When Gov. Mike Pence was a kindergartner at Parkside Elementary School, he would pretend the sculpture in the courtyard was a lunar module.
When he was running for office, he would visit the school on Election Day to shake hands with voters.
The Pence connection with Parkside continued Friday when first lady Karen Pence visited to kick off a cultural exchange between Columbus and its sister city of Löhne, Germany.
The fourth-graders presented Pence with a banner to take with her April 12 on a visit to Germany, where she will present it to Löhne Mayor Heinz-Dieter Helt.
She said this type of exchange involving students helps break down cultural borders.
“Anytime you can make the world a smaller place, that’s a good thing,” she said.
She explained to the fourth-graders, all gathered on the floor of the Harrison Room at the school, how her husband makes trips to other countries in an attempt to bring jobs to Indiana.
Pence said she does not know how to build economies, but she does know how to build relationships.
While she’s not going to sit in on meetings between German companies and the governor, “I’m going to go to help create a bond between Indiana and Germany,” she said.
Pence will also deliver several cards from Parkside students to Hoosier troops at an Air Force base in Germany.
Pence, who was an art teacher for more than 25 years, said she was impressed by the level of craft that went into the banner — and the art aspect is important.
“We’d call art a universal language,” she said. “The students in Germany may not speak a lot of English, or they may. They’ll be able to look at that banner and see the state bird, the state flower, the Indiana map marked with Columbus. I think it’s going to be a fun banner for the kids in Germany.”
Most of the classroom cultural learning took place during the creation of the banner, a project spearheaded by social studies teacher Adam Ulrich.
They also learned that government officials are more than names in the local news.
“Giving them a connection to state government and showing them that state government isn’t just about the state, obviously, is important,” Ulrich said.
“Our state officials go across the world,” he said. “Most kids don’t get a chance to connect with them.”
Interacting with students
During the first lady’s visit Friday morning, Parkside students were mostly interested in the lives of her and the governor.
Where do they live?
What kind of car do they drive?
How much money do they make?
Who was the governor’s first-grade teacher?
She didn’t know the answer to that last one, so she called her husband.
He was still at the governor’s residence because he had a late night of bill signings. Thursday was the last day to sign bills passed during this year’s short session.
The governor said his first-grade teacher was Mrs. Arnett, who has since retired.
“She was wonderful,” he said through the speakerphone. “She inspired me to study and learn, and she had wonderful brown hair like Mrs. Pence.”
Columbus’ sister city
Löhne, Germany, became a sister city of Columbus in 1994.
The relationship was established to foster ties between two similarly sized cities. Perhaps the major interest was due to a large percentage of the population and surrounding areas having ancestors who emigrated from this same region in Northern Germany.
This secret was unlocked in April 1989 when Hans-Günter Lichte and his wife, Edith, came to Columbus in search of descendants from her great-grandfather Scheidt. Family members were found buried in the cemetery of St. Paul Lutheran Church at Clifty.
Once the connection was made, groups led by Lichte of Löhne and Arthur Schwenk of Columbus began to visit back and forth. Also, a student exchange program was developed by Columbus North High School with the high school in Löhne.
The two cities were united in a partnership that bonded cultural and religious similarities.
Source: City of Columbus
Governor’s Columbus connection
First lady Karen Pence is from Indianapolis, but Gov. Mike Pence was born and raised in Columbus.
Kindergarten: Parkside Elementary School, where his love for space started. There is a sculpture in the courtyard titled “The Family” by Harris Barron.
It was a gift from Xenia and J. Irwin Miller for the students to climb and play on, which Gov. Pence said he did often.
Elementary school: St. Bartholomew School
High School: Columbus North High School
Childhood home: On Hunter Place, within walking distance of Parkside Elementary