- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - The bond between the sisters is quickly apparent.

It’s in the way they sit shoulder to shoulder on the sofa and lock onto each other’s gaze before they speak. Or how they nod and sometimes finish each other’s sentences.

The connection the Thune sisters have might be deeper than a traditional sisterly bond, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1vUqKS1 ) reported. You tend to pull together when your dad is a well-known politician in a state with a small population.

U.S. Sen. John Thune has been in public service for more than 20 years. His daughters, Brittany, 27, and Larissa, 24, grew up under public scrutiny.

The attention shaped their lives.

“People started to recognize us in the second campaign” for U.S. House, Brittany says. Although the girls were only in the first and third grades, they learned fast how to handle the attention.

“We were under a microscope,” she says.

Being on the public stage built confidence, says Brittany, who directly attributes her leadership abilities to being exposed to a variety of high-profile situations. “You develop great social skills.”

The sisters also got to know the state well and meet lots of people, Larissa adds. In addition to a range of performers, she says, “I’ve met four presidents, including the two Bushes, Clinton and Obama.”

However, Larissa was most star-struck by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born Jewish-American professor and author of 57 books including “Night,” a book based on his experiences as a prisoner in three concentration camps during World War II.

Another benefit of growing up in a political household? “You get to know the issues,” Larissa says.

And “you develop thick skin, which is going to help you in any career,” Brittany says.

Being on the campaign trail taught the kids how to handle rejection, says John, who recounts an incident during the 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate, on the Sunday before the election as they were canvassing a neighborhood near the Augustana College campus.

They came across a voter who shooed them off her property.

It was a hard-hitting campaign, and the girls were getting recognized around town after doing several light TV ads, Thune explains.

“Brittany thinks she’s going to win this lady over, so she goes back and tries to talk to her, and the lady yells at her,” he says. “Brittany came back saying, ‘I know why people don’t like you, but she’s supposed to love us!’ “

The family laughs again at the shared indignation.

The Thunes made the move to Washington, D.C., after John’s first U.S. House win in 1997. “Many families moved at that time,” says his wife, Kimberley. But they only stayed there for two years.

“The last fall we were there, John was back in South Dakota six weekends out of seven,” Kimberley says. So it made more sense to make their home in Sioux Falls instead.

Ultimately, it was one of the best decisions the family ever made, says Kimberley, a business development executive at Sanford Health Plan in Sioux Falls.

Not only do they have extended family around the area, but the proximity to the airport was a plus, Thune says.

Also, “we valued the Sioux Falls schools,” Kimberley says. “We wanted them to be South Dakota kids. It made sense.”

Despite the sisters’ experience handling the public, being a teenager isn’t any easier when everyone knows you. While the girls had wonderful mentors at Roosevelt, it was hard to be in high school when your dad had a high-profile job, the girls say.

Plus, “it’s difficult to hear negative things about your dad,” Brittany says.

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The effect of growing up in a political family was immense for the sisters, but both parents worked hard to normalize things. Brittany and Larissa acknowledge how much it helped to have their mom available when they got home from school and a dad who made family his priority.

“He answered every call,” Brittany says, even when it took him out of meetings in Washington.

“He also made an effort to watch me compete,” says Brittany, who was active in track in high school and college.

And “he read all our papers,” Larissa adds.

Watching their parents serve also had an emotional impact on the sisters because when a parent serves in the government, the family does, too, John says. “You pay a price. You miss events and daily contact with your family.”

Still, that service taught the sisters to care about what happens in the world outside their tiny sphere. It also forged an irrevocable connection.

“Few understand or know what it’s like to grow up the way we did,” Brittany says. “This has created a unique bond between the two of us.

“We’ve always looked out for each other and are able to reflect and talk about things now that we are grown. She is by far my very best friend.”

They keep in touch regularly through phone and email, Larissa says. “We spent so much time together growing up and really understand each other and can relate to one another because of how we were raised.”

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Both girls chose to go to college out of state. Unhampered by public opinion, they found their own paths as their lives and relationship with each other blossomed.

Brittany went to Belmont University in Nashville and was focused on athletics, particularly track. She majored in business and now lives and works in Washington, D.C., as a fundraiser. She married Luke Lindberg, who works for IBM, in February.

Brittany, who ran competitively for eight years, still runs to stay fit and occasionally gets an itch to compete in a race. “I also enjoy music, particularly singing, playing guitar and song-writing,” she says.

Larissa went to Bethel University in St. Paul and majored in political science and history. She currently works in marketing at the University of Sioux Falls. She married Scott Hargens, who works at Avera McKennan Hospital, last year.

The couple works out together, preferring to exercise outside when the weather cooperates. “I also enjoy reading, writing and cooking,” Larissa says.

Neither woman rules out politics in the future. “We both feel as though we will always be involved in politics in some capacity given our upbringing. However, neither of us has any plans to seek office at this time,” Brittany says.

“What is inspiring about being around politics is the importance of service. It has inspired us to make service a part of our lives,” Larissa says.

“There’s something to be said for serving causes that are greater than yourself.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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