House director discusses love for sorority


Shouyan Li

Connie Kelley, house mom for the sorority Alpha Xi Delta, stands in front of the house located at 313 E. Chalmers St. in Champaign.

By Eugene White, Contributing Writer

Connie Kelley sits and laughs with a group of girls in the cafeteria of Alpha Xi Delta. The sorority house, which sits on a busy street corner, has a calm presence on the inside, with white decorative accents that seem to perfectly reflect its purity.

Upon entering, one will almost always be greeted by the house’s director, Kelley.  

A 1963 graduate of Marshall University, Kelley is in her fifth year serving as housing director of the Alpha Xi Delta, Kappa Chapter house at the University.

Kelley’s ability to maintain close relationships with the girls is immediately visible, even after being in the house for a few minutes. Her traditional, mother-like tendencies can be attributed to her rural upbringing.

“My main focus is keeping the girls safe and healthy, and making sure the house runs smoothly,” Kelley said.

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A West Virginia native, Kelley came from a large family where she always had guidance coming from both her parents and siblings. Growing up in a small town where her family members ranged from lawyers to farmers, Kelley said she learned family and personal values at a young age.

In addition to those values, Kelley took it upon herself to kick-start her writing passion. By the time she was in sixth grade, Kelley had written her own play, which was performed in front of her school.

Kelley’s passion for writing was also influenced by her literature knowledge, specifically of many classic American novels.

“I think someplace in me, there is a novel trying to get out,” she said.  

In a sense, her life, which has seen many twists and turns, resembles something out of a novel.

After divorcing her husband of 40 years, Kelley decided to leave her Boston home and start a new life in Champaign, where she said she gets all of the “perks.”

Shouyan Li
Connie Kelley, house mom for the sorority Alpha Xi Delta, stands in front of the house, located at 313 E. Chalmers St. in Champaign.  Her maternal approach allows her to form close relationships with the girls living there.

Considering she gets summers to herself, Kelley fills this time traveling. Some of her trips have taken her to French Polynesia, Mongolia and Thailand via National Geographic.

“I have been to Hong Kong, Korea, Hawaii,” she said. “But I would have to say Italy is my favorite place.”

Through her time abroad, Kelley said it has helped her understand her own relationships more thoroughly.

“Traveling has opened me up to a lot of different cultures. People are different and you have to be accepting of their cultures,” she said. “We are all the same, really. We just live in different places.”

Each Monday, prior to their chapter dinner, Kelley hosts a social hour for the sisters of Alpha Xi Delta, where she said she encourages each girl to sit with someone whom they are not familiar with, giving them the opportunity to connect with others in the house.

Many who know Kelley have commented on her desire to help others. Megan Young, junior in ACES, has developed a strong relationship with her over the past three years.

“She always gives me advice on all my issues, along with several other girls in the house,” Young said. “Even after girls move out of the house, every time they see Connie, they always want to give her a hug and update her on all the exciting things that are happening to them.”

Here, Kelley is helping transcend the gap between sister and “house mom.” Not only does she provide close relationships with the girls, but Kelley also creates a culture that reflects her own values.

“They all meld together as sisters,” Kelley said. “I try to promote camaraderie — it’s given me a chance to take a lot of things I have learned in my life and use them in a different form.”

Wrapping up her fifth year at Alpha Xi Delta, Kelley said her original plan was to stay for four months, but thanks to her love for assisting her fellow sisters, it has turned into five years.

With her time in Champaign, Kelley always makes sure to show the girls her fun side, whether it is hosting yoga sessions or dancing.

“When there’s music, Connie is always dancing,” said Caleigh O’Neil, sophomore in Education. “She learns all the trendy dance moves and puts on a great show.”

Back in Boston, Kelley has a family of her own that she keeps in consistent contact with. In Champaign, however, Kelley has found a new home; one where she can to follow her creative mind, whether it be painting or writing.

Kelley references one of her favorite writers, Joseph Campbell, as one of her biggest influences, which relates to her work at Alpha Xi Delta.

“Follow your bliss,” she said. “I think if you follow your bliss, by doing things you love to do, you will find happiness.”

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