A New Office

Family and friends seemingly took over the lieutenant governor’s office as they joined Ferdinand native Sue Ellspermann at the Statehouse on the eve of her inauguration.

Story by Candy Neal
Photos by Rachel Mummey

Sue Ellspermann locked hands with family and friends Monday morning inside a closed conference room in the Indiana Statehouse.

The group of about 50 fell silent and bowed their heads, the only sound being the muffled chatter in the hallway.

“Thank you, Lord, for my family and friends being here with me,” the Republican lieutenant governor-elect said, acknowledging the people she often has called her greatest supporters.

“Put your hands on me as I fill this new role,” she continued, emotion evident in her voice. “And help me fulfill this duty to the best of my ability.” She ended with a prayer that her counterpart, the man about to be inaugurated governor, Mike Pence, be able to do the same.

The group said “Amen” and hugged Ellspermann before going to their seats to watch her be sworn in as Indiana’s 50th lieutenant governor.

Ellspermann, 52, was very specific in her prayer. She’s always been very detail-oriented in whatever she’s done, even as a child growing up in Ferdinand, said her parents, Tom and Betty Boeglin.

“Susan was very good at getting her point across, very convincing, but always stayed calm,” Tom said.

“I remember times we’d tell her no, and the next day while I’m cleaning or straightening up, I’d find a folded piece of paper,” Betty said. “It was a letter from Susan, requesting whatever it was she asked for, and telling me the reasons why we should say yes. She’d always put it somewhere she’d know I’d find it.”

Ellspermann, second from left, was flanked by her parents, Betty and Tom Boeglin of Ferdinand, and surrounded by other family members, including daughter Laura Wirthwein of Columbus, second from right, and stepdaughter Grace Mehling of Ferdinand, as she joined hands with them to pray for her upcoming term as lieutenant governor at the Statehouse on Monday.

“When I’d get home, (Betty would) say, ”˜We got another letter from Susan,’” Tom adds, chuckling.
“I don’t know if we ever changed our minds. But the letters were written very well.”

Ellspermann’s attention to detail impressed her teachers, including Dolores Lueken, her fourth-grade teacher at Ferdinand Elementary.

Jeanette Springston of Jasper, right, and her husband, Denny, joined fellow Celebration Singers members Sunday as they loaded buses headed for Indianapolis to perform at a praise and worship service that was part of the inauguration festivities.

“She was very organized, a go-getter,” said Lueken. “I taught her sisters and brothers, and they were all like that. Her family background was such that they were always respectful and thoughtful children.”

Lueken taught in the Southeast Dubois School Corp. for 42 years, retiring in 2004. As a fourth-grade teacher, she taught Indiana history. Ellspermann “was interested in that,” Lueken recalled. “It was like she absorbed history.”

Lueken was invited by Ellspermann to attend the inauguration. She went to Indianapolis a day in advance to sing with the Celebration Singers, who performed at Sunday’s praise and worship service, also per Ellspermann’s invitation.

The group of 90 singers gathered in the concert exhibition hall at the Indiana Convention Center as their leader, Larry Feldmeyer, gave them their last bits of direction.

Ellspermann and her husband, Jim Mehling of Ferdinand, applauded the Celebration Singers during the praise and worship service held at the Indiana Convention Center on Sunday.

“Ladies, button your top button. We want to be uniform,” he said. The gentlemen had on bow ties, so their top buttons were already fastened. “And all eyes on me, not the audience,” he said. “Don’t look at them; watch me.”

That keeps the singers’ concentration on the music, singer Pat Dunkel said. And with all the strobe lights roaming the room, staying focused was paramount, the 10-year veteran added.

“We aren’t used to all these lights,” she said as the group waited to take the stage. “It’s like we’re celebrities.”

Feldmeyer said Ellspermann called him in mid-December to invite the Celebration Singers to sing at the ceremony. He had to check with the board, of which Dunkel is a member, before he could commit.

“As soon as we heard from Larry that we were invited, we all said yes immediately,” Dunkel said. “To be a part of this is exciting. We knew we couldn’t pass it up.”

Celebration Singers Director Larry Feldmeyer of Huntingburg led a sound check for the choir before it performed in the praise and worship service. Ellspermann called Feldmeyer personally to request that the choir participate in the service.

The Celebration Singers — a community choir comprised of singers from Dubois, Spencer, Pike and Martin counties — was the third of five groups to sing at the service. Pence and Ellspermann sat near the front with their families to watch all of the performances. While the two groups that performed first were contemporary bands with guitarists and drummers, the Celebration Singers had only a pianist for accompaniment.

