FROM READERS: House mom reflects on changes in Greek Town, role in sorority

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Mary Achor serves as the house mother for Alpha Phi at MU. House mothers and fathers serve as the parental figure in the Greek chapters on campus. Achor shares the duties of her role and how she is connected to the chapter.

On March 21, 1964, I was initiated into Alpha Phi, Omicron Chapter, here in Columbia on the Mizzou campus. Fifty years! Who would have dreamed that it would fly by so swiftly? And today, I find myself as the "house mom" for my same chapter, same house. It is, I must say, a fresh adventure, and one I sorely needed. I felt stale. Well, I am bored no longer.

Some things are very different. I need a map to find my way around campus, what with all the new structures. Many Greek fraternities are gone, and others have appeared. I have to check a guide to see whether they are for men or women.

In the Alpha Phi house, the room that was my pledge mom's (as we called them then) is now a lounge. It was where we learned that President Kennedy had been shot; when I again walked in, all the hair on my arms stood up, and all the grief rushed back in. Such things do not change.

Now a study space called the Jungle Room, the "card room" was where my sisters played bridge. (I did not; I was lousy at it, and unearthed more compatible time sucks for myself.) There is a formal library, too, filled with Phis studying all hours of the day and night. Makes me proud.

We now have a full-blown dance troupe with intricately choreographed routines; our old dance group consisted of me and three friends.

And in my day (said she, in a quavery, little old lady voice), our issues involved the civil rights movement. In the 1960's, there existed a Jewish sorority, a Jewish fraternity and an African-American fraternity. I asked about it at the time, because I had a cherished Jewish friend named Gail Rothschild whom I really wanted in our house. I was told, "They don't want to be with us." Perhaps we really believed it, then.

We were tested, though. Several of us were in Marching Mizzou, sharing the field with terrific African-American musicians — including Warren Bass, that show-stopping performer who could throw a baton as high as the top tier of the stadium at that time, and catch it every time. I was boggled at how those musicians were able to improvise music; I couldn't play a note that wasn't written down. At the time, Marching Mizzou played a rousing rendition of "Dixie," to the screams of the crowd. I can't imagine how the fellas could play that song, but they did.

At the time, whenever there was a Greek event, each house sent invitations to every other fraternity and sorority on campus. No one ever went, but it was considered good manners, and we all did it. Consequently, an invitation routinely went to the African-American fraternity. Some of our band fellows asked if they were really invited to our Luau Night.  Of course, we said, you received an invitation, didn't you?

We were a little nervous, because it was all so new, and we didn't know how our house mom from a different era would react. We waited the night of the dance, one eye on the door to welcome our brothers in and, if needed, to provide bodily buffers. No one came. On Monday, in band, I asked why they hadn't come. I got a mumbled answer.  It took me years to realize we were probably being tested, to see what we would say and do. Apparently, we passed.

Today, I am gleefully proud to say, we have both Jewish and African-American Phis, fitting seamlessly into a sea of Phi life. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Certainly, not to me.

What has not changed is the joy, and the love, and the support of one Sister for another. I sit in the dining hall with a silly grin on my face, as I listen to the laughter and the chat, and let it fill me with energy.

Ostensibly, my task is to make sure the house stays standing, as efficiently as I am able to do so, and to supervise the food service. More than that, however, my job is to support my young Sisters, and to be sure they know how proud of them I am, of all their hard work, of all they accomplish. To cheer when they are accepted to law school or nursing school, when they win honors and when they organize mammoth fundraising projects supporting heart health. (Nothing of that magnitude in MY day!)

As I say all the time, "You are a good woman." And they are.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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