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Governor, first lady host holiday open house

Juneauites meet state leaders, eat sweets at annual event

Posted: December 11, 2012 - 10:18pm
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Terry Vrabec, Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, serves cookies to Jeanne Murray and her son, Anderson, 3, as they wait outside of the Governor's House for his Open House on Tuesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Terry Vrabec, Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety, serves cookies to Jeanne Murray and her son, Anderson, 3, as they wait outside of the Governor's House for his Open House on Tuesday.

About 3,200 people attended the Governor’s Annual Christmas and Holiday Open House Tuesday, where they were greeted by Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy, members of the governor’s Cabinet, and an enviable spread of cookies, fudge, nuts, dried fruit and other treats.

The open house is an annual tradition at the Alaska Governor’s Mansion, which has been holding the event since 1913. It has only skipped two years since then, during World War II.

Sandy Parnell said preparations had been underway for the event “since November.” Volunteers with the Capital City Republican Women decorated the interior of the mansion, while Alaska Department of Administration staff hung lights and ribbons outside.

Kitchen staff were also hard at work in the days and hours before the open house. More than 24,000 cookies and 200 pounds of fudge and other goodies were prepared for the public.

“Literally, the kitchen was stacked to the ceiling with boxes of cookies the last couple days,” Sandy Parnell said.

The goodie options laid out in the remodeled dining room were scaled back somewhat from last year, according to Erika Fagerstrom, manager of the executive residence.

“Last year, we had more variety,” Fagerstrom said. “This year, we decided to have less variety, and we increased our fudge.”

Before guests began arriving, Gov. Parnell predicted a strong turnout.

“We usually have between 2,500 and 3,500 people,” Gov. Parnell said. “There was one year I think we were over 4,000, but it ranges. And we’ve got a great day outside, beautiful weather, so I expect we’ll have a good crowd today.”

It was a rare sunny winter day in downtown Juneau. Frozen snow and ice still caked many sidewalks, and patches of fog hung over parts of town, but the winds were calm and the skies were mostly clear.

There were 3,238 visitors, according to a count provided by spokeswoman Sharon Leighow — toward the high end of the range Gov. Parnell gave.

Some came because they had not been to the Governor’s Mansion in a while.

“The first time that I was here was back when (former Gov. Tony) Knowles was here,” said Bob McKernan. He added, “I haven’t been here in a while, and I just thought it would be a nice thing to see.”

Some came to mark a holiday tradition.

“Every other year,” Dan Hubert said of his open house attendance, as his two young sons admired gingerbread houses made by Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School students in the dining room. “It’s a pretty special event.”

And some came to see the student musicians, who regaled attendees with holiday music.

“I’ve been here several different times over the years, but my daughter is performing … with the (baritone) saxophone over here,” said Kate Campbell as her daughter Elle, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School, got ready to play.

The Alaska Governor’s Mansion celebrated its 100th year this summer with another open house. It was originally constructed in 1912, the same year that the Alaska Territory was organized and the Juneau Empire was founded.

The open house this year centered around a “Polar Express” theme. Children were handed “passes” for the “Polar Express,” which were punched by a “conductor” standing near a model train and village between the dining room and the library.

The Friends of the Alaska Governor’s Mansion Foundation also had a table to sell 100th anniversary commemorative ornaments and the new book “White House of the North: Stories from the Alaska Governor’s Mansion.” Proceeds will go toward renovation and upkeep of the century-old executive residence.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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