Though officially known as house directors or head residents, sorority members of the University’s Panhellenic Association all affectionately refer to the women who manage the house as “house moms.”
Mary Beth Seiler, director of Greek Life, said house moms are a tradition as old as sororities themselves. Of Panhell’s 15 sororities, 14 have these behind-the-scenes women living in-house, she added.
“A house mom is basically an on-site manager of the facility,” said Shelley Winters, house mom of two years at Sigma Delta Tau. “Historic homes can often have unexpected problems which require someone who understands the building,” she explained.
Winters’ daily duties include receiving food deliveries in the morning and being available in the office for the sorority members later in the afternoon. An additional role house moms sometimes take on outside official duties is to be the sorority historian, Winters said. They can facilitate historical continuity in part by passing on traditions and stories, maintaining memorabilia and noting when competitions are won, she added.
House moms are employed by sorority alumni boards who own the properties and the women who live there.
Lindsey Beauchamp, president of Kappa Kappa Gamma, said it is important to have someone experienced around to help, but also one who respects the women’s privacy.
Her house mom of one year, Helen Fields, said “I’m not curious or too nosey. I keep out of their lives. We talk, but it’s not like I have to know everything about them.”
Both Fields and Winters said they have a very good relationship with the sorority women.
“They are very patient with me because I’m not as organized as I’d like to be,” Winters, a former University sorority member in the ’70s, said. “With 40 to 50 people living here, not everyone gets their needs addressed. But it’s very fun. They keep me up to date on music and events. It’s a unique situation where you have someone of an older generation living in a house of younger women.”
Becoming a house mom was a slight accident for both Fields and Winters. Winters had lost her job in sales two years ago when a friend mentioned a house mom opening. With no housing of her own and her daughter studying at the University, Winters said it seemed like a good opportunity.
Fields said 20 years ago, after she closed her beauty shop in New Mexico, a house mom friend mentioned an opening as for the position at another university. She has been a house mom across the country ever since, she said.
“I don’t like living alone, I discovered. This is perfect because I have my own apartment, but if I feel like talking to somebody, I can just make contact with someone,” Fields said.
There is currently only one fraternity with a house mom, Fields said. “They should all have one. The guys act better and take better care of the premises,” she said.