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Nebraska’s first lady, Susanne Shore, spent the last month getting used to her new role -- first hosting a huge party for the whole state, then deciding the best way to spend her time at the family’s new second home in the Capital City and finally determining how to add first lady duties to her already busy life as mom to three kids.

The inaugural ball is behind her, and she and husband/Governor Pete Ricketts have come up with a plan in which he will be at 1425 H St. in Lincoln most weeknights alone, with her and the kids joining him for Wednesday night family dinners. He’ll be in Omaha on weekends, and Sunday is family day. “We’ll reevaluate after a semester,” Shore said of the plan.

So how will she combine first lady commitments with carpooling and teaching two 15-year-olds how to drive?

“We’re trying to figure that out,” she said with a smile.

Changing spaces, places

Adjusting to changing circumstances and surroundings is nothing new to Shore. She arrived in Omaha in the early 1990s from Vermillion, South Dakota, by way of her hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

She took a circuitous route, picking up educational degrees along the way.

Starting with an undergraduate degree in English at Oklahoma State University, she then added a master’s degree in business from there, while working as a supervisor of a student complex with 5,000 students.

Then Shore moved on to the University of South Dakota, working in the office of the dean of students.

It was during this time that Shore became interested in nursing. After being accepted to an accelerated nursing program at St. Joseph’s Hospital (now Creighton University School of Medicine) in Omaha, she packed up and headed to Nebraska for what was supposed to be a one-year stop.

That’s when Pete Ricketts entered Shore’s life. She had just finished her nursing degree and was ready to head back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where most of her family lived.

But a friend of Shore's, who was also Ricketts’ distant cousin, wanted her to go out with Pete. OK, just one date, Shore thought. Then, she would follow her plan and leave town.

Instead, she followed her heart.

Ricketts remembers thinking she was “drop-dead gorgeous” with a reddish tint to her hair and “big blue eyes.” And he thought it was an interesting coincidence that both of them ordered oysters, then spiced them up with both horseradish and hot sauce on their first date.

A week later she went on a second date with Ricketts, to Jazz on the Green. “I liked him a lot,” she said. “I think I knew if I continued to date him, it would be serious,” she said.

Shore was 30 years old and hadn’t really been thinking about marriage or a family or any of those things, she said. Instead, she had been focused on finding the right professional path.

She took a job as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, working 12-hour shifts and loving the medical field.

And she got to know Pete Ricketts better. “I knew he worked for a company called TransTerra and answered phones there,” she said. “My first thought was it might be either a trucking company or a landscape firm.”

It turned out to be neither of those things. TransTerra, the Ricketts family business, later became TD Ameritrade, one of the first online trading systems. Eventually, it would make millions for the Ricketts family.

They married in 1997, and their twins, Roscoe and Margot, were born two years later. “At the time it was the biggest shock I had ever had,” Shore said about becoming a mom. “The best thing ever. Life-changing and fabulous.” Eleanor, born two years after that, completed their family.

Family commitments

Shore’s role as a parent remains her most important one, she said. It is the reason that during Ricketts' first political race for U.S. Senate in 2006, Shore often wasn’t seen on the campaign trail with her husband. With small children at home, it wasn’t easy to leave them and crisscross the state, she said.

The recent governor’s campaign was different. She enjoyed seeing the state from one end to the other, greeting Nebraskans along the way. “You meet people you don’t usually get to meet,” she said.

The kids were older this time around, and they were more interested in being a part of a campaign. Those family television commercials were the real thing, she insists. “What you saw was what you get with them.”

Teaching them to ignore campaign bickering or negative public comments has been a part of the process, too. “It’s part of life,” Shore said. “Make sure you know who you are,” she tells them. “Then move on.”

Ricketts said he has told his children to “set good examples and treat people the right way,” because at this point others are watching them.

Part of having the kids stay at their schools in Omaha right now is an effort “to provide normalcy for them,” Shore said. Eleanor attends St. Margaret Mary School, Roscoe is at Creighton Prep and Margot is at Duchesne Academy.

Another link of continuity is their participation in Omaha’s St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church. “It’s an important community for me and my family,” Shore said, noting she has worked in a variety of volunteer roles in the church and school. But she is not a member of the Catholic Church, she said.

Politically independent

Amy St. Peter, Shore’s younger sister, said Susanne was the most independent of the three sisters. “She is more like our dad,” said St. Peter, who lives in Dallas. “We used to call it the middle child syndrome,” she said in a phone interview. Their older sibling, Cindy, also lives in Dallas.

It didn’t surprise St. Peter that Shore kept her maiden name when she got married. “It was not an issue,” Shore said of that decision. “I was older when we got married. I had my own identity.”

That same spirit applies to her political preferences. She spent most of her adult life as a registered Democrat. “I always vote for the candidate that I think will have the biggest impact,” she said.

Over the years she has switched her voting registration to an independent, then to a registered Republican during the primary, so she could vote for her husband. Currently, she is back to being an independent.

Both she and Ricketts say their political discussions are animated. “I think good healthy debates are enjoyable,” she said. “I am his biggest challenger.”

And Ricketts says her questions “keep me on my toes.” From the beginning, he said, he loved that she was “very smart.” “Intelligent, competent, caring” are the words he uses to describe her.

Shore is careful to make sure her political beliefs are not part of any public discussion, but she is clear about her interest in child welfare issues.

In the past, she has served as a Douglas County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer and on the board of the Child Saving Institute. She resigned from the board of Nebraska Families Collaborative, which contracts with the state to manage child welfare cases, after Ricketts was elected governor.

Children are where you can make a difference,” she said of those programs. “They are an investment in the future.”

The one thing the couple completely agree about is the Chicago Cubs. Ricketts’ family owns the baseball team, and Shore has become an avid fan over the years. Ricketts said he has been cheering for the Cubs longer, but admits Shore knows the team inside and out.

Center stage

Nothing could be more public than dancing in the spotlight in front of 2,800 people at her husband’s inaugural ball.

But Shore said she enjoyed the night, in spite of that. She added elbow-length black gloves to her sleeveless black gown, which she got on sale in New York, “probably after watching too much 'Downton Abbey.'”

Shore said she is not a shopper, so she is most likely to wear basics, lots of black and white and mix and match them. “If they had Garanimals for adults, I would buy them,” she said.

Seeing her sister on the stage that night was “surreal,” said St. Peter. Their whole family came to Nebraska for the inaugural event and loved it. “She doesn’t make a big deal about it,” St. Peter said of all the pomp and circumstance.

Shore’s next task is “figuring out where I fit in and the best way to help out” in her new role.

“I really wanted Pete to be governor of Nebraska,” she said. Turns out, being the state’s first lady is part of the deal, too.

Right now she begins her weekdays carpooling the kids to school in Omaha and after that, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, heads to Lincoln for her new “job.” Her SUV, which she says has “lots and lots of miles on it,” will get a workout.

And in the back of her mind, she is thinking about her kids, who are “young adults now, making their own good decisions.” With only five semesters of high school left for the older children, Shore is surprised at how fast the time with them has gone. “So we are going to enjoy this as a family.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or kmoore@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSkcmoore.

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