Home away from home, mom away from mom

Beta Theta Pi member Blake Meldrum, freshman in agribusiness, hugs house mother Bobbie Lonker before heading off to his morning class on November 4, 2014. (Cassandra Nguyen | The Collegian)

Nearly every fraternity and sorority chapter at Kansas State University has hired a house director. These “house moms” as some chapters call them, play many crucial roles in supporting the young men and women involved in greek life. They help manage the chapter and care for the house, but most importantly they serve as a mentor to their chapter members.

Ultimately, housemothers fill the role of mom away from home, and help turn a chapter house into a home.

Many house moms found the job by word of mouth. Some were looking to fill a void, others just loved being involved with young people. Barbara Podschun, Sigma Alpha Epsilon housemother, found the job when she was looking for something to do after she retired. House moms become part of the chapter they work for, and Podschun said the men and women treat them like family.

“I have had some health issues the past couple years and it has been wonderful how the guys have helped me to me feel at home here,” Podschun said. “We all try to make it be a good place to live.”

Bobbie Lonker, Beta Theta Pi fraternity housemother, has been at the Beta house for 26 years. Lonker became a housemother after her husband passed away and her youngest son went off to college. Her husband and all of her sons were Beta fraternity members, and the job helped keep her busy while she grieved.

“What an outstanding group of young men I found; I fell for them as soon as I met them all, they treat me like a queen,” Lonker said. “I decided I’d treat each boy like my very own son, whether that was sewing on buttons or taking them to the doctor, or anything else they would need from a mom. On move-in day I meet them at the door and greet them or help them carry things in, just like a mom would.”

Housemothers provide the role of counselor and support the young members through good times and bad. Some help teach chapter etiquette and improve social graces as well. LaDell Stonecipher, Sigma Kappa sorority house mother, has served at multiple chapter houses during the last 23 years.

“Some people say it’s like managing a small hotel,” Stonecipher said. “We help provide food, comfortable lodging, keep the staff going and keep everybody happy. We get more involved than a hotel obviously, because we’re there over time, but it’s similar.”

Housemothers also serve as the biggest cheerleader for their chapter during homecoming week or at intramural games. They support their young people however they can, including things they aren’t required to do.

​ “Our house mom Janice Chrest, or as we call her – ‘Mama J,’ is amazing; she does so much for our house and she is always a joy to be around,” Abby Atchison, senior in accounting and member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, said. “Mama J helps keep the house running smoothly and for the past few weeks she has been our chef. She was super sweet and said she would cook our meals while we were looking for a new chef. It was never her job, she was just nice enough to step up and help us.”

These “moms” do their best to help run the chapter houses and help its members, while treading the fine line between helping the students and leading them. Their job is to guide, not lead, Stonecipher said. Members run their houses, and housemothers are there to assist.

“The relationships with the girls is my favorite part,” Stonecipher said. “It’s a process and it’s enjoyable to watch that process unfold. What students are going through is very complex, and there’s a lot of choices. Trying to find a direction can be a difficult thing to figure out. There’s more and more pressure. I’m here if anyone gets stuck or in trouble and really needs help. I’m here not to intrude, but to support.”

Housemothers become like real mothers to the men and women that walk in and out of the chapter doors, but eventually they have to say goodbye as members graduate and move on.

“One of the hardest things is when you’ve had these boys for four years, and you see them turn into men applying for outstanding jobs, and you have to say goodbye to them,” Lonker said. “But some of them bring back their families and their little babies back to see me, and I feel truly blessed that God put me here with these young people and that I’m able to be called their mom.”