Gov. Mike Pence looked right at home Thursday night, when the Columbus native visited the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair.
He spent nearly two hours walking the grounds and taking in the atmosphere, including the food.
“It feels good to be back where everyone calls you Mike and always will call you Mike,” Pence said. “When I’m back here, I’m a kid again.”
Pence’s first stop around 6:30 p.m. was the Bartholomew County Republican Party booth, where his mother was working.
Nancy Pence Fritsch called it a “nice surprise,” although she had a feeling the governor might be stopping by.
“I invited him at 3:30 and told him I would be manning the tent,” Pence Fritsch said. “This is home, and it’s important to him.”
The governor seemed at ease, stopping to talk with people and waving at those passing by.
“Who are you under those shades?” he asked a woman wearing dark sunglasses.
Many fairgoers recognized him right away, but there were more than a few double-takes.
“I have lived here all of my life, but I have never met him,” said Jessica Sung of Columbus.” It’s great that he came back home for the fair.”
Pence made his way to the horse and livestock barns, stopping often to engage one of the 4-H’ers in conversation or to have photos taken.
Pence said he was involved in 4-H for a short time as a youth and has a lot of fond memories about the fair.
“I came out to be with friends and enjoy the rides and the food,” Pence said. It’s always been a great community event.”
Gwen Shoaf, 15, of Hope, thought so, too.
She was one of the 4-H’ers who got to chat with the governor.
Her entry was named Grand Champion 4-H Dairy Steer, and she had a photo taken with Pence.
Before heading toward the pie-eating contest, Pence found dinner at one of the fairgrounds food stands.
“It just isn’t a trip to the fair without a corn dog and a lemon shake-up,” he said.
Pence was invited to join in at the pie-eating contest, where contestants wore black garbage bags over their upper bodies, with just their heads poking through — and dove face first into the pies.
The governor said he considered trying it himself, but then thought better of it.
He did present the prizes to the first-round winners, however, and said a few words before heading out.
“Thank you all for coming out to one of the great, great family fairs in the United States of America here in our hometown. I love you all,” he said.