INDIANAPOLIS – It might be an unpaid job, but Karen Pence is making the most out of being first lady.
Instead of a specific platform, she is focusing on her passions – the arts, family and children. She especially likes highlighting Indiana schools and students.
“There are a lot of good causes out there,” Pence said. “It’s hard saying no.”
Requests for the first lady come in regularly on the state website. Every Monday, she and her staff sit down and see what events fit with her goals and her schedule.
Recently, she chaired the Governor’s Arts Awards and brought blank white T-shirts and paint to kids at Riley Hospital for Children.
The former art teacher is also a new empty-nester, having shuttled her youngest of three kids off to college just weeks ago.
“I don’t feel pulled as much,” Pence said. “I don’t feel pressured.”
After nine months in the position, she and Gov. Mike Pence have developed a routine – lots of events during the week and on Saturdays.
But Sundays they keep to themselves, except for Colts games, of course. They also try to have dinner at the governor’s residence at least two nights a week.
They use the second floor of the residence as their personal space and even added a door that locks at the top of the stairs.
Cats Pickles and Oreo, and dog Maverick, have free rein – coming into the downstairs TV room for a scratch even with a visitor present. Daughter Charlotte took the bunny, Marlin Bundo, to college.
The Pences have been hosting a ton of events at the residence and added patio furniture to open up the entertaining space. A residence foundation – not taxpayers – paid for the new furniture.
There is no budget for the first lady, but she does have a staff of four – a butler, housekeeper, chief of staff and deputy chief of staff/residence manager. Their salaries come out of the Department of Administration.
Unlike others in her post, Karen Pence has her offices at the Statehouse near her husband. A few days a week, staff members work out of offices in the residence, scheduling events and working with contractors.
The first lady likes to coordinate her schedule with the governor’s when possible. Last week, they each had events in South Bend and then met for a walk-a-mile event.
Karen Pence took time to spruce up the residence with fall decorations – gourds, corn stalks, mums and pumpkins.
Up next is Halloween, a holiday that former Gov. Mitch Daniels and his wife did with gusto. They picked a theme every year – examples have included the Addams Family, Wizard of Oz, Pirates of the Caribbean, the 1950s and Peter Pan – and had elaborate costumes, even roping in staff members to play the characters.
“We’re getting pressured. We can’t get out of it,” Karen Pence joked.
She said her husband used to wear a pumpkin hat every Halloween but can’t find it after their move to the governor’s residence. But she promises there will be lots of treats for the kids at the residence and that she and the governor will be “kind of dressed up.”