“I used to say the only way I could join Greek life is if I joined a fraternity, and here we are now,” Brandi Butler, house mom at the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, said.
Butler and her close friend of 18 years, Stacy Shaffer, house mom at Kappa Sigma fraternity, were both K-State graduates though neither was part of the greek system during their college years.
Butler first became interested in being a house mom when she was asked by a coworker if she’d be interested in applying at Clovia since their current mom was leaving.
She said she pursued the position and made it to the top two choices. Although she wasn’t selected, Butler enjoyed the interviews so much that she was open to trying again.
Her opportunity came in 2007 when Shaffer told her TKE was looking for a house mom. Shaffer herself has been Kappa Sig’s house mom since 2005.
“We like what we do,” Butler said. “It’s never a dull moment.”
Although she lives out-of-house, Butler visits the fraternity house, attends their intramural sports games and philanthropy events and joins them for formal dinner every Wednesday evening.
Kappa Sigma has not had a designated house since last year but Shaffer said living in the previous house with the men was “interesting.”
The fraternity still meets on a regular basis in the K-State Student Union. Shaffer said she loves getting to know all the members and sometimes even their parents.
“One of the things I like most about mom is that she is always there for us,” said Andrew Van Holland, senior in civic engineering and Kappa Sigma chapter president. “It doesn’t matter if it’s sorting out conflicts between brothers or just hanging out; she always seems to understand that we’re college students and know what we need to hear.”
Shaffer said being a house mom means being there for the men through their struggles and learning. She said house moms also try to teach them life lessons, including anything from formal dinner etiquette to how to approach and work with people.
“There’s a lot of a frustration along the way, but also success,” Shaffer said.
Christoffer Burgweger, sophomore in industrial engineering and member of TKE, said he appreciates Butler’s cheerful attitude.
“My favorite thing about her is her attitude, she always comes over with the biggest smile and is always eager to hear about all of our days and what’s new in our lives,” Burgweger said. “She’s genuinely just a great person.”
House moms are always up for giving life-advice, but sometimes the best they can do is step back, observe and wait until the men ask for their opinion.
“We’re there for guidance, not discipline,” Shaffer said. “All we can do is suggest, tell them what we think, and be honest with them.”
They are also there for the men with more technical things. Butler said she grew up in Manhattan, so she has a lot of connections and often knows people to call when the men need prospects for their philanthropy. She’s also the go-to person when the men need to borrow something, such as a grill for a powderpuff game.
“I’ve even been to the hospital with one of my boys before,” Shaffer said.
Besides supporting the men with moral and technical support, house moms also like to hang out with them and do fun things together.
Shaffer enjoys karaoke with the Kappa Sig men, while Butler likes TKE’s blacklight parties and luaus. Both women also take pleasure in fun traditions at formal dinner.
In her first year as a house mom, Shaffer said she was surprised to see how few of the men were used to eating dinner together in the dining room. Everyone always wanted to go to the living room or ate on the go. Once they were introduced to dinners and socializing together, they became enthusiastic about it and actually started looking forward to it.
Shaffer’s favorite memory at Kappa Sigma formal dinners was having “one bite challenges” in which the men tried to fit a whole piece of cake or other desert into one bite. She always saved it till the very end and loved seeing the anxious looks of the men waiting to see if their hostess would allow them to do the challenge that night.
Butler said she enjoys the pie eating contests.
“They always have two freshmen do it and it’s very messy and funny,” Butler said.
Butler and Shaffer both said one of their favorite parts of being house moms, in addition to fun experiences, is watching the relationships between the fraternity brothers grow and develop.
Butler said it is a very special thing to watch lifelong friendships develop among fraternity brothers.
“My dad, who just turned 70, still gets together with his fraternity brothers at a barber shop once a month,” Butler said.
Shaffer said she likes seeing friendships forming with freshman coming into the house and the way the their leadership abilities emerge. she said she always asks incoming freshmen the question “If you could be any part of a major league baseball game, what would it be?” and can then tell who will be the leaders or who will be the followers by their answers.
“One of the most interesting answers I’ve ever gotten was ‘I wanna be the ball because without it the game can’t be played,’” Shaffer said.
Another pleasure of being a house mom for Butler and Shaffer is seeing men graduate, grow up, succeed, overcome obstacles and more. Both said they love seeing how the men’s lives progress.
In many cases, the house moms and the men develop relationships that last even after their years at K-State. Even when the bonds between her and the men and the house mom are not as strong, Shaffer said she still gets “hey, how are you?” notes, which she really enjoys.
Whether it’s trying to learn the incoming freshmen’s names at serenades when they’re all lined up, or seeing them grown up and getting married with some of their fraternity brothers alongside them as groomsmen, Butler and Shaffer said they thoroughly enjoy being house moms.
“They all have such different personalities and quirks and I like them all,” Butler said. “They’re just fun and keep us on our toes.”