SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ first lady Diana Rauner tucked her hair behind her ears, as newly minted Gov. Bruce Rauner leaned over and the two exchanged a private whisper.
Then in a moment, the brief calm in what was a packed day of inaugural events gave way to dozens of people filing into the room of the Old State Capitol to greet Illinois’ new first family.
Diana and Bruce Rauner, along with their six children and son-in-law, formed a wedding-style reception line to welcome a long line of well-wishers who wound down the steps and out the front door of the historic building, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech.
Some shivered in the cold, one showed up to add to his collection of signatures of Illinois governors — and another even shed tears talking about the change in leadership in Springfield.
Staff in period dress passed out hand-warmers and steaming coffee, hot cider and hot chocolate to those standing outside before the doors opened.
Among those who waited in line was Christine Dolgopol, who proudly wore a button that read: “Happiness is a Republican governor.”
The Wheeling resident offered it to Rauner, but he told her it was more effective if she wore it, she said.
“I saw Mark Kirk get sworn in as congressman, I saw him get sworn in as senator and now this,” Dolgopol said, beginning to cry. “You know, I could die tomorrow, and I would be happy. Really. I think he’s an amazing man, and I think he’s going to do wonders for this state.”
Ashley Hamilton, a freshman at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, had a pile of index cards handy as she prepared to meet the new governor with her mother and stepfather. She said she had questions for him about what he hopes to accomplish in office — and about college funding. She said she’s planning to write an essay for her local newspaper about the inauguration.
“It opened up my mind a little bit to politics and what’s going on in the state,” she said.
Robb Paul, owner of the Prairie Archives bookstore in Springfield, showed up armed with a copy of the “Illinois Guide and Gazetteer” from 1969 — filled with signatures of 10 previous governors.
He came to the Old State Capitol on Monday looking for No. 11.
“What I usually do is just go down to the Capitol and leave it in his office,” Paul said of how he’s snagged signatures in the past. “And then they’ll sign it.”
Turns out that’ll be the case again with Rauner — Paul later said he left because the line was too long at the open house.
There were some younger folks eager to see the new governor, including an excited 6-year-old Nathaniel Gordon Miller who declared meeting the Rauner family: “Very interesting! I got to see him yesterday too.”
His father, Daniel, said he brought his son from nearby Buffalo to give him the opportunity to witness a piece of history.
The Rauners stood for about two hours greeting people, leading a weary-looking Diana to shed her shoes and an ornate red cape.
Ashley Niebur, a lobbyist with the Illinois Credit Union League, also seemed deterred by the long line. But she said it’s “great to see so many people in Springfield to, you know, welcome the new governor.”
She also said she’s not sure what to expect once lawmakers get back to work. It sounds like everybody is ready to work together for the common good, she said.
“I hope that that rings true once we get into session,” Niebur said.
Later Monday, Rauner and his wife hosted a more formal gathering at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They joined 350 guests for dinner before the inaugural concert featuring country star Toby Keith.
The donors, supporters and Rauner family and friends dined on braised beef short ribs with fingerling potato hash and gulf coast shrimp, tossed with arugula pesto and topped with sweet potato pommes frites.
They began the dinner with pear and apple salad with dried cranberries and roasted cashews, poppy seed dressing and emmental cheese crostini. They ended it with a dessert of chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup garnished with fresh berries on a chocolate and raspberry sauce painted plate.
Gov. Rauner and Illinois’ first lady chose Keith’s “You Shouldn’t Kiss me Like This” for their first dance as they were introduced to a roaring crowd at a Springfield convention center Monday night.
Rauner eschewed a traditional inaugural ball for more casual festivities. Both he and the first lady wore jeans. Attendees ate barbecue and ice cream and could drink beer and cocktails for $125 a ticket.
Keith was preceded by blues artist Buddy Guy and a band of Illinois lawmakers called the Boat Drink Caucus.
Contributing: Associated Press, Tina Sfondeles
2015 Governor’s Dinner menu