The group performed two numbers,  “Prayer for Our Time” followed by a medley of “How Great Thou Art/Majesty.” The rousing harmony that brought the last song to an end also brought the two families of honor to their feet to cheer and clap in appreciation. As the choir exited the stage, a man in the audience commented to his friend, “Bands are all right, but give me a choir any day.

Nothing compares to the sound of a good choir like that.”

While touring the Statehouse after the inauguration ceremony, Ferdinand Elementary School fourth-graders Blake Hagedorn, left, and Jake Begle listened intently to discussions by their classmates as the children held a debate on whether ice cream should be given out every Friday.

Ellspermann shook each choir member’s hand, and hugged those she knew, as the singers returned to the staging area. Pence also stood at the bottom of the stage to shake each person’s hand, thanking the choir for its performance.

“I love singing ”˜How Great Thou Art/Majesty,’” Dunkel said afterward. “It just moves you. I get goose bumps when we sing that.”

Performing on stage was easier than she thought it would be. “It was wonderful,” Dunkel said. “You don’t see the lights when you’re up there, so that was fine.”

Dubois County was represented at all the weekend inaugural activities, starting with Saturday’s Family Fun Day at the Dallara IndyCar Factory. Three county businesses teamed up to donate bratwurst sandwich meals, which included Merkley Meats’ brats and Southern Sweets Bakery’s pretzel buns as prepared by the Schnitzelbank Restaurant alongside German fries, sauerkraut and red cabbage.

“We had a lot of food,” cook Royce Hurst said. “It was funny, because some of the other caterers ran out; I guess they weren’t expecting so many people. But we served the whole time, from 11 to 2, and still had food left. We served more than 650 people.”

Hurst and another cook worked in the catering truck while three servers, including Southern Sweets owner Terri Suddarth, passed out the meals. Even Ellspermann joined them and served food for a while.

“We took an apron for her, too,” Hurst said.

The new lieutenant governor also invited the fourth-grade classes from her home school district to the inauguration. The 91 students from Pine Ridge and Ferdinand elementary schools helped lead the crowd of 1,500 attendees in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the ceremony. They sat on bleachers to see Attorney General Greg Zoeller, then Ellspermann and then Pence be sworn into office.

Ellspermann’s parents, siblings and other family members sat with her teacher Lueken in the front section of the audience. Jim Mehling held the Bible for his wife, and their daughters stood behind him, watching Ellspermann repeat after Chief Justice Brent Dickson the words of her oath.

Just hours after the inauguration ceremony Monday, Ellspermann joined Gov. Mike Pence in his office at the Statehouse as he signed his first executive orders. They included a moratorium on the creation of new regulations.

“It’s wonderful to see someone you love fill such an important role,” Mehling said, “a position she really wants to serve in. Both Sue and Gov. Pence truly want to serve the people. You can tell their hearts are in it.”

After the ceremony, the new officeholders and their families greeted the people who attended the ceremony. The students, meanwhile, were escorted to a cafeteria in the government center nextdoor for lunch and then to the lieutenant governor’s office for a meeting with Ellspermann.

Pine Ridge students met with Ellspermann first. Since the fourth grade is studying Indiana history, Ellspermann started quizzing the students. “What does a lieutenant governor do?” she inquired.

Student Wesley Stout raised his hand. “It’s someone who is below the governor,” he said.

Ellspermann nodded. “Would I ever act as governor?” she asked him.

Wesley nodded. “If the governor gets sick.”

She asked how many years will she serve in this term; they answered four. Ellspermann asked if she could serve longer. They said yes, for another four years.

Kaylee McCaslin raised her hand to speak. “But everyone has to pick you again,” she amended.
“That’s right,” Ellspermann said. “We’d have to be elected again.”

Ellspermann told the Ferdinand Elementary students that in her new position, she is president of the state Senate. Also, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the state’s counterterrorism and security council report to her, as do the state offices of tourism development, energy development, agriculture and community and rural affairs.

“That’s why I wanted to be lieutenant governor,” she said. “I wanted to be able to help small towns like our own.”

At the end, she asked the students their favorite part of the day’s activities. Many of the students gave the same response as Kaylee.

“Meeting you,” she said.

“Oh, thank you,” Ellspermann said. “This is my favorite part, too.”

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.

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