A mom away from mom

While house director is their official title, “house moms” help clean and cook in some fraternities around campus.

Mary Ann Bannerman house mom of the FarmHouse fraternity bakes sour cream banana bread Friday afternoon in the fraternitys kitchen.

Erin Westover

Mary Ann Bannerman “house mom” of the FarmHouse fraternity bakes sour cream banana bread Friday afternoon in the fraternity’s kitchen.

by Aaron DuBois

Singing âÄúHappy Birthday,âÄù Sigma Chi fraternity members crowded around Jill Lovell Friday afternoon.

âÄúWhat are you, 20?âÄù one asked.

âÄú21,âÄù Lovell said with a smile.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to the bars!âÄù

Lovell, who actually turned 63, is Sigma ChiâÄôs house director âÄìâÄì one of the few among University of MinnesotaâÄôs more than 30 fraternities.

The positionâÄôs responsibilities vary depending on the chapter. Lovell spends her time maintaining the house, monitoring the budget, coordinating events and sometimes serving as an adviser.

The fraternity pays for the position through membership dues, and some house directors have free board in addition to their paycheck. In the Sigma Chi house, Lovell has her own living room, bedroom and bathroom.

While house director is the official title, Lovell and others in her position are informally called âÄúhouse moms.âÄù

âÄúThey call me âÄòmomâÄô most of the time,âÄù said FarmHouseâÄôs house mom Mary Ann Bannerman. âÄúI like that.âÄù

Bannerman, a University alumna with 30 years in youth development under her belt, has worked at the fraternity for six years. She got the job shortly after retiring, when her nephew âÄî a fraternity member at the time âÄî suggested she apply.

âÄúIt was a complete shot in the dark,âÄù she said.

The process involved three different interviews with the fraternity members and several informal visits to see if she could relate to the chapter.

âÄúSheâÄôs more than a house mom âÄìâÄì sheâÄôs kind of our adviser, and sheâÄôs there for a lot of life advice,âÄù said Isaac Salfer, FarmHouse president.

When she first moved into the house, fraternity members wouldnâÄôt let Bannerman clean. She said had to fight to get to clean the room next to hers. And though she helps with cooking the evening meals, her main job is to make the dessert.

âÄúShe kind of adds a womanâÄôs touch to us, which may be weird to some fraternities, but itâÄôs nice for us,âÄù Salfer said.

FarmHouse international bylaws require each chapter have a house director.

âÄúAt FarmHouse, we like to be known as the gentlemen of campus, and I think [Bannerman is] kind of a big reason why,âÄù Salfer said.

Meanwhile, Sigma Chi got a house director as one of the requirements set by Donald Freeberg âÄî an alumnus who purchased a second house for the chapter.

Lovell is originally from Alexandria, Minn., and came to the city to find work. For decades sheâÄôs been running her own house cleaning business. But sheâÄôs been with Sigma Chi for 14 years âÄî and loves it.

âÄúI try to explain it like when I get them, they are like little flowers,âÄù she said. âÄúTheir mom and dad planted them, and they have these nice solid roots, and then I get to feed them and water them and watch them grow and bloom.âÄù

The houseâÄôs bustling atmosphere doesnâÄôt bother Lovell, who helps coordinate many of the Sigma ChiâÄôs social events like the Sweetheart Ball.

âÄúIt makes me laugh to hear them down there just chuckling and a-hootinâÄô and a-hollerinâÄô,âÄù she said. âÄúIt just makes me smile.âÄù

Lovell said she was first attracted to the position because of the way she saw the members treat the house mom before her.

 âÄúWho else at my age can say they live at a frat house?âÄù