Sisters from the Alpha Delta Pi sorority would take 81-year-old Joan Kaas out to party in celebration of birthdays and graduations.
“They’d take me downtown to the Edison, which is a nightclub, to hear musicians that I wanted to hear,” she said.
Before recently retiring and moving to her home state of Iowa, Kaas was a house mother at the UCLA chapter of ADPi from 1990 to 2016. In 25 years of working with the sorority members, Kaas said she experienced what sorority life was like for young women.
House mothers are women who oversee functions of the house, such as hiring staff, maintaining the property and mentoring the sorority members. Every sorority hires a house mother, but duties vary depending on the sorority, said Emily Oswalt, the advisor in the Office of UCLA Fraternity and Sorority Life.
Kaas said she thinks she had a more nurturing role at ADPi compared to other house mothers and got to know the students well.
ADPi has a no media policy and refused to let house members speak to the Daily Bruin about about their experiences with Kaas.
Kaas said she became a house mother at UCLA because her daughter, Susan Dansereau, suggested she apply for the position. Dansereau, a UCLA alumna who was pursuing her doctorate when Kaas applied, said she thinks her mother’s experience from raising eight children gave her the skills to perform a house mother’s duties.
Kaas took her daughter’s advice and applied through the National Panhellenic Conference. She underwent a rigorous application process that included interviews with sisters and advisors.
Once she got the position, Kaas was responsible for ensuring the sorority members followed house rules, which she said was sometimes difficult.
The two most common rules the members broke were having alcohol in the house and bringing boys into their rooms, she said.
“It was shocking when I’d corner boys upstairs or find alcohol in their things over breaks,” Kaas said. “I wanted to get a closet to lock (the alcohol) up and give them to take (out of the house). I just want people to … know what they are drinking and know how much they are drinking.”
When sorority members broke the rules, Kaas said she reported them to ADPi leaders. However she felt sympathetic for them because she understood that young students want to experience the social side of college. She added she believed a major part of coming to school and joining a sorority is learning independence.
Kaas said she learned how to handle dangerous situations, such as taking care of members who could not handle the responsibility of drinking.
Though some house members broke the rules, she had a mostly positive experience bonding with them. She said she thinks the best part was guiding them and being a friend when they needed one.
“My mother always enjoyed being around young people,” Dansereau said. “She had raised eight children on a farm … so she was used to a very active life style. … She had many of the necessary skills already.”
Over the years, Kaas has maintained relationships with former ADPi members. Many of them have invited Kaas to their weddings.
“(One of the girls) even visited my mom at my house in Cincinnati over Christmas one year,” Dansereau said. “She was invited to another’s wedding, and the list goes on and on.”
Kaas has also remained Facebook friends with former and current ADPi members, and she gets to follow the progression of their life into adulthood, she said.
She also saw the young women’s growth during their time in the sorority.
“They’re kind of shy when they come in,” she said. “I think the sorority (prepares them).”
Because she was a house mother for so long, she saw the changes in sorority members over decades, too. In the early ’90s, they were more interested in becoming nurses and educators or finding a husband. In recent years, many of them have looked beyond those traditional roles for women and sought resume-building opportunities outside their sorority.
“Now they’re studying abroad and interning – all kinds of things that wouldn’t have even been open to them when I first started,” Kaas said.
Kaas added she thinks gaining job and life experiences requires maturity – something young women can learn through the meaningful relationships and networking opportunities they get in a sorority.
Her relationship with sorority members makes it difficult to watch them graduate and move on with their lives, she said. However, she said she knows sorority life readied them for life beyond UCLA.
“(Being a house mother) was a lot of fun,” she said. “I miss all the energy and the happy smiles.”