A whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital to watch Mike Pence inaugurated as vice president took his family members on an emotional journey that they are still processing more than a week later.
The Columbus native’s mother, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews — 38 in all — traveled to Washington, D.C., for his Jan. 20 swearing in as second-in-command of the United States, and a variety of associated events.
Family members expressed pride in Pence’s political achievement — a journey from congressman to Indiana’s 50th governor to vice president — and amazement at the moment of history they witnessed firsthand.
“It was just the most fabulous thing I think any mother could have, to see her son be vice president of the United States. And to have the family with us, it was a blessing from heaven,” said the vice president’s mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch, of Columbus.
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When Mike Pence took his oath of office at 11:53 a.m. Jan. 20, his wife, children, mother, siblings and their spouses and some in-laws were nearby on the inauguration platform at the U.S. Capitol, while nieces and nephews viewed from a section below.
“It was an emotional experience. So much history comes back to your mind. Life begins to run past you. You think of all the things they did as a child, and all the things he’s done in his life,” Pence Fritsch said.
Afterward, as Pence received congratulatory handshakes, he also found his mother and gave her a hug.
“We were too emotional to talk,” Pence Fritsch said. “It was just a look and a kiss.”
What Pence family members experienced after the swearing in of Pence and President Donald Trump only added to their unique experience that day: the traditional luncheon in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, the inauguration parade and an inaugural ball.
“It was like having a front-row seat to having history unfold before your eyes,” brother Ed Pence said. “It was very emotional because of my brother’s inauguration, but no less significant because our family found ourselves in the presence of five living presidents.”
Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were at the swearing-in ceremony for Trump, the nation’s 45th president. Carter and Clinton attended the luncheon.
Nancy Pence Fritsch ate lunch with President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
“He’s a very nice man, very animated,” she said, adding that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 2008 Republican candidate for president, and his wife, Cindy, also were at the table.
Ed Pence said the luncheon had a bipartisan atmosphere. He and his wife, Kim, had their photos taken with Presidents Trump and Carter.
Seated behind Pence Fritsch was President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton — the former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee who lost a contentious race to Trump in the November general election.
Ed Pence said it was classy of the Clintons to attend the luncheon. Pence Fritsch said she was moved that the Clintons also participated in the inauguration ceremonies.
“I went over and congratulated Hillary and told her she ran a magnanimous campaign. She was friendly and genuinely appreciative,” Pence Fritsch said.
Brother Greg Pence said it was helpful that family members were in what the Secret Service called “Bubble 13,” which placed them directly behind the president and vice president in the motorcade and made the non-stop day easier as they traveled to events. That also helped with access to the presidential viewing stand for the inaugural parade, in which the Columbus North High School marching band performed.
The band performed in the parade at the invitation of Mike Pence, a 1977 North graduate.
“It was very neat. We were all in there cheering. The presidential viewing stand was rocking when the North band went by,” Ed Pence said.
Between the inauguration of Pence and the performance of North’s marching band, there was a palpable sense of pride surrounding Columbus from Pence family members and those from the city who traveled to Washington, Greg Pence said.
The long day concluded with Pence family members attending the Liberty Ball — a day after attending the Indiana Society of Washington Inaugural Ball. Ed Pence said the balls were great experiences for the nieces and nephews because they enjoyed dressing in formal wear and have fun.
While Mike Pence’s swearing in was a moment of pride for Greg Pence, the brother said what stuck with him equally on the trip was the two church services. The first was Friday morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church, located across the street from the White House. The church is a traditional site for a worship service for the president-elect the morning of the inauguration.
Greg Pence said the St. John’s service was intimate, as it was only for Trump and Mike Pence, their families and close friends.
A larger worship service was conducted Jan. 21 at the Washington National Cathedral, a traditional event at the start of the new presidential term. Seven clergy members representing different faiths said prayers, and beautiful singing captivated those in attendance, Greg Pence said. One of the singers was a young blind girl, he said.
“When we were singing the last stanza of ‘God Bless America’ there wasn’t a dry eye in my family,” Greg Pence said.
He added that the invocations of God’s help by multiple people at the various inauguration events touched him, and added that he thought it was appropriate as the country gained new leaders.
As the Pences began to wind down the inauguration trip, they enjoyed a brunch and tour of Mike and Karen Pence’s new home, a house built in 1893 on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington.
“It’s nice. There’s more personal space than at the governor’s residence,” Ed Pence said.
The family matriarch said the time at Mike and Karen’s home was special because it allowed the family to relax, enjoy each other’s company and talk. So much of the weekend was busy and fast-paced that family members had limited time with Mike.
“We were just the Pences,” Pence Fritsch said.
“It was like having a front-row seat to having history unfold before your eyes.”
— Ed Pence, brother of Vice President Mike Pence