Q&A with… Karen Pence First Lady of Indiana

Karen Pence first lady of Indiana

Photo by Julie Young

Q1: What is it like to be the first lady of Indiana?

“It’s funny, I didn’t know what to expect… I kind of asked all of the other first ladies what it’s all about and they pretty much told me that you really be yourself in the role and if you want to be very involved you can be very involved, if you don’t want to be very involved, you don’t have to be. There is no salary. You’re not elected. You’re not appointed so it’s really kind of whatever you want to make of it. I think every first lady handles it differently. ”

Q2: What are some of the causes and issues that are most important to you?

“One of the first things I noticed is that being first lady, you are all of a sudden someone who people come to and ask you to take on their cause and be their spokesperson or their chairwoman, co-chair an event or raise money for them. I realized right away that I was saying ‘no’ to more of those asks than ‘yes.’ That’s why I decided to form the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation last August. We have one fundraiser a year, a large ladies’ lunch at the J.W. Marriott. It’s a lot of fun, fabulous gift bags and a surprise entertainer. Our first year we had 634 people, but we raise money at that event to be able to give small grants to charities all over the state throughout the year. At the luncheon we give one large check to one charity (this year it was Riley Children’s Hospital’s Art Therapy program) and during the year we give smaller grants.” (Writer’s note: Last month, the Indiana First Lady’s Charitable Foundation gave $22,000 worth of awards to 28 different charities who applied online.) I felt like that way I can have a small press event, give them a small grant, give them encouragement and let other people in the community know what they are doing. It’s worked out well. We even partnered with Vera Bradley who provided the gift bags for the luncheon.”

Q3: Education is also very important to you as well, right?

“Having been a teacher, I love having the opportunity to go around to the teachers in schools around the state and say, ‘You are doing a great job.’ They don’t hear that enough. We have such diversity in our schools and we have visited the whole gamut. We will visit a private school where the students have to earn their own way. We have seen schools where the students have addictions that they are trying to overcome. We have seen home schools, schools that focus on the arts or math and science, high school programs that specialize in vocational training, and those that are strictly college prep. That’s what’s been so enjoyable for me is to go to the whole gamut and see the different kinds of schools we have here in Indiana.”

Q4: How do you balance your public life with your private life?

“It’s all in how you schedule it. We are very careful with our time, really. You can get overwhelmed and you have to take days where you say, ‘Today, I am just doing stuff around the house or things I need to catch up on,’ but when we schedule our school days, we’ll maybe hit three schools in Fort Wayne, maybe a women’s group and then head back home. We don’t do them everyday, but every other week we may plan a school day and arrange other events with it.”

Q5: What do you do to relax? What are some of your hobbies?

“I love to read. I love to watercolor. I love to ride bikes, swim and I love to be outside a lot!”

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Last July, Governor Mike and Karen Pence organized Walk a Mile with Mike in Fort Wayne. The mile-long walk, which started at Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters, was part of a campaign the Pences unveiled to walk with Hoosiers throughout the state and promote a healthier lifestyle. Shown is Karen Pence starting off the walk with BBBS kids and the Pences with members of the Air National Guard 122nd fighter wing. (Photos provided)

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