With a caftan and a smile, Mrs. Roper moves to the foreground in fandom

Come and knock on our door…

Even across American Legion Post 100, the volunteer servers for the weekly Sunday breakfast are instantly recognizable.

The wigs with the tight red curls, the brightly colored and flowing caftans, the chunky jewelry — who else could it be but a memorable, if not major, TV character from the late 1970s and early 1980s?

It’s Mrs. Roper from “Three’s Company,” or about a dozen of them, actually, Helens and a couple of Hel-men (or should that be Mr. Mrs. Ropers?), delivering plates of eggs, bacon and pancakes to tables in the legion’s social hall on Central Avenue in Lake Station.

They engaged with the folks who paid $9 each for a hot breakfast on a sunny morning. They chatted — even tried to recruit — the vendors set up along the social hall’s perimeter, selling baked goods as a fundraiser for Riley Children’s Hospital, handmade rosaries and other crafts.

And they laughed. Oh, how they laughed. And why shouldn’t they, in their comfy clothes, having fun and sharing that joy with others?

Because if someone asks, any one of the members of the Northwest Indiana Chapter of the International Order of Mrs. Ropers will say that’s what it’s all about.

“I’m dressed like a flamingo,” said Patty “PJ” Stewart, the self-anointed Mrs. Roper In Charge of the chapter.

Stewart, a Hammond native who lives in Portage and works in the legal field, wore a pale pink curly wig for the occasion, with flamingo-clad rose-colored glasses around her neck, a pink apron she got at a resale shop, and a flamingo scarf hanging from the apron to wipe her hands.

Recently back from vacation, Stewart explained she was feeling tropical but she usually wears a more traditional red wig when she dons her get-up.

“We started in December. We’re very new,” she said, peering from behind thick-framed, retro black glasses. “What spurred this was social media. I saw this happening all over the world and didn’t find anything (locally.)”

The chapter’s first official event was a pub crawl in Hobart in December, “and it spiraled from there,” Stewart said, with more than 600 followers on the chapter’s Facebook page and events drawing upwards of 60 Mrs. Ropers.

Since then, there’s been a meetup at the Velvet Tiki Lounge, a new bar in Chesterton, and a “sip and paint” is slated for May. Sunday marked the chapter’s first volunteer activity but Stewart, who is a breakfast regular at the Legion, said it won’t be the last.

She watched “Three’s Company” — most of the Mrs. Ropers had — and wasn’t a huge fan of the show as a kid but dressing up as Mrs. Roper appeared to have a draw.

“I saw everybody having so much fun with it. Everybody smiles. They’re all strangers but everyone gets along for the hour or two,” she said.

We’ve been waiting for you…

Helen Roper was hardly the main character of “Three’s Company.” She was the saucy, sassy and, at least by her own admission, sex-starved wife of Stanley, the surly landlord who was duped into thinking that Jack Tripper, played by the late John Ritter, was gay to smooth over his sharing an apartment with Janet Wood, played by Joyce DeWitt, and Chrissy Snow, portrayed by the late Suzanne Somers.

The late Audra Lindley played Helen to the late Norman Fell’s Stanley and while they, like so many other sitcom side stars of that era, eventually got a spinoff into a show of their own, they were in the background when it came to the shenanigans of the show’s three co-stars.

As far as the provenance of the International Order of Mrs. Ropers, several media accounts point to its origins in New Orleans more than 10 years ago when Brad Moore got 50 people to march together as Mrs. Ropers for a parade during an annual gay party weekend dubbed Southern Decadence.

Regardless, the concept caught fire and an internet search brings up chapters of the International Chapter of Mrs. Ropers coast to coast, gathering for pub crawls and other festivities. Red curly wigs, a dazzling array of caftans and Helen’s trademark chunky jewelry are readily available on Amazon and other online retailers.

As far as her free-spirited attitude, that’s something that comes from within, though it’s not hard to see the appeal.

“This is my first event but I decided these are my people,” said Niki Miller of Valparaiso, who works in billing at Northern Indiana Public Service Company. “I’ve met none of these people before today. I saw it on Facebook. I’m kind of goofy and decided these would be people to hang out with.”

