Family

Lexington woman goes from social work to sorority mom

Carol Whipple sold all her worldly goods at a yard sale on Saturday June 1, 2013 in Versailles, Ky.  Whipple has quit her job and is moving to Iowa to become the House Director for Alpha Delta Pi sorority at The Iowa State University.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Carol Whipple sold all her worldly goods at a yard sale on Saturday June 1, 2013 in Versailles, Ky. Whipple has quit her job and is moving to Iowa to become the House Director for Alpha Delta Pi sorority at The Iowa State University. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

One Google search changed Carol Whipple's life.

On March 6, Whipple heard somebody talking about being a house mother for a sorority. She didn't know such a person still existed.

On a whim, she typed "sorority mom" into her computer and found a website called just that. There was a job at the University of Iowa State. The Alpha Delta Pi sorority was in need of a house director. She filled out the application.

Three days later, she was called for an interview. Whipple, 57, said she had never been a sorority type herself, but she got a haircut and a nice linen suit and tried to present her best approximation of what a house mom might be.

By the end of March, she had the job.

The thing is, she has a job — and a house and deep roots in Central Kentucky.

But she has given notice as director of development for the Nest Center for Women, Children and Families, has found someone to rent her home in Versailles, and is selling or giving away nearly everything she owns. She had a big yard sale Saturday at her home. She leaves for Iowa late this month.

Of her new job, she said: "It is the gig of a lifetime for a mature, single woman."

Whipple said she sees the upheaval not so much for what she is losing but for what she is gaining: three months off in the summer and a month off at Christmas. The package — housing, insurance and salary — is worth about $65,000. She said she made the choice for herself after working most of her life doing things for other people.

Born on Christmas Day — her parents thought the idea of a "Christmas Carol" was too good to pass up — she always had a sense of service to others.

Whipple grew up in Tacoma, Wash., and she remembers that at the peak of moon fever, when the news was filled with reports of the space program and all its feats, she told her parents it seemed like a waste of money. There were plenty of people on Earth who needed help.

"That seemed like the right thing to do," she said.

They told her there will always be poor people and she shouldn't fret.

But she made a career of helping people: writing grants for non-profits, holding workshops about female empowerment, teaching sociology. She worked for the University of Kentucky for 14 years, and then for the Family Counseling Center. Finally, about 18 months ago, she came to The Nest, which provides free counseling, parent education, emergency child care and basic supplies for families in crisis.

"We are going to miss her terribly," said Whipple's former boss, Jeffrey White, executive director of the Nest. "She is a very strong team player, and she brought art to the Nest."

She thought she'd work there forever.

And then came Sororitymom.com.

"I think this is the next stage in the evolution of Carol," said Larry Michalczyk, one of Wipple's longtime friends and colleagues from her days at UK. They worked together on a program called Community Partnerships for the Protection of Children.

He said Whipple is "one of the most deep, loving, helpful people."

"I'm sad (she is leaving) because I think that this is going to be a real loss for Kentucky," he said.

Whipple has taken the road less traveled before.

"I've always been kind of unusual," she said. "I just see the world different than most people." She lived for 10 years in a one-room cabin near the Kentucky River, hiking the trails in her backyard and collecting heart-shaped rocks.

She said she sees the fingerprints of a higher power in how things have recently unfolded. She doesn't know exactly why she is being pulled to Ames, Iowa, but she is leaning in for the ride.

She said she feels as if she has been working for this kind of change but didn't know it.

Whipple's best friend, Sharon George, has been on this whole journey with her.

"It's totally different than anything else in her life," George said. "I think she got involved with her art and it motivated her."

About two years ago Whipple, who had dabbled in photography and art all her life, began to paint in earnest. She was named an artist-in-residence by the Kentucky Foundation for Women last summer and spent two weeks doing nothing but painting.

"It was heaven," she said.

The work has helped her untie some of the emotional knots in her life. It has made her more willing, she said, to take some chances. "I got out a lot of anger and anxiety," she said. Sharing her work and having people respond positively gave her a different kind of courage.

And so she's going.

Friends are calling to share one last lunch, movie dinner, walk. Former interns and students have come to her tidy house and have rifled through her books, leaving with their arms full. She has sorted through her things. A few pieces of furniture will go into storage; the objects she feels an attachment to will go with her. She has tagged a few things for her son, who lives in Washington, D.C. She has taken the paintings off her walls and is having a gallery show and sale at the Kentucky Theatre, where, typical of Whipple's other efforts, part of the proceeds will go to the theater's renovation fund.

She's packing light.

"Life never turns out how you think it is going to," she said.


IF YOU GO

Paintings by Carol Whipple

What: Exhibit of work by Lexington artist who is moving to Iowa. Ten percent of the proceeds from sales of the work will go to Friends of the Kentucky Theatre.

When: Through June 30. Gallery open during theater hours.

Where: Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St.

Learn more: See Whipple's work at Whipplewoman.com

Reception: 5-8 p.m. June 21 at the theater

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