Sorority feels like home to house grandmother

Arda Pounds is the oldest and longest serving sorority housemother at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln. She came to the Willard house in 1992 and has seen many changes in campus and culture over past 25 years.

But at least one thing has remained the same: Mom Arda is always there.

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Pounds was born 76 years ago on a farm outside of David City, Nebraska. There was a hospital nearby, but the family doctor was not allowed to practice there due to an ongoing personal feud with the hospital staff. So Pounds was born at home under these unusual circumstances that would set the stage for the rest of her long and unusual life.

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Arda Pounds, 76, combs through old Willard sorority photos.

Her early education took place in a one-room country schoolhouse where she had only three other students in her grade. But Pounds said she appreciated the individual attention that the small class sizes afforded her.

“The exciting thing about country school was that you got to learn from everybody else,” Pounds said. “We had 8th graders reciting their lessons in the same room as kindergarteners. It was really a marvelous education.”

Pounds also took up boxing and tackle football in country school until some disapproving parents made her stop.

The Pounds family moved from their rural farm to the comparative metropolis of Columbus, Neb. (current population about 20,000) during Arda’s freshman year of high school. After graduation she decided to become a nun and joined a local convent where she lived for three years while taking college classes in theater and English at Wayne State University before deciding to retire her habit and pursue work in public education.

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Arda Pounds, 76, sits on the porch of her home at Willard House on Nebraska Wesleyan campus.

“A fun little fact about where I went to school is that none of it exists anymore,” Pounds said. “All the schools I ever went to have since been torn down, except for the colleges of course. They just really broke the mold when they made me.”

Pounds worked for the Omaha Women’s Job Corps, did adult education for Omaha Public Schools (a program that later evolved into the community college system) and worked as a para-educator for a local library before a suggestion from a friend led her to look for work as a sorority housemother.

The Willard sorority at Wesleyan wasn’t the first house to offer Pounds a job, but it was the first place that she said really felt like home. So she turned down an offer from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln in favor of Wesleyan’s smaller, more intimate environment.

Over the past 25 years, Pounds said her job has evolved from general overseer to being much more focused on property management and maintenance. The number of women enrolled in the sorority has decreased some, too, which Pounds said allows her to get to know everyone individually while living with them for three years. There are less pranks from the fraternities now, too.

She also said the young women in her sorority seem to be much more socially and culturally aware now than when she first started in the early 1990’s.

“Our Willards now are very active politically and socially,” Pounds said. “You’ll see them at protests, raising money, making calls. They seem to acknowledge and celebrate their differences much more now and are very interested in helping other women who are struggling.”

“But really I’m just so proud of all my girls,” Pounds said. “It’s really been a privilege to get to know all these bright young women since I came to Willard. I don’t think I’ll ever leave.”

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