Courage, conviction carry Columbus native to White House


Those who know Mike Pence best — his mother and siblings — describe him as a man of conviction, a man who firmly believes he was called to public service.

That steadfast belief is what fueled Pence’s first foray into politics before he was 30 and has guided him in a career that has taken him from congressman to governor to now vice president-elect.

Columbus-born Pence, 57, selected as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate in July, will be sworn in as the 48th vice president of the United States on Friday in Washington, D.C.

His election is a source of family pride, although the enormity of his role still is something for them to comprehend.

“Somebody said to me he will be the second-most important man in the world, and that’s a pretty awesome statement to make,” said his mother, Nancy Pence Fritsch of Columbus.

However, other Pence family members — many who also live in Columbus — said that it’s a role in line with a conviction first demonstrated by Mike at an early age.

“He liked to contribute his abilities or his strong points,” his mother said.

Pence’s conviction intersected with politics early on.

“I saw it as a huge risk for him. Not only did he have a great job, but on Jan. 1 he might not have a place to live, either. He still has a daughter in college, he’s got college debt to pay off and he’s not personally wealthy.”

—Ed Pence on brother Mike’s decision to run for vice president

Early influences

The third-born of six Pence children, Mike early on developed an interest in John F. Kennedy, the nation’s 35th president, who was elected to office in 1960.The charismatic Kennedy was of Irish heritage like Pence’s grandfather, who emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. through Ellis Island, and a Catholic like Pence’s family.

His mother recalled Mike having a closet full of banners and pictures of the Democratic president. He even included a clipping of the president in a time capsule he made at about age 11. Ed Pence, Mike’s brother, referred to his grandparents as Kennedy Democrats.

Mike’s parents, Ed and Nancy, were Republicans, however, and were particularly excited when Barry Goldwater came to Columbus in 1964. The younger Ed Pence recalled the Pence brothers being dressed in matching blue jeans and light blue shirts when they went to see the presidential candidate.

Early political exposures made an impression on Mike Pence.

“Ever since he was a little boy, it’s been his desire to serve the country. He’s always been ambitious about getting involved in the politics of the country,” his mother said.

That ambition is not personal, though, but what he can do for others, she said.

He became the youth Democratic Party coordinator for Bartholomew County as a teenager, which involved organizing meetings, assisting candidates with door-to-door campaigns and distributing political pamphlets at the county fair. Those were early signs of leadership that Mike would build upon later.

Mike was president of his senior class at Columbus North High School, from which he graduated in 1977 and where he demonstrated skill in speech — placing third in a National Forensic League tournament in Seattle.

At Hanover College — where Mike’s political views shifted to conservative after studying American history, the Constitution and thinking about the role of government — he served as president of his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.

Mike Pence’s calling to public service became most evident in 1987 when he informed his family that he wanted to run for Congress. Pence wanted to challenge Democratic incumbent Phil Sharp in the 2nd District race in the 1988 election.

“He wasn’t ready,” Greg Pence said.

“We all thought he was crazy,” another brother, Ed Pence, said.

Mike had been out of law school only a year and married for about two years, and Sharp was a longtime, well-respected congressman, Ed Pence said.

Mike’s father tried unsuccessfully to talk him out of the decision, saying his son was taking a risk that was a mistake.

“He had this conviction. He had this sense of calling,” the younger Ed Pence said.

When their father realized that Mike wouldn’t budge from his position, he jumped in to help him and introduced his son to people who could help his campaign, Ed Pence said.

Their father died in April, before the primary. He didn’t see his son narrowly lose the 1988 general election to Sharp, or the 1990 election rematch — a campaign that turned into a bad experience for Mike because of negative campaigning.

Mike Pence spent most of the next decade as a host of a popular conservative talk show, increasing his name recognition, before the call to public service pulled at him again. This time, he emerged victorious.

Election to Congress in 2000 was followed by five successful re-election bids and included a rise to Republican Conference chairman in 2009 — the third-ranking party position in the House.

He dropped a bid for a seventh term in Congress when Indiana Republicans began a search for a candidate to replace popular Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who had completed the maximum eight years in office.

Mike Pence accepted the challenge and in 2012 was elected Indiana’s 50th governor, defeating Democrat John Gregg.

Last year, though, risk and conviction once again came to the forefront for Mike Pence — as did family concerns.

Strong conviction

In the spring of 2016, when it became apparent that Trump would become the presumptive Republican nominee for president, speculation started about who he would choose as his running mate. Names such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich quickly came to the forefront, but another name was mentioned — Mike Pence.Political analysts said the Hoosier’s conservative credentials, Washington experience and leadership background would offer balance to the Trump ticket.

