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Grand Forks woman wraps 26-year career as housemother at UND sorority

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Twenty-six years ago, Eunice Greicar answered an ad for a cook at a UND sorority house.

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She was living in Minto, N.D., working fulltime as a nurse’s aide at a nearby nursing home and looking to do “something different,” she said.

 

Her four children were grown and out of the house; she and her husband were separated.

The job called for her to cook daily for 40 college students living in the Alpha Phi house and once a week for 75 to 100 sorority members who gathered for a formal dinner and business meeting.

“I had never cooked for more than 10 people in my life,” she said. “Ignorance is bliss.”   

She got the job.

“It was Rush Week; I think they were desperate.”

Two years later, she was asked to take over for the housemother, who had resigned, and to continue as cook. She moved into an apartment in the house.

“I went from working in a nursing home to living with 18- to 22-year-olds,” she said.

For 10 years, she was both housemother and cook, until the house’s corporation board hired a cook.

As housemother, her duties were wide-ranging, including enforcing the house rules and tending to the repairs needed to keep a 1920s-era building in good working order.  

“And just be there,” she said.

The door to Greicar’s apartment “was always open,” said Abbie Beaudry of Grand Forks, a 2014 UND engineering graduate.

“While she was cooking, you could sit and visit with her,” said Tracey Johnson of Grand Forks, adviser for chapter operations and 1994 UND graduate.

“She was always there if you needed someone to talk to, someone to go out and eat with, or go to basketball games with … (or) if you needed a favor, had a question or wanted input.”

“She would flop down on the couch and watch TV with us,” said Kelsie Grenier, a UND senior majoring in pre-medicine.

‘Best cook’

The Alpha Phi women didn’t seek her advice on personal matters very much, she said, but they did want to learn from her expertise in running the house.

“Especially when it came to making food,” Grenier said. “She’s the best cook. She makes the best caramel rolls.

“During final test week, she’d make snacks for us at 10 or 11 at night. My favorite was stromboli — it was to die for.”

Johnson’s favorite was the Robert Redford dessert, she said. “She remembers that — from 20 years ago.”

Under Greicar’s influence, Alpha Phi women also learned “how to handle a difficult situation in a respectful manner,” Johnson said.         

A good housemother needs “broad shoulders, thick skin and (the ability to) go with the flow,” Greicar said.

Beaudry agrees, adding, “You were good at enforcing the rules.”

Sometimes Greicar responded to unusual requests, recalling a young woman who, returning to the house after giving her friend a ride to class, came in and said, “I don’t know how to parallel park. Can you come out and help me?”    

Greicar had good rapport with the Alpha Phi women “for the most part,” she said.

“When you take a job like this, you know it’s going to be noisy. If it got too bad, I’d just close the door.”

As she got older, “It got so I couldn’t hear the noise,” she said with a smile.  

But there was some noise she would not tolerate, she said, recalling that she once overheard a member who was on the phone, talking loudly and using rough language.

“I told her, if she was going to use language like that, go somewhere else,” Greicar said. “The next day, I got a box of candy,” a token of apology.  

Alums keep in touch  

Last month, Greicar retired at age 77 and moved to an apartment in Grand Forks.          

Although more than a thousand young women have passed through the massive English Tudor-style house, situated near the intersection of University Avenue and Columbia Road, she remembers many of them.

They have kept in touch, sending her family photos and updates on their lives.

Greicar “had a really close relationship with those girls” who used to live in the house, Johnson said.

“She knew everybody’s names. She was at their weddings.”

“She remembers bus boys” who worked in the kitchen, Johnson said. “Her memory is better than mine.”

Greicar knows the sorority’s history like none other, Johnson said. “She’s kind of the link (to alums).

“As you get involved in your family and career, you drift away from your (sorority) sisters. Alumnae keep in touch with her, and she shares that with us.”

Having a housemother serve for more than two decades “is pretty rare,” Johnson said. “You don’t see people staying that long anymore.”         

Through the years, Greicar has most enjoyed her “association with the girls,” she said.  

She gets a little misty-eyed, recalling her years and the countless young women with whom she lived under the same roof.

“I know where the majority of the girls are,” she said.

Right time  

This summer is the right time to retire, Greicar said. She finds it harder to remember all the members’ names, and she’s lost patience with irritating “little things” that go wrong in a house that’s pushing 100 years old.

Walking into the building that houses her new apartment, she said, the first thing she noticed was a fire alarm similar to one in Alpha Phi that went off for no reason and refused to cease blaring.

“I thought, ‘I don’t have to worry about it,’ ” she said.

Working as a housemother has kept her mom “so active and so young,” said Greicar’s daughter, Brenda Gjelsness of Grand Forks.

“We put our mom ‘on loan.’ It was an absolutely perfect job for my mom.”

Greicar will be missed, Johnson said.

“Eunice has been a hard worker her whole life. She’s dedicated herself to Alpha Phi and the girls of Alpha Phi. I’m excited for her to do only what she wants to do. I’m happy for her.”

Greicar is looking forward to the change, she said, but “now I’ll have to cook for myself.”  

“I’ve had it made here,” she said as she looks around the living room of the Alpha Phi house.    

“Come September, I think I’ll be glad to not be coming back — oh my, another 40 girls to learn the names of.”  

Her retirement may be more difficult for others to handle.

“Eunice has been a fixture,” Johnson said. “It’ll be really weird not having her here. She’s the only housemother I’ve ever known.

“She’s kind of like a grandma to me.”   

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