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Spotlight Iowa City: Sorority mom is 80 years old

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | DECEMBER 11, 2009 7:30 AM

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When Iowa City resident Jeanne Beckman graduated from the University of South Dakota, she did it with a degree not heard of anymore: home economics.

Studying cooking, textiles, and the economics of running a household took Beckman through jobs as a secretary, caterer, party planner, and cook at the Pillsbury test kitchens in Minneapolis.

Now, nearly 60 years after getting that degree, 80-year-old Beckman has arrived at what she says is her true calling — the house mother for roughly 60 young women at the UI Delta Delta Delta mansion. She’s one of the oldest in such a position on campus.

“I think in all the jobs I ever had and all the things I’ve ever done, I was in training for this job,” said Beckman, sitting in the Delta Delta Delta living room by the women’s photos and a fireplace.

She certainly has the experience.

A member of Alpha Phi when she was in college, Beckman, a petite woman with short, gray hair and a knowing smile, has worked in sororities for the past 20 years. She’s been with Delta Delta Delta for seven.

As a house mother, her duties include not just housekeeping but also tailoring, first aid, and dispensing advice. Of course, there’s always the unexpected — such as the day the house freezer broke down, forcing her to throw away all the food in it.



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“I don’t have a typical day,” Beckman said. “I never know what’s going to happen. Generally, I’m just here for anyone who needs me.”

Her nature draws people to her, and she’s always willing to help out — even other sororities, said Pi Beta Phi house mother Jo Fischer.

“I love hearing [about] her past,” Fischer said. “She’s been around the block, and she shares those things with us.”

The women living in the house say Beckman is approachable and very much “with it,” as Delta Delta Delta President Katelyn Jeffers put it.

Staying “with it,” the house mother has had to make some changes to how things operated 20 years ago.

“It’s a difference in our culture. The girls are much more independent, and they pretty much do things the way they want to do it,” she said. “I change, and my feelings about the whole thing have changed with the changes in their behavior and attitude. I don’t get shocked or upset about anything.”

The hardest part of the job, she said, was realizing that she wasn’t the sorority members’ actual mother. The second hardest part? Getting back to sleep if the women wake her up when they come home late at night.

But even with 3 a.m. wake-up calls, she said she will always enjoy her work.

“I really like the interaction,” she said. “I’m a nurturer-type person, [and] I’ve got all these young women to help.”

Beckman feels that she still has something positive to offer college students. She said, at the very least, she can make them laugh.

The house mother resides in Madison, Wis., during breaks, where her five sons and one daughter live. While being away from her family is sometimes hard, she said, she doesn’t plan to give up her life in Iowa City, and her job as a house mother, any time soon.

“I’m going to do it until somebody takes my driver’s license away and I can’t get back to Madison,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like kids who are in high school or college. Not me. [This is] where I belong.”


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