Hoosier first lady Karen Pence took several pieces of Columbus with her when she traveled to Germany this week.
She handed out dozens of handmade “Dear Soldier” cards to troops at Ramstein Air Base and to wounded service members recovering at the nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
The cards were made by students at Parkside Elementary School — where Gov. Mike Pence attended kindergarten — and thanked the troops for their courage and their service.
A card from first-grader Kara Streit was decorated with hearts and sunshine and read: “Dear Soldier, When you do all the soldier stuff be careful! You are the best! I love you soldier!!!!!!!!!!!”
The Pences traveled to Germany on an economic development and jobs mission to meet with business and government leaders.
The governor also met with a 2009 Columbus East High School graduate, Kris Kulich, who is in the second year of an apprenticeship program to become a brick mason, which Pence wanted to learn more about.
While the governor focused on developing relationships with companies, the first lady developed relationships with the people.
She spoke with more than 20 Hoosier troops at Ramstein and then more wounded soldiers and nurses at Landstuhl, where she was told there are many fewer injuries coming in from Afghanistan.
“They wanted to know that it was Parkside because they wanted to write back,” she said. “They all said those cards mean a lot to them.”
Pence then carried a large “Greetings from Indiana” with her to Löhne, Columbus’ sister city.
Many Columbus residents can trace their roots to Löhne, which has been a partner since 1994.
Arthur and Marcia Schwenk led the first group of adults to Löhne in 1990, and 23 of the 30 families found a family connection.
Arthur Schwenk, who has been involved and instrumental in the relationship between Löhne and Columbus since the beginning, was also Mike Pence’s German teacher when he attended Columbus North High School.
The banner created by fourth-graders at Parkside was another piece in that cultural, genealogical, social, political, educational and personal exchange.
“After watching how enthusiastic students in Columbus were when creating this banner, I looked forward to bringing it to Löhne,” the first lady said.
The banner was decorated with handprints and Indiana symbols such as the cardinal, peony and a state map.
Karen Pence visited the fourth-graders March 28 to pick up the banner and chat with students about her job, her husband and the importance of cultural exchanges.
“I’m looking forward to returning to Columbus to see the students again, where we can discuss our cultural differences and, most importantly, the similarities so strong that we remain connected across deep oceans and vast lands,” she said.
The banner was presented to Löhne Vice Mayor Egon Schewe and is being displayed in a community center. She was given several books to take back to Indiana, including “All Quiet on the Western Front” because it mentions Löhne.
She said she was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that greeted her in the city. People in Löhne would touch their hearts and tell her they have a special place in their heart for Columbus.
“When you walk up to somebody and they say, ‘I absolutely love Indiana,’ and they say that with a heavy German accent, it kind of takes you by surprise,” she said.