Bobbie Lonker on Thursday talked with her ‘boys’ about the night’s dinner plans: spaghetti.
Only six of them were home at that time, but soon everybody would be together. Just a nice dinner with a mom and her 65 boys.
“It’s a full house,” Lonker said.
For 25 years, Lonker has been the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house director, otherwise known as the house mom.
“I’m just like a mom away from their moms,” she said.
Ben Elliott, a freshman from Iowa, said he doesn’t go home often, so it’s nice to have Lonker.
“From say one, she wanted to know everything about us, our families and what we were doing here,” he said. “It gives you a very welcoming sense, especially during freshman year.”
The boys like to show their appreciation for her, too.
“She comes with us sometimes on the weekends,” Elliott said. “She goes to all the date parties. It’s really cool having her at all of those events.”
Lonker said the boys also take her to the fraternity’s intramural games.
“They always want me to go with them,” Lonker said. “They take me every place. Just being with these young people keeps me going.”
Lonker said it’s rewarding to see them grow during their college years. She said this year’s 100th anniversary chapter celebration allowed an opportunity to see some of her older boys — including some from her first year.
“Oh my word, it was just so good to see them,” Lonker said. “Sometimes they stop by the house and bring their children. I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have been here a long time.’” Lonker, also a mother to three biological children and a grandmother of five, attended K-State where she met her husband, Jim, who was in Beta Theta Pi.
After her husband died in 1988, Lonker said her children encouraged her to join become the fraternity’s house mom.
“This would keep me plenty busy,” Lonker said. “I decided I would treat each boy like he was my own.”
Lonker said she wanted to do things their mothers might have done such as press shirts, mend clothes, and make runs to the doctor and school.
“I just do whatever needs to be done,” she said. “My door is always open.”
June Wilson, Alpha Chi Omega sorority house mom, has spent her seven years in the role developing what’s affectionately known as “The Black Hole.”
Her room serves as an evening spot for many of the girls to watch television and old movies.
“When you come in here, you never know if you’re going to get out because they just end up staying forever and talking,” Wilson said.
Tori Gellott, sophomore, said she has experienced this phenomenon often.
“I can spend hours in her room, and it won’t feel like hours,” she said. “We can talk about anything. It makes it feel so much more like home.”
Gellott said it helps her knowing that Wilson will be there as a support system.
“She’s so caring and full of love,” she said. “She treats us like her own kids.”
Wilson, mother of two and grandmother of three, said she’s there if the girls need to talk or just want a hug.
“I would never attempt to take a parent’s place,” she said. “Mainly it’s just somebody to be here to offer encouragement and lots and lots of hugs. I’m a big, big hugger.”
Wilson said she draws from her life experience when she talk with the sorority members.
“It depends whether or not they want your advice,” she said. “I give them my personal opinion. It’s not necessarily something written in a book.”
Wilson moved to Manhattan from Salina around the same time she became house mom. She said her daughter, who lived in Manhattan and had just become a mom herself, encouraged Wilson to take the position.
“My first grandson was born,” she said. “I was spending all my time here anyway.”
Keeping up with 68 girls in the house can be a lot to handle, but Wilson said the relationships she builds keep her coming back.
“You just have no idea unless you’ve been in a situation like this,” she said. “They just become part of your heart.”
Wilson said she will often go on road trips at the spur of the moment with the girls, as well as to the movies and coffee shops.
“It’s a lot of fun because you get one-on-one,” she said. “You can really visit with them.”
Wilson said she appreciates her time with the girls in the house. They recently gave Wilson a Mother’s Day gift.
“I mean, gosh darn, just being here is gift enough for me,” Wilson said. “I tell people I am the luckiest person in the world.”
Lonker and Wilson said they are coming back for another year of helping other people’s kids get through college successfully.
Like many parents, Lonker and Wilson mentioned experiencing empty-nest syndrome, missing the students when they leave for the summer. Lonker said that’s when she goes to the family ranch in Medicine Lodge for rejuvenation.
“Then, I’m ready to get back,” she said. “It’s funny how you really miss them when they’re not around. I have to get used to sleeping when I get home because it’s so quiet.”
Feelings of nostalgia are particularly strong when graduation arrives for the seniors.
Wilson said this is the worst time of year for her. Finals week means the girls will soon leave for the summer or for good after graduation.
“You know some of them you’ll never see again,” she said. “I just keep thinking next fall I’ll have a whole group of new girls.”
Lonker speaks about her boys like a typical proud mother. One is being commissioned in the U.S. Army military. Another is going to medical school.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see them leave and all, but I know they’ll be successful in everything,” she said. “It’s just like leaving the nest. A big nest.”