Meeting the new governor

Murkowski's first open house draws crowd of 2,946 Alaskans

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

While the governor's annual open house is as much a tradition for some Juneau residents as a stuffed turkey or the Yule log, Tuesday night's reception also offered visitors a chance to shake the hand of the man who moved into the executive residence barely one week earlier.

Although most of the decorations were in place by the time the new first family moved in, Gov. Frank Murkowski said he and first lady Nancy Murkowski found a nativity scene in the attic of the Governor's House. They gave it prominent display on a piano in the ballroom.

Entertainers performed inside and outside the executive residence, and more than 32,000 holiday treats were served to the 2,946 people who attended.

"We try to make it each year, just to see the people and the decorations," said Velja Elstad, as she stood in line outside with her husband and two daughters.

"And to eat the food," chimed in Kirsten Elstad, 11.

"We have a new governor, too," Velja said. "I have to say hello."

Annie Elstad, a 14-year-old freshman at Juneau-Douglas High School, had an ulterior motive for attending the event: "It's a good excuse not to have to do homework."

Those waiting in line outside the Governor's House were served cookies and hot cider. Jeff Brown, the state's oft-designated Minister of Merriment, wore a top hat and performed magic tricks for children and adults waiting to get inside.

Under a heated tent outside the house, the holiday crowd was entertained by the Juneau Christian School Carolers, the Floyd Dryden Middle School Jazz Band, the Juneau-Douglas High School Brass Ensemble, the Glacier Valley Baptist Messengers, Victorian carolers and the Alaska Youth Choir.

As attendees entered the house, they were greeted by the Murkowskis and newly elected Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and his wife, Carolyn.

Past the reception room, the dining room spread displayed gingerbread houses made by Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School students. Guests also took their pick from thousands of pieces of homemade candy, cookies, tartlets and slices of assorted breads.

Punch and hot apple cider were served in the adjacent library.

"It's like liquid holiday cheer," said Juneau resident Matt Marinelli, as he handed a cup of cider to a friend.

Marinelli, who moved to Juneau from Chicago four months ago, marveled at the fact that the governor would open his residence to thousands of people.

"It's just such an interesting event, being from the Lower 48," Marinelli said.

Holiday musicians rotated in and out of the ballroom, opening with the Celebration Ringers, a group of 10 bell ringers and five elementary school choir singers from Resurrection Lutheran Church.

The Celebration Ringers delighted the crowd with holiday favorites such as "Jingle Bells," "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" and "One Small Child."

The Juneau-Douglas High School Instrumental Ensemble broke from the holiday tradition during its 20-minute set to play the Beatles classic "When I'm sixty-four."

"I remember when that song came out," said one of the visitors who filled the ballroom. "It seemed like it was a long way away."

Also performing at the open house was Top Cover Air Force Band of the Pacific, Ursa Major, Juneau Jubilee and Literacy Links Pre-school.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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