The sounds of laughter and utensils clinking against dishes floated back to her kitchen as Pi Beta Phi cook Eveline Hecklinger wiped her hands on her apron. As lunch ended, the Pi Phi ladies meandered into the kitchen, looking for a quick snack or for conversation with their favorite cook.
“I like cooking, and these are all my cheerleaders. Every time I cook something, they go, ‘Yay!’” Hecklinger said with a laugh. “I love that.”
Hecklinger has worked in Hillsdale as a chef for both Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Tau Omega. Now, she is Pi Phi’s beloved chef and, most recently, Sigma Chi’s cherished house director. Even more than her tasty cooking, students say they enjoy the time Hecklinger spends getting to know them.
Though she has only recently been made a house director, her dedication to the students has already allowed her to bond with the Sigma Chi boys through meals and an occasional movie.
“A house director is in a unique position,” junior Clayton VanderLaan said in an email. “They can police their residence and keep their students on a short lease, or they can keep a watchful eye out and let their students be the good people that they are. Eveline does the latter, trusting us to do the right thing, and we haven’t let her down.”
Hecklinger, a Polish native, spent her adolescent years in Germany. She met her husband online and then moved to Michigan with him in 2003, close to his home of Ohio. According to Hecklinger, “money was tight,” so they lived in a small house in Reading for two years, where they lived with their four children for two years before moving out to a ten-acre plot in Camden, where she currently lives.
At first, Hecklinger was a stay-at-home mom, but her love for cooking eventually brought her to work part-time as a cook for ATO. The original plan was to open a restaurant, but after the premature birth of her third child leaving her with little time to devote to the restaurant, she began to cook full time for ATO and Pi Phi. She then left ATO and stayed at Pi Phi full time until spring ’17 when she also became the house director for Sigma Chi.
“I’m a house mom for two fraternities,” Hecklinger said with a twinkle in her eye. “That’s why I’m sassy.”
Between her kids on campus and her kids at home, Hecklinger is pretty busy, but she likes to read when she has time. Among her favorite works are two contemporary Swedish novels that explore loss and forgiveness, “A Man Called Ove” and “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” by Fredrik Backman. She always carries a pair of wireless headphones with her so she can listen to audiobooks while she cooks.
Her other main hobby has been running her own dog rescue for the past 15 summers.
“A dog found me, I rescued it, and then people thought I was the crazy German woman who took in stray animals,” she said. “That took off from there.”
Hecklinger said she hopes to be a good influence on students who wander into her kitchen at Pi Phi or her apartment at Sigma Chi. Hecklinger said this stems from her childhood, during which members of her family suffer alcoholism and abuse.
“From a really early age, I had always told myself that I would not become like that,” Hecklinger said. “So my biggest impact in life came from my grandma and my aunt. They always said, ‘Do what you have to do to be able to look in the mirror in the morning.’ Don’t ever live in a way that you can’t do that.”
In the Pi Phi house, she has freedom with her cooking because she doesn’t have a set menu. Hecklinger often likes to ask the ladies in Pi Phi what they want to eat or what their dietary needs are so she can make what they like. Senior Kayla Mykeloff said after being on Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program last spring where she had to cook on her own, she realized that she was missing out.
“Her cooking is amazing,” Mykeloff said. “Part of the reason I came to live back on campus was because of Eveline. I would have someone who would cook for me and care for me; just having someone who makes me good food is so nice.”
But perhaps more treasured than Hecklinger’s meals is her company. Though senior Kaitlynn Schenk adores Hecklinger’s meatballs, she appreciates the time she got to spend with Hecklinger even more.
“She’s more than just a cook,” Schenk said. “I would come back here and make coffee and then sit and talk to her…She doesn’t just come and cook and leave. She’s here to have a relationship with us.”
For the students in Hillsdale, Hecklinger hopes they reach out to people they wouldn’t normally reach out to and learn kindness.
“Every person you meet, whether it’s good or bad, they leave some kind of impression in your life,” Hecklinger said. “And I’m hoping that I can leave a good one.”