Miller, who drove to the Legion post in her costume, admitted she sat in her car for a little bit before she went inside because she was unsure of herself, though that worry quickly faded. She wore a yellow caftan with pink flowers, a yellow necklace and a yellow flower tucked into her red curly wig.

She already has extra caftans in the closet for future events.

“How could these not be fun people?” she said, adding she was a fan of “Three’s Company” and Helen when the show was on TV. “She was just cool and didn’t care what anybody thought. She was just herself and that’s the way you’ve got to be.”

Where the kisses are hers and hers and his…

Stewart’s fiancé, Russell Simola, and their friend, Gregory Calhoun, cheerfully supported her efforts by joining the gals and donning caftans, though they didn’t bother to hide their facial hair or put on makeup.

“She’s into this. She created this, here,” Simola, who lives with Stewart in Portage, said as he gestured toward his black and white patterned apron, coordinating caftan and accompanying accessories.

It’s not his usual look as a crane operator.

“This is all designed by her,” Simola said. “She didn’t make me wear lipstick, so I’m happy with that. I would have done it if she’d asked.”

Simola started dressing as Mrs. Roper with Stewart for the chapter’s first event.

“I just do it because it makes her happy and it’s kind of fun,” he said. “All the reactions, the reactions are good. That and I’ve got thick skin so I don’t really care what people think.”

Calhoun, who works for AT&T and lives in Highland, proudly displayed his pink and yellow caftan, fuchsia flowered earrings, and pink, orange and gold chain necklace. He put his outfit together through online retailers and said he worked with Simola for about 20 years and has known Stewart for around 10 years.

Sunday’s volunteer opportunity at the American Legion marked Calhoun’s second event because he couldn’t make the pub crawl.

He has one caftan so far but expects that to change soon, with plans to get another for summer and maybe shorten things up a bit.

“I just like the social interaction, meeting new people and making friends,” Calhoun said, adding he watched the show when he was younger and loved it.

“(Mrs. Roper) wasn’t a huge part of the show that I can remember but it’s nice to bring her back and bring her more out there,” he said.

Three’s company, too.

American Legion Post 100 was as welcoming to the Mrs. Ropers as they were to the folks they served breakfast.

Stewart said Pam Shaffner, who helps promote Legion events with the women’s auxiliary, reached out to her about the chapter volunteering to serve breakfast.

“This is the first time we’ve had these guys. We’re very excited,” Shaffner said as members of the caftan-clad club ferried plates from the kitchen window to the tables in the social hall. She added that a different group volunteers to serve breakfast each week.

And yes, Shaffner is a fan of “Three’s Company” and Mrs. Roper, too, and said she’d like to be one of them because it looks so fun.

“I’m hoping after this they’ll come for some more events,” she said. “Mrs. Roper is just fun. She didn’t get enough exposure.”

Tammy Tarulius of Merrillville was more than willing to give Mrs. Roper and her followers more exposure. She moved up to the front of the Legion hall to snap a few pictures with her cellphone while they served breakfast.

She took a break from staffing a table selling baked goods as a fundraiser for Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis through We Ride, one of the motorcyclist-based groups she volunteers with.

Tarulius, too, has watched “Three’s Company.

“It’s just great to see that adults can dress up, have fun and volunteer because these Legions and VFWs need help and stuff like this attracts people,” she said.

Ivy Infante of East Chicago was selling her handcrafted rosaries and other goods at a table and gifted each of the Mrs. Ropers with a clip with a butterfly on it.

“I just wanted to tell them welcome and show our appreciation for them coming out as well. They’re new. They’re trying to recruit me to join them,” said Infante, who works in billing for Franciscan Health and often has a table at the Legion selling her wares.

Infante said she had caftans at home and could order a wig, and even make jewelry for the chapter.

She was impressed by the members’ “beautiful attitude” and how well they went along with Mrs. Roper’s character. Infante watched the show when she was growing up.

“I’m 55 years old. There wasn’t an episode I missed,” she said. “It was just a fun family thing to watch. How can you forget that? I was trying to explain that to a younger generation and they just didn’t understand.”

She enjoyed watching the Mrs. Ropers brighten the day for those at the Legion to have breakfast.

“I’ve never seen so much interaction. It’s just pure enjoyment,” she said. “They’re just spreading the love.”