ST. PAUL (AP) -- Not long ago, the governor's mansion was shuttered and under threat of a sale.
Now it has a new occupant, fresh flowers edge the lawn and state and U.S. flags flap in the breeze outside. Ten-year-old Anna Pawlenty just had her birthday party there -- in one more sign that the mansion, nearly a century old, is a home again.
From the moment he carried her across the threshold the day after the inaugural, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and First Lady Mary Pawlenty have quietly gone about the business of transforming the stately residence into a place where they could raise their two girls, welcome Minnesotans and use the gracious elegance of the near-century-old home to advance Pawlenty's political agenda.
Anna and the Pawlenty's other daughter, Mara, 6, eat their Lucky Charms in the breakfast nook and after school nab fruit Popsicles from the fridge while they explore the cavernous, 20-room Tudor-style mansion that now is their second home. At Anna's birthday party, friends tumbled on the Oriental rugs while her 42-year-old father showed off with a headstand in the hallway.
Legislators arrive in a steady stream for a series of breakfasts as Pawlenty attempts to weave the relationships he will need in the crucial budget-setting session. That small gesture itself is a dramatic departure from former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who seldom had lawmakers over and left office in December declaring proudly that he had made no friends in the Legislature.
In the evening, the Pawlentys have begun entertaining leaders from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, businesses considering a move to Minnesota and other notables.
Public tours resume in full force this May and the residence once again is being used by groups wishing to commemorate a special event.
Home to the state's governors since 1965, when Olivia Dodge donated it to the state, the 91-year-old mansion endured its stormiest period under Ventura.
The trouble began a year ago, when legislators moved to trim Ventura's ever-burgeoning security demands. By April, Ventura announced that his family was in jeopardy and that he would close the mansion. The only member of the Ventura family living there at the time was the governor's 22-year-old son, Tyrel, who used it for late-night parties.
By May, Ventura had fired the staff, carted out most of his remaining belongings and ordered museums to retrieve the period furnishings and art that had been on loan. The residence remained deserted for several months. In August, it reopened to some tours and limited activities.
Mary Pawlenty says she prefers not to dwell on differences with the previous tenants.
"Every first family brings their own strengths," she said. "We're here now, and we want to show folks what matters to us. And what matters to us is that we bring love, hospitality and warmth to this place and do it in a way that's God-honoring."
The Pawlentys split their time between the Summit Avenue residence and their home in Eagan, which they must keep because Mary Pawlenty, a judge, has to live in her judicial district. Anna and Mara continue to go to school in Eagan.
The residence staff is smaller than it used to be -- just a residence manager, assistant, housekeeper and one chef. But for Mary Pawlenty, who has juggled roles as a Dakota County District Court judge, mother to two small children and wife to a husband who has been campaigning or legislating nonstop for years, even a small staff is a big help.
"Oh, the help," she said, smiling. "What a difference. To have a little help with dinner, with grocery shopping, with laundry. It's what makes this possible, what allows me to do all of this and be First Lady, too."
Gov. Pawlenty, walking across the solarium's marble floors, said: "This feels like an incredible treat and privilege to be in this house. But I also recognize that this isn't home and it's not me. This is just a wonderful gift that someone gave the state, and we get to use it."
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