentially take violin lessons, get IT training and fly high on a trapeze, all in a single summer session.

“With so many activities to choose from, Camp Pillsbury campers’ biggest problem is how to fit it all in,” said Camp Pillsbury executive director and founder, Vonda White.

Field trips

The middle Sunday of every two-week session is an Adventure Day at Camp Pillsbury. Campers staying over that Saturday and Sunday get to participate in a field trip. 

Typical adventures include the Mall of America, Valleyfair, a Mississippi River cruise, a Twins game, a water park trip, the Steele County Fair or Owatonna’s Crazy Days, where campers get the chance to perform on stage and march in a parade. 

The emphasis on “experience” and the pursuit of personal passions is meant to boost self-confidence in the campers so they can return home stronger, happier and more self-assured than before. 

There’s a good chance they’ll have honed at least one talent quite a bit as well, too, White said.

“It’s a loving, positive environment,” White said. “All campers try new things. Everybody is going to become pretty good at something. Kids who may be bullied at school or a misfit in other places, they find themselves. And they realize, "I'm OK." 

International campers

White hires counselors from all over the world to broaden campers’ horizons.

She also markets the camp to an international audience — offering English immersion, quintessential small-town American life and instruction in the arts. 

That means kids will have the opportunity to learn about other cultures beyond those found in Minnesota. 

Lynn Peterson, a Twin Cities parent who sent her 13-year-old son, Evan, to Camp Pillsbury last summer, said her son was supposed to stay for one session. 

“He ended up spending another five weeks,” Peterson said, adding that Evan now has friends from around the world, thanks to camp. “Every cent that he has now he is setting aside for next summer.”

Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Learn more about her work at jenwittes.com. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.