COLUMBIA — Marit Vogelsong doesn't have children of her own, but that hasn't prevented her from being a mother.
She schedules meals for as many as 200 hungry mouths and manages day-to-day operations at the three-story, 17,827-square-foot Kappa Delta house at 606 E. Rollins St.
Vogelsong's title is house director, but the young women of the Epsilon Iota chapter of Kappa Delta have another, dearer name for her. They call her "Mom Marit."
"This is not a job. It's a lifestyle," Vogelsong said. "It doesn't end at 5 p.m. It doesn't end on the weekends."
Vogelsong, who began working and living at the house a year ago, said she didn't expect the pace to be as intense as it is.
"There's just a personality to a building and what a building needs, what your staff needs, and how the girls come in and out of the building," she said. "It sort of dictates what your day is like, which is exactly what it’s like to be a mom in a house. It's just exponentially bigger."
Like many parents, she does what she can to keep the house, and the lives of the young women who live there, running smoothly. Sometimes that means handling things you wouldn't ordinarily think about.
Take vacuums. The sorority used to have seven upright vacuums, but the chapter members' long hair constantly clogged the bar brush rollers, so Vogelsong replaced the vacuums with industrial shop vacs. Problem solved.
In the second-floor hallway, the paint in what one of the sorority sisters called "claustrophobic" egg-yolk yellow is gone. Now, it's a brighter beige thanks to the Kappa Delta House Corporations Board and a designer Vogelsong worked with.
When she's not streamlining a process or dreaming up solutions to housing problems, Vogelsong's time is filled with a few perennial tasks, such as planning the menu for each day's meals. About 90 women can live at the house, but the rest of the sorority's members can eat lunch and dinner there.
"It's like the biggest puzzle I've ever had to work — to make sure you’re not giving someone a sandwich at lunch and then a sandwich for dinner," she said. "I try to do them long beforehand because when the food purveyors come in, we're still reworking things. Do they have this available? Is this the right time to get it? Do we have space in the freezers? It’s like running a restaurant."
Chapter officers handle responsibilities such as doling out parking permits, dealing with disciplinary concerns and helping track finances.
"This is their opportunity to learn how to handle money, a facility, work well amongst themselves, have good grades and balance the philanthropic work we do," Vogelsong said.
But she maintains oversight.
"I'm a facility manager," she said. "I'm to oversee the comings and goings of workmen that have to deal with the building. I'm here in case of emergencies, or if the girls need to ask for information.
"These are private institutions," she continued. "From one house to the other, they're run each like a little corporation."
She sees parallels between herself and the British housekeepers featured in Victorian novels.
"When you read about the housekeeper, she's not really a servant, and she's not really living on the 'upper floors,' as they would say in England. So you're kind of this in-between person," Vogelsong said.
"I'm not a social equivalent for the girls, and I'm lucky to have the staff — (cooks) Stan (Lewis) and Mattie (Burkholder) and Shairon (Fair), my cleaning person," she said. "I have a friendship with them, but it's a work friendship."
From the perspective of incoming new members, Vogelsong is a house veteran, but she is the new one on the house's staff, some of whom have worked there for three decades. They say they're attracted to the job for different reasons.
"I have four daughters of my own, and I like being around with a bunch of girls," said Shairon Fair, who has spent a decade cleaning the house.
Mattie Burkholder clocks in at 6 a.m. each day and handles preparing the midday meal. She has worked there 19 years, the second longest.
"I've seen quite a few girls come and go," she said.
Stan Lewis, a former Army cook, handles the evening meals and, at 30 years, has worked in the house the longest. He enjoys the flexibility the job provides.
Some Greek houses hire only seasonal employees to staff the house when students occupy it during the school year. In contrast, Kappa Delta’s alumnae board hires the building's staff year-round.
When Lewis tires of cooking, he knows his job responsibilities will change in the summer, and the time he used to spend in the kitchen will be replaced with maintenance and other renovation tasks around the house.
Lewis has seen almost a half-dozen house mothers come and go during his three decades at the sorority house.
"I just ain't never seen a woman like that before. Not a young one like she is," he said of Vogelsong, who is 49. "Most of the other house mothers were a lot older than what Marit is. We had one young lady here who was about Marit's age. I think she lasted two weeks. She didn't even last 'til school started. She said, 'There ain't no way I could do this,' and she left. Marit stuck right in there. She had a bad time and a good time, but she's just a hard worker. A go-getter."
It's more than a source of employment for Vogelsong. It's an emotional investment. As moms are prone to do, she does her fair share of worrying.
Vogelsong wonders, for example, how well the formal room's new brown laminate flooring will hold up to the scores of high-heeled shoes soon to clickety-click across it. Or how she will manage hanging the giant and differently sized composites in chronological order given the limited wall space.
The house's infrastructure and the needs of 91 young women can be, at times, trying, yet Vogelsong doesn't let these issues affect her demeanor.
"I’ve never seen her mad — at all," Lewis said. "She just says, 'Oh well, we'll just have to do something different, I guess. It didn’t work.'"
On top of her responsibilities at the house, she also cares for her parents, whose home in Columbia offers a respite from the demands of Kappa Delta.
"My folks live here in town, and that's where I go to decompress," Vogelsong said. "That's where I go when I have my break time."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.