When Matt Miller was just in fifth grade, he asked his parents to take him to the small Clifford fire station to get his picture taken with then-Indiana congressman Mike Pence.

Nearly two decades later, the now-Bartholomew County councilman is about to meet Pence again — in a far more high-profile venue.

On Thursday, Miller and his wife, Lisa, will be among 40 Columbus residents attending the sold-out Indiana Society of Washington Inauguration Ball in Washington D.C.

Since the event is co-chaired by Karen Pence, the wife of the vice president-elect, it’s almost certain that Mike Pence will attend, said State Rep. Milo Smith,  R-Columbus.

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The evening at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel begins with a 6 p.m. cocktail reception featuring strolling strings, followed by an elegant candlelit gourmet meal, according to the society’s website.

Live dance music will be provided into the late evening hours by an orchestra led by Gene Donati, who has performed in some capacity at every presidential inauguration since John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Most of those attending the event will head out to the nation’s capital aboard a chartered bus that leaves Columbus at 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Bartholomew County GOP chairwoman Barb Hackman.

The bus will pick up additional passengers in New Castle before it heads east to Washington D.C., Hackman said.

In total, about 950 people have obtained tickets (priced at $360 each) for the Indiana Society Ball, which is being conducted the night before Pence and Donald Trump’s inauguration.

It was through the efforts of Karen Pence and State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) that more than three dozen tickets were make available several weeks ago to Columbus residents, Hackman said.

When asked what they are most excited about regarding their upcoming trip to the presidential inauguration, Miller said for the women, it’s mostly about looks and the dress.

“It’s much like a prom — but on an international level,” he said.

When Bartholomew County election supervisor Shari Lentz returned from an Indianapolis shopping trip on Jan. 7, she brought back not one — but two — dresses, so her mother and husband could help make a choice, she said.

“I haven’t worn a long dress since my wedding, and I needed opinions,” explained Lentz.

For Hackman, tickets to the Washington ball necessitated a shopping trip to Dillard’s Department Store in Louisville, Kentucky where two of her sisters helped her pick out a black, sparkling dress and new shoes, Hackman said.

“But they are flats,” Hackman said. “I’m not into the high heels.”

Since there will be much dancing and very little sitting, the staff at Dell Brothers men’s clothing store has been advising customers attending formal inaugural festivities to get comfortable shoes, co-owner Mike Dell said.

While the Indiana Society Ball has given his business a boost during a normally slow month of January, Dell admits most men just aren’t into trying to be fashionable.

“For the most part, the wives are telling them what to wear,” Dell said.

That means plenty of classic black tuxedos with bow ties, ruffled white shirts and vests, Dell said.

Along with the Hackmans and the Millers, another Columbus couple — Todd and Debbie Burbrink — also have tickets to one of the two official inauguration balls Friday night.

Expressing confidence in what he anticipates will be a successful Trump administration, Todd Burbrink, the retired co-owner of Pace Tool and Engineering, says Friday’s activities will likely be the highlight of his visit.

But since the Indiana Society Ball will be mostly focused on Pence, as well as celebrating the recent conclusion of Indiana’s Bicentennial celebration, Miller expects that will be his favorite event.

Noting that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, and the state’s congressional delegation will also be honored at the Indiana Society Ball, Smith also expects a great time there.

But the District 59 state representative did express a sentiment echoed by both men and women who will be heading to Washington this week.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a hometown boy sworn in as vice-president,” Smith said.

“It’s our connection with Mike Pence that is the real reason all of us are going,” Miller said.

Many members of the group traveling to Washington from Columbus are also expected to attend a Saturday reception for Indiana’s congressional delegation before heading back to Indiana on Sunday morning, Hackman said.

Who's going?

The following will represent the delegation from Columbus that will leave Wednesday to attend presidential inauguration events in Washington, D.C.

Those with an asterisk (*) have obtained tickets to attend Thursday’s Indiana Society Inaugural Ball at the Grand Hyatt Washington.

Alan and Fredricke Benfield*

Paul and Pat Bippen*

Todd and Debbie Burbrink*

Cornelius Case

Richard and Karen Caldwell

Debra Flohr

Joanne Flohr

John and Barb Hackman*

Jeffrey and Pamela Hagedorn*

Robin Hilber*

Jeff and Joy Hilycord*

Dewayne Hines*

Ryan Hou

John and Bennita Kennedy*

Ritha King*

Peggy Koorn

Bill and Shari Lentz*

Jim, Pam and Jonathan Lienhoop*

Steve and Kay Matthews

Charles Meier*

Shane Meier*

Matt and Lisa Miller*

Phil and Jane Newton*

Robert and Rosanne Petry*

Mark and Linda Pillar

Terry and Barbara Piotrowski*

Jim Reed*

Keith and Joy Reising

Jeffrey and Cynthia Rhoades*

Milo and Diana Smith

Marcus Speer*

Ronald Speer*

William and Angie Stahl

Jonathan and Karen Walden

David and Luann Welmer*

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.