Since this past May, when demolition work began on the Ole Miss Delta Gamma house, there has been a construction fence surrounding the property. A little-known fact is that since students returned in August, the house has been and will remain a fully-functioning sorority house serving three meals a day to all members and housing 34 girls.
HottyToddy.com’s Steve Vassallo caught up with Lisa Darnell, a Delta Gamma alumna who is head of the the sorority’s building committee to get more details about the multi-million dollar expansion project.
HottyToddy.com: What is your official title and role in the renovation/expansion of the house?
Lisa Darnell: I am the Chairman of the Building Committee for the House Corporation Board. I was elected three years ago primarily because of my history as an active member of House Corporation Board. Also, my having been an interior designer is very helpful in navigating our project.
HottyToddy.com: When was the original Delta Gamma house built?
Lisa Darnell: In 1938, what is now the South wing was built with funds donated by Delta Gammas all over the country as a memorial honoring the Founders. It was the first and is the oldest sorority house at Ole Miss. We are maintaining and renovating that part of the house because it was important to us to preserve that part of our history. Next summer, renovations in this portion, including cosmetic changes, will take place. But for now, this is the area we are using for the 34 girls who actually live in the house and for all of the members to eat, meet and relax.
HottyToddy.com: How were you able to separate it?
Lisa Darnell: The safety and comfort of the members were our top goals. We built a construction wall between the South wing and the construction. We added fire exits, signage, extinguishers and a temporary covered entrance and sidewalk. We also added a laundry room.
HottyToddy.com: Tell us about the actual construction project.
Lisa Darnell: We are doubling the size of the house. We are adding space in every possible direction — down, up, north and east. We are building a new north wing, which will be completed by August 2017 and are enlarging the house in all directions. It will also feature a new basement that will be almost the entire footprint of the enlarged house. The basement will be the chapter room. It will have an interior, 2-story atrium with New Orleans style details and skylights along with a two story foyer with a free-standing spiral staircase.
HottyToddy.com: What will it look like on the outside?
Lisa Darnell: It will be beautiful. We are adding an elegant, colonnaded porch across the front facing sorority row. It will be white and will reflect the style of the former DG house.
HottyToddy.com: What are some of the main interior features of the new house?
Lisa Darnell: We asked the girls what they would want and with this being essentially like a new house, we were able to accommodate many of those wishes. In the living areas, we will have water fountains with bottle fillers on each floor, an exercise room-outfitted with TVs, very nice laundry rooms on each resident floor, study/TV rooms on each floor, special conference-room-style study rooms and many spacious bedrooms with really large closets and an elevator. Our dining areas, where all members dine, will be larger and will have a very extensive chilled salad bar along with a coffee bar with numerous coffee flavors, a soft-service yogurt bar with all the toppings and a night and weekend, self-service kitchen.
HottyToddy.com: What about some of the not-so-glamorous features?
Lisa Darnell: It will have state-of-the art heating and cooling system for entire house, ADA access by adding handicap-accessible bedroom/bath/living areas and will have energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems and LED lighting in most areas.
HottyToddy.com: Of course money is always the question no matter what the topic. I would imagine this project is really huge?
Lisa Darnell: It is a multi-million-dollar project which is being privately funded absent of grants.
HottyToddy.com: Unbelievable! The DG’s should be running the federal government. How many actives will be able to live in the “new” DG house?
Lisa Darnell: We are still not 100% certain as the final determinations have not yet been made. It will be at least 80+. Currently, we have 34 living in the abbreviated space today. The future rooms will be quite large once all improvements have been completed.
HottyToddy.com: Lisa, explain why such an ambitious endeavor was approved.
Lisa Darnell: The enhanced opportunities for sisterhood and for our growing numbers at both the sorority and Ole Miss were seen to be the overriding factors.
HottyToddy.com: This is quite an undertaking.
Lisa Darnell: Our thousands of alums have played a major part. We reached out to them through email and all available avenues utilizing our strong executive office in Columbus, Ohio in doing so.
HottyToddy.com: Lisa, this has been a lot of work! Tell us a little more about you.
Lisa Darnell: I graduated from Ole Miss (as an active member of Delta Gamma) in 1973. For many years I ran an interior design business and currently live in Tupelo where I’m retired. I grew up in Jackson. While in the sorority at Ole Miss, I was the Social Chairman.
HottyToddy.com: Why don’t you move to Oxford?
Lisa Darnell: My husband and I may definitely consider that in the future.
HottyToddy.com: Why did you select DG as your sorority preference?
Lisa Darnell: Because of the lifelong relationships and the encouragement I received to be the very best I could be in life.
HottyToddy.com: What was DG like in the early 70’s?
Lisa Darnell: It was wonderful! I lived in the house for two years in 71-72 and 72-73. My pledge class contained 33 members, the quota in 1969. The house then was extremely nice as our House Corporation Board has always maintained it to the highest standards.
HottyToddy.com: DG has quite an incredible history here at Ole Miss.
Lisa Darnell: In fact, the sorority was founded here in Oxford 1873 by a group of three girls who were attending the Lewis School (a private school) who were stranded in Oxford over the Christmas holidays due to inclement weather. Today Delta Gamma has about 140 chapters.
HottyToddy.com: House moms are often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of campus life. Tell us about yours.
Lisa Darnell: Ginny Sims has been our House Director (current title) for the previous two years. She has numerous responsibilities including overseeing the housekeeping and kitchen staff as they maintain the house and prepare delicious meals five days a week (Fridays there are two); all housekeeping issues including repairs; assisting the membership; and a host of other activities. She has a very intense job and is great at it! We all love Mom Ginny!
HottyToddy.com: Thank you Lisa for sharing the details of this project. We look forward to watching the progress.
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at email@example.com or call him at 985-852-7745.