Brothers from the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at Louisiana State University (LSU) are paying it forward to someone they all hold dear to their heart — their former fraternity house cook, Jessie Hamilton. 

More than 30 years after attending LSU, brothers from Phi Gamma Delta, also known as Fiji, decided to pay off Hamilton’s mortgage after discovering she was working two jobs to afford her home. Nearly 100 brothers donated to help pay off her $45,000 mortgage plus some, raising a total of $51,765. 

Around a dozen Fiji families along with Hamilton’s, surprised her ahead of her 74th birthday with a party they dubbed “Jessie Hamilton Day.” In a Fiji edition of Let’s Make A Deal, the brothers presented Hamilton with two checks— one in the amount of $45,000 to cover her mortgage, and another one with the memorandum, “You Being You,” for over $6,000.

Hamilton was not only a cook at the LSU fraternity house for 14 years, but was described by Andrew Fusaiotti, a 52-year-old Fiji alumnus who attended LSU in the 1980s, as more “like a mother."

“She was truly like a mother to us,” Fusaiotti said to The Washington Post. “She treated us like we were her own kids. She was always looking out for us.” 

Hamilton, who began working at the fraternity house in 1982, would start her day around 4 a.m. and catch the 5 a.m. bus to campus. When she arrived, she would prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for up to 100 fraternity members at a time. 

Fusaiotti said he called Hamilton at the beginning of the pandemic to check on her when she revealed that she couldn’t afford to retire when asked why she was still working two jobs, something she’s been doing since she was 14. 

“I was a sharecropper's daughter, so we didn’t have much,” Hamilton told the Washington Post. “At one time, I was working four jobs. There were times where I didn’t have enough money to put food on the table. I had to do what I had to do.”

After Hamilton left the fraternity house in 1996, she continued working multiple jobs, including cleaning at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and cooking at a country club. 

Once Fusaiotti found that Hamilton was still employed, he set out on a quest to help expedite the road to retirement. He reached out to fraternity brothers across the country to start a fundraiser who he says were “so excited” to participate. 

“That shows how they all felt about her,” Fusaiotti said, according to The Advocate. “Jessie is one of these people that shows up to work and always has a smile on her face, eager to please and never complains.” 

Former Fiji member Johnny Joubert who graduated from LSU in 1993, recalled how selfless Hamilton was during his time with her at the fraternity house. 

“She was always asking how everyone else was doing and never said anything about herself,” he told The Washington Post. “From day one, she had this aura that drew everybody to her. She always took care of us.” 

Most often, Hamilton would make the brothers comfort food such as fried chicken, smoked sausage and red beans or peach cobbler, and she would fill the role as a confidant. 

"I was always there to talk things through with them,” Hamilton recalled, expressing that she enjoyed supporting the brothers more than anything. “They'd come in the kitchen and sit on top of the counter and tell me their problems.” 

At the surprise party which left Hamilton “hollering and crying” she remembered something that her father once told her: “When you do right, it’ll be all right. You just have to trust God.”

“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.”

“For us to show our kids what the true meaning of success is — that it’s not about fancy cars and boats and vacation homes — was incredibly special,” the father of two continued. “Success is about setting a good example, doing things for others and bringing people closer together. Jessie does all of those things for her family, friends, community and co-workers.”

Hamilton’s daughter, Yonetta Tircuit, spoke highly of her mother, saying she is someone who would do anything for anybody.

“My mom has always been a person who cares about other people. She would give you the shirt off her back and the socks and shoes off her feet,” the 55-year-old said. “Now she can actually slow down and take care of herself.”

Hamilton said she plans to “spend the money wisely,” and hopes to take a vacation to Hawaii once it’s safe to travel. 

"This has been a blessing to me," Hamilton told The Advocate. "I have been worrying about how I was going to pay my house off. I am grateful for what God has done and has led them to do for me."