A day Juneau can be thankful for

Gov. Sean Parnell serves Thanksgiving dinner to community at the Hangar on the Wharf

Posted: Friday, November 27, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell woke up Thursday at the Governor's Mansion with one mission in mind: serving turkey at The Hangar on the Wharf with his family to "our new community." Thanksgiving meant something more for Parnell this year; marking his official transition to Juneau from Anchorage.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Quin Gist, 10, awoke in his modest Juneau home dreading another school day, but then he remembered it was Thanksgiving and ran downstairs to prepare as a volunteer server for the Salvation Army. Gist said he was excited about "getting to meet the governor and help people."

George Martin, 73, woke up Thursday morning thankful he survived another year.

"I sleep anywhere," he said. "I'm a Tlingit Native born and raised in Alaska. I fight ... to survive. I never lost. I do it my way."

Martin, who is homeless, was more concerned with having food to eat than meeting the governor. "I just want to eat," he said.

Martin didn't have to dress; he sleeps in his clothes. He pulled on his tattered shoes and balled up a plastic covering from the night. First light didn't warm or soothe his joints chilled by the rain that leaked inside his makeshift sleeping bag. He wandered downtown Juneau, stopping at the Glory Hole for hot coffee. Martin arrived an hour early to be first in line at the Salvation Army's 17th annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Hangar on the Wharf.

Martin watched as the 45 turkeys, smoked by Dick Hand of Alaska Seafood Company, started to arrive. Maui transplant Nick Clark carried in the Costco-donated pies and rolls. He listened as head chef and co-owner Ron Burns (along with Reecia Wilson and Rob Sanford) talked of keeping tradition alive. Burns said they hold the annual feast because they have the means to assist those less fortunate. Though Burns has never been homeless, he said helping others is gratifying.

Martin watched Parnell enter and was surprised to get a handshake from the state's top official. They talked inaudibly until Parnell is eventually overwhelmed by well-wishers. Parnell said the day was about giving thanks for the people who live and work in Juneau.

"We have begun the move to Juneau, we brought our first load of household goods here this weekend," he said. It's going to be a process through the next couple weeks, but we are going to be in Juneau for Thanksgiving and look forward to serving the great people here."

Salvation Army captains and ministers Jack and Dawn Smith say grace, followed by Parnell carving the first bit of turkey. Juneau Rep. Cathy Muñoz received the first bite. Muñoz, accompanied by daughter Mercedes, have participated in the event for many years.

"We're going to spend some time serving and snacking here and then we'll have some more dinner with friends later," Parnell said. "I love turkey and dressing. I love being around the table with family and friends. I love this."

Martin took his plate and sat down, as Hangar catering manager Tess Alrich gives thanks for another year of Juneau's community coming together.

"I hope you like the turkey as much as I do," Gist said as he handed water to Martin. Gist will tell his mother, Gina White, how much he likes helping people. For White, a 12-year volunteer at the Hangar, this holiday is poignant. Her brother, Brian, and his pregnant wife Jody died in a plane crash on Thanksgiving. Her other son, Jaxson, 3, will volunteer soon.

"I do this to honor them," she said. "It makes my day and makes Thanksgiving worth while."

Martin nods a hello to Tlingit elder Irene Lampe, 92. She has been to every one of the annual dinners. Lampe says the food is what she is most thankful for, and the gatherings.

More than 380 people went through the serving line inside the Hangar's dining room that looks out over the waterfront toward Douglas Island.

Martin poked his head into the kitchen to say thanks. Jerry Harmon, 68, has been carving turkeys for this benefit for 18 years, since it outgrew the church and moved to the hanger. His whole family comes to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Harmon's advice to those carving at home, "Don't carve over 40 turkeys."

A touch on Martin's shoulder has him pause. Parnell, while on his way out, wished him well.

"The best governor the state ever had was Bill Egan," Martin said. "When we became the biggest state in the union, he was right there with us. This Parnell character may just be the same sort of fellow."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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