Before she became housemother for Kansas University's Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority 13 years ago, Molly McGroder worked as a newspaper reporter, a CIA research analyst with top secret clearance, an office manager for an orthodontic practice and a single parent of six kids.
Talk about being qualified for the job.
"I had my six children in seven years, and our house is where everyone came. So, I've always sort of been a housemother," McGroder laughs.
In 1997, Esther Wolfe found herself at a personal crossroads, facing retirement, when she decided to give house-mothering a try at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
"I had a real good friend who had been a housemom for a long, long time, so it was always in the back of my mind," Wolfe says. "My daughter was taking over my business at Halcyon House (Bed & Breakfast) and my mother had been real sick, so I had to take care of her. Then she died, and I was left in limbo, wondering what I should do.
"It just seemed like a natural transition. It wasn't as much responsibility as a personal business. I don't have to worry if the electric bill gets paid every month, for instance. It seemed less stressful."
Housemothers - officially called house directors, these days - are responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of a fraternity or sorority house, including supervising staff, contractors, vendors and property maintenance. They also provide support for Greek members and work with alumni. In return, they receive a salary, free room and board, and time off for summer, winter and spring breaks.
McGroder considers herself an enabler in the most functional, positive sense.
"For all the fun these college kids have, they are, first of all, students. And they have a lot of stress. So, I try to make home at the Kappa house stress-free and conflict-free, so they can come home and know they can relax and be happy. They're well-fed, the house is clean, and they're not going to have a crabby housemother complaining about everything that they do."
Not that avoiding crabbiness is always easy. These are, after all, college students we're talking about.
"It would be nice to sleep for more than five hours at a time," says Wolfe, whose living quarters are adjacent to the Phi Psi front door and porch.
"It's not the boys, it's the girls who wake me up. It's their voices. Their (guest) restroom is right across the hall. They use it for their social gathering place, and they talk about everything! When they're out on the porch in the springtime, sometimes I'll go out and say, 'You really don't want me to hear your conversation,' and they'll move."
Across campus at the Kappa house, Mom Molly doesn't have that problem.
"I sleep just fine," McGroder says. "But it's a very strange thing. I always recognize sounds that shouldn't be there, like a male voice. I think mothers are that way. Noises that are ordinary, you just don't pay any attention. But if you hear something out of the ordinary, you're alert to it."
The differences between sorority and fraternities don't end there, both housemothers agree.
"I have a friend who has the best idea of the difference between boys and girls," Wolfe says. "Boys don't see anything if it doesn't move. It could be a girl, a baseball, a basketball, a car, a video Š if it moves, they see it. A sock on the floor? They don't see it. Girls are different. If there are shoes are on the floor, they'll see them. But boys walk right over them."
"Boys are usually more loving toward their housemother," notes McGroder, who did a two-year stint at the Phi Psi house before taking the Kappa job. "The girls are very respectful of me and very nice to me. But I think with fraternity housemothers, there's a little more lovey-love going on there, because I think guys always need their moms. When girls go away to college, they want to get away from mom.
"If they want to talk, they will come to me. Or I'll see someone kind of weepy and approach them. I get to know the girls. I can tell by the look of their face or the sound of the voice that something's wrong. But they don't come to me very often."
Indeed, boys do seem more dependent on their housemothers. Like Jason Eubanks, who politely interrupts Wolfe's interview to get a stamp and an envelope to mail his house bill.
"I honestly don't know where I'd get a stamp and an envelope, except from the housemom," Eubanks admits. "I guess from the post office, probably. Pretty much every month I come down here and get this. And she tells me where to put it."
Wolfe laughs, appreciatively.
"No, she's great. She does everything for us," he continues. "The house wouldn't be the same without her, obviously. We all realize that."
Actually, she doesn't do everything. Fortunately, Wolfe's responsibilities don't include doing the members' laundry.
"I wish," Eubanks laughed.
Would McGroder and Wolfe trade places? Not on their lives.
"Of my six children, five of them were girls," McGroder explains. "I went to all-girls schools, and I grew up in a woman's world. I couldn't deal with the guys."
Wolfe says, "I have two boys and would not do this in a sorority. It sounds funny, I know, but I just wouldn't feel comfortable. But boys don't bother me."