House mom Linda Lamarind supports the men of Alpha Epsilon Pi
Jan. 27, 2012
She’s the lady who calls the DIRECTV guy “Hon.” She watches Fox News and MSNBC to get both sides of a story, but thinks Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband is a jerk. And last month, she received a dozen red roses from 63 college-aged men who prefer to call her “Mom.”
As the men of Alpha Epsilon Pi planned to move back into their North Jordan Avenue house last spring after a three-year hiatus, they needed a new housing director.
Linda Lamarind, better known to the men of 1412 North Jordan Ave. as “Mom Linda,” had been out of work for a year after being replaced by a housing management company at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house down the street. She was interviewed for the position by AEPi’s executive board and accepted the job in June.
Though Linda had worked as a housing director at IU on and off since 2003, this house seemed different than the rest. During her interview for the job, Linda was asked a question she had never heard before.
One member of the executive board said, “Are you a person that would be open to a brother coming in and talking with you if they needed to?” Linda was sold.
“I went home and was more thrilled about that than thinking that I had the job,” Linda says. “They wanted to know me as a person, and that’s what I was impressed by most.”
In the midst of scantily-clad Megan Fox posters, piles of takeout wrappers, and exponential levels of testosterone lies an oasis of feminine domesticity and cleanliness within the chapter house.
Rather than working in the housing director suite on the first floor, Linda camps out from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday on the second floor. Her office is in a 13-by-9 foot room identical in size to the rooms of her residents, other than the recently-painted teal walls and a “Happy Hanukkah” sign hanging on the door. Papers on Linda’s desk are stacked neatly, and her bookcase highlights her copy of “The House Director’s Manual.”
Behind her desk on the wall is a calendar of Jewish holidays and an IU football schedule. She received season tickets through this job, and has been an avid Hoosiers fan since she moved to Bloomington as an eighth grader in 1958.
“The guys might think I’m trying to be hip,” says Linda. “But really I’m a sports freak.”
Throughout the day Linda keeps her office door wide open and a glass dish full of fun-size Snickers, Kit Kats and Reese’s ready. Brothers pop in and out of her office all day, and between sips of her Diet Coke she answers questions, offers suggestions, and participates in house banter.
“Hi Mom!” says sophomore Avi Katz as he comes in to grab a Snickers before class.
“Hey, hon!” she says back.
“This is the best part of my job,” says Linda. “Y’all are fun. You’re kids to us and you keep us young at heart.”
And at 66, Linda appears more than just young at heart. Her ringtone is “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum, she wears a watch with rhinestones generally found on the wrist of a sorority girl, and she maintains a neat French manicure that catches the fluorescent light overhead as she uses her pink iPhone to respond to a text from sophomore housing manager Jeremy Feldman.
“I wanna take care of them,” says Linda. At the beginning of the year she gave out her cell phone number to everyone in the house. “Even though I go home at night, I’m on call twenty-four seven.”
Along with managing the cleaning and maintenance staffs each day, Linda always makes an effort to eat with “her boys” during lunchtime at the house.
And she’s not exempt from the daily trials that go along with running a fraternity — most recently, walls coated in pudding and a ceiling drenched in highlighter fluid from Homecoming Week’s pudding and paint parties have been some of the bumps in her daily routine.
“It doesn’t bother me personally. All that mess, it’s sort of not a way to live comfortably,” says Linda. “‘You play, you pay.’ That’s what I tell them.”
“Linda has been an incredible house mom since the day she was hired,” says Feldman. “She was a huge help during the summer and she’s been very easy to work with, especially because the house as a whole gets along with her so well.”
She says she wants to start posting etiquette tips like how to hold a fork or give a proper handshake. She also makes cards for upcoming birthdays and posts a “word of the day” on the corkboard outside her office.
“I want to get to know them as people, which, in turn, is how I want them to know me,” Linda says.
As a part of understanding her new house, Linda, who was raised Catholic, has dived headfirst into the exploration of Jewish culture that is the backbone of AEPi’s brotherhood.
“I’m a news junkie,” says Linda. “I read all the time, and lately I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the Jewish culture: the holidays, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, anything I can.”
Linda enjoys learning about Jewish culture from the boys as they leave for Hillel, observe Kosher meal traditions, and make jokes with one another about the neurotic personalities of their own Jewish mothers. During her research she found a recipe for a honey cake that she had the kitchen staff prepare for Rosh Hashanah.
“I’m not sure if any of the boys noticed it, but I was glad to contribute something,” says Linda.
Though Linda calls Bloomington her hometown, she is proud to say that she was born in Washington, Ind., the same town as IU men’s basketball player Cody Zeller.
Within the small population of Bloomington High School in the 1950’s and ’60s, Linda says she often felt like the spotlight was on her. She was a cheerleader and won both Prom Queen and Homecoming Queen.
“I felt like all eyes were on me and I didn’t really like it,” says Linda. “I love conversation-wise being in the middle of things. I’m not an introvert.”
So when she came to IU as a freshman she reveled in feeling like a number among a student population of thousands. She was never in a sorority herself; she actually left school after her sophomore year to marry her high school sweetheart—something, she says, she would never recommend to anyone.
She stayed in Bloomington to build a family that now extends to three daughters and 11 grandchildren. Now they all live within a 30-minute drive of her home and talk every day on the phone.
After 28 years of marriage, she got divorced and spent the next several years moving along the East Coast. On her drive back to Bloomington from Albany, N.Y., in 2003, Linda called a friend who, at the time, was also a housing director on campus.
There was an opening at the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority house, which is where Linda got her start. She immediately became involved in the housing director community.
“I was single then and didn’t really have a home,” says Linda. “When I first started, I absorbed all I could.”
She says she met one of her best friends, Kappa Alpha Theta housing director Jan Smith, through this experience, and after only a few years of work, she was elected president of the House Director’s Association.
Jill Clay, Linda’s daughter and special education teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Bloomington, says she’s noticed the positive change in her mom since she started work again in June.
“She loves it being with those boys. She considers herself like a life coach, asking about their days and everything,” says Clay. “I can’t think of a more suitable job for my mom. Well, maybe a wedding planner so she could fawn over the bride and groom.”
As the only female adult present in the house on a daily basis, once again the spotlight shines on her. Now she chooses to use that light as a beacon of guidance for the chapter.
Even when she started at Beta Iota after being off the job for a year, she said she was not nervous.
Dealing with life’s tragedies has shown Linda that she can overcome some of the challenges that go along with the job such as being the liaison between a chapter’s residents and a chapter’s housing corporation.
“My oldest daughter and her husband buried my first grandchild. She died when she was six and a half months old,” Linda says.
“When you live life and you’ve had issues and challenges so much more than this, it just doesn’t faze me. I’m very comfortable in my abilities and who I am. Coming here is just such a joy,” Linda says. “There’s no reason to be nervous.”