One’s college years are a strange, special time. For many, it’s the first time they’ve really been away from home, and having to navigate that newfound independence is difficult. Many struggle creating a new normal in this trial stage of adulthood while pushing through classes.
Between 1982 and 1996, the fraternity brothers at Phi Gamma Delta (commonly called Fiji) at Louisiana State University found a bit of stability from their house cook, Jessie Hamilton. On top of arriving at the house at five o’clock in the morning to prepare the boys meals, Hamilton was well-known for lending and ear and helping wherever she could. From setting aside plates to make sure everyone ate, to occasionally driving them to doctor’s appointments, Hamilton became far more than a house cook.
Andrew Fusaiotti shows Jessie Hamilton his “Jessie Hamilton Day” shirt. Credit: Hilary Scheinuk
“She was truly like a mother to us,” Andrew Fusaiotti, 52, a Fiji fraternity brother who attended LSU in the late 1980s, says. “She treated us like we were her own kids. She was always looking out for us.”
To Hamilton, it was what she saw as another part of the job. “I was always there to talk things through with them,” she says. “They’d come in the kitchen and sit on top of the counter and tell me their problems.”
Though Hamilton left LSU in 1996, she hasn’t stopped working hard. Since she was 14, Hamilton has worked anywhere from two to four jobs at once. What seems like such an arduous ordeal for many is just the way it is for her. As the daughter of a sharecropper and a single mother of three, Jessie Hamilton has always done what needed to be done.
As many of the young men grew into fully realized adults, they made a point to keep in touch with Hamilton, now 74. Andrew Fusaiotti is among his brothers who regularly keep in touch with Hamilton, and at the beginning of the pandemic, he made a point to call her to find out how she was fairing.
“That’s when she told me she was still working two jobs,” he said. “I asked her why, and she said she couldn’t afford to retire.”
She purchased a home of her own in 2006, but to do so, she had to take out a 30-year mortgage. Spurred to action, Fusaiotti got in touch with Hamilton’s children to find out how much she needed to pay it off. The answer shocked him: $45,000.
Luckily, Fusaiotti knew a group of men who would be more than happy to help the kind woman. He and one of his brothers, Johnny Joubert, got in contact with his brothers throughout the years, requesting donations to put towards Hamilton’s mortgage. Despite the financial strain the pandemic put on many families, 91 brothers donated an average of $560.
The celebration of Jessie Hamilton Day.
Fusaiotti and Joubert took to planning the one-of-a-kind “Jessie Hamilton Day,” which was April third. A small group of Fiji members (all of which who are vaccinated) stood in the driveway of Hamilton’s home to surprise her. Her children brought her outside to find a game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” food, and a group of men she hadn’t seen in decades.
“You’re the only one that I know in this world that could walk into that hot kitchen, working for minimum wage, with a smile on your face every single day for 14 years,” Fusaiotti said. “We’re here to thank you for that, because we love you, respect you, and we know what you’ve been through to get this house and put food on your table.”
Their modified game of “Let’s Make a Deal” allowed Hamilton to choose all three makeshift doors. The first had “Jessie Hamilton Day” merch. The second had a check for $6,675 to spend however she liked. The third had a check for $45,00 to cover her mortgage.
“If I hadn’t been sitting, I would have fell down,” Hamilton said. “I was hollering and crying.”
For her children, this kind gesture was a godsend. After spending her whole life working hard and giving everything to others, she finally has a chance to take care of herself.
“They were my kids. They still are,” Hamilton said. “They used to tell me they loved me, and now, they’ve proved it.”
Jessie Hamilton with LSU graduates on Jessie Hamilton Day. Credit: Hilary Scheinuk.
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