Some family members questioned the wisdom of dropping his bid for re-election as governor to join Trump’s campaign. They believed strongly that Mike would win a second term as governor, compared to the uncertainty of joining a presidential ticket that had experienced controversy.

“I saw it as a huge risk for him. Not only did he have a great job, but on January 1 he might not have a place to live, either. He still has a daughter in college, he’s got college debt to pay off, and he’s not personally wealthy,” Ed Pence said.

Greg Pence noted that his brother was successful as governor, even serving on the executive committee of the Republican Governors Association.

Nancy Pence Fritsch said that when she started hearing her son’s name mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, she thought people were throwing names out just for fun.

“Then when he was being vetted with Christie and the other people, I thought, ‘Whoa! He’ll never get it, but what an honor. And then it happened,” his mother said.

Greg Pence said he received a call from Mike on July 1, the day of the grand opening of the Upland Columbus Pump House restaurant and brewery. Greg said his brother invited him to stop by the new Columbus restaurant that day.

Mike shared big news with his oldest brother after the event.

“He said, Mr. Trump would like me and my family to go to spend the weekend with him. What do you think?’ My reaction was, ‘Go for it,’” Greg Pence said.

“It’s a call you don’t say no to,” he said.

Mike Pence met with Trump on July 2 to 3 in New Jersey. His wife, Karen, and their oldest daughter, Charlotte, accompanied him, Greg said.

Mike brought his family to meet the Trumps because he didn’t know the presidential candidate, and wanted to see if he and Trump, who have contrasting personalities, could be a good fit and work together — Mike’s own vetting process, Greg said.

Trump and Pence played golf, and the families had dinner and then breakfast the next day before the Pences departed, Greg said.

Mike discussed the vice presidential possibility with his family and prayed about it after that weekend, Greg said. Although Mike didn’t share his intentions, Greg figured his brother was interested in the job.

“I kind of assumed that he went out there, that if asked he would (accept). He really saw it as a service to his country,” Greg Pence said.

However, Pence’s meeting with Trump was followed by meetings the candidate had with other number-two prospects in Gingrich and Christie.

As speculation about Trump’s pick continued, Pence stumped for Trump at rally in Westfield on July 12, and the two met at the governor’s mansion the next day.

Trump called Mike Pence late during the evening of July 13 with an offer to join his ticket.

Trump said, “Let’s do this. It’s gonna be great,” said Greg, who was told of the call by Mike the next morning.

“That was probably the most emotional moment, I think, for most people in the family, when (Trump) said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Greg Pence said.

Nancy Pence Fritsch agreed.

“It takes a lot of courage at age 57 to take that kind of risk, but he did because of his personal conviction,” Ed Pence said.

Trump publicly announced Pence as his running mate July 15, and they joined together for a press conference in New York the next day.

Greg Pence said he actually gets more choked up when talking about Trump’s offer to his brother than the actual election victory.

‘Incredible experience’

The Pence family was in full force on Election Night, with Mike’s five siblings, his mother and stepfather Basil Fritsch in New York on Nov. 8, along with spouses, nieces and nephews.Trump’s election against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was close, and the outcome wasn’t decided until the early morning hours of the next day.

The Republican ticket easily surpassed the 270-vote Electoral College number needed to win, stunning many political forecasters, despite losing the popular vote earned by Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine by more than 2 million.

“Michael had me convinced they would win. He had this confidence that they were going to win, despite what the polls said,” Ed Pence said.

He added that Trump supporters at the election party really didn’t start celebrating until about 1:45 a.m. Nov. 9, when it became apparent Trump was going to win.

“That was an incredible experience when it happened,” Nancy Pence Fritsch said, adding that she felt overwhelming pride for her son.

“He is gifted and has much to offer, and is more than willing to offer and share it,” Pence Fritsch said. “I’m very proud of that. He’s a very fine man.”

Family members were up celebrating until about 4:30 a.m. When they rose again from a quick sleep about 8:15 a.m., they had to pinch themselves.

“You kind of wake up the next morning and wonder, ‘Is this just a dream?’” Ed Pence said.

“I’m very proud my brother has the opportunity to serve as the vice president,” he said.

That sense of pride wasn’t limited to U.S. borders.

Pence relatives in Doonbeg, Ireland, sent a photo via a text message showing a red Trump hat on a door knocker with a note saying, “Gone celebrating.”

“We’re a close family, but this brought everybody even closer,” Greg Pence said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Mike Pence’s family” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Who: President-elect Mike Pence

Wife: Karen

Children: Michael, Charlotte, Audrey

Parents: Ed Pence (deceased) and Nancy Pence Fritsch; stepfather, Basil Fritsch

Siblings: Greg, Ed, Thomas, Annie, Mary


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