Merry mansion: Parnell hosts holiday open house; gives Alaskans a Christmas pep talk

Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gov. Sean Parnell knows this year may be particularly tough for many families given the difficult economic times, so on Tuesday he wanted to be sure to wish Alaskans a merry Christmas and happy holiday season during the annual open house at the Governor's Mansion.

Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
First lady Sandy Parnell and Governor Sean Parnell look out their Juneau residence after the last guests have departed from the Governors Annual Christmas Open House Tuesday night.

"Most of us are holding our cash a little tighter, you know, spending more frugally," he said. "I just think it's a moment in time as Alaskans where we can gather together, face the wind together and do what our forbearers here have done for history, and that is work together for our economic growth and opportunity, understand that we're in this together and we are going to meet this challenge."

Parnell, along with his wife, Sandy, and two teenage daughters hosted the first holiday open house under his administration by greeting about 3,000 people at the executive mansion Tuesday. Hundreds of people waited patiently in a line snaking around the mansion as doors opened to the public at 3 p.m. with temperatures hovering in the mid-20s.

The Parnells said they are excited to spend their first Christmas as the first family in the historic mansion. The governor and his family are still settling into their new home in the capital. A moving truck is expected to bring more belongings to the capital from Anchorage later this month, the governor said.

"Being here will be a wonderful Christmas gift, in this beautiful home," Sandy Parnell said. "It's magical."

"We've got family coming and we are going to be spending the Christmas break here in Juneau," the governor said.

Clara Sperl, 90, said she tries to attend the annual open house each year and was glad to hear the governor and his family are relocating to Juneau.

"He said they are looking forward to moving here," she said. "I am happy to hear it."

Sperl said she thought the governor's staff did a wonderful job decorating the mansion this year.

"It's beautiful," she said.

The Parnells talked about childhood Christmas memories and holiday traditions during a press conference prior to the open house.

"There's always a discussion in the house about whether we just open one present on Christmas Eve or whether we have to wait," Sean Parnell said. "And we typically open one present on Christmas Eve and then open gifts as a family on Christmas morning."

The governor said he has been too busy to fill out his own Christmas list and told reporters he'd have to get back to them on that. However, he did recall a particularly favorite gift he received as a child that is bringing back fond memories this football season.

"My favorite gift was when I was 11 years old. I got a Minnesota Vikings helmet and football jersey, and given that this might be the first time they can go and win the Super Bowl, this is a good year," he said.

The first lady said she is excited to have her parents come from Oregon to spend Christmas at the mansion. She recalled Tuesday a favorite holiday vacation she took with her family as a child.

"One year when I was about 7 or 8, our family took a trip to Yellowstone National Park for Christmas. So we had ham sandwiches in the car I think for dinner, but we spent a beautiful few days in Yellowstone," she said.

Erika Fagerstrom, the executive residence manager and assistant to the first lady, said the open house is a long-standing tradition in the community since the mansion was built in 1912. The first open house was held in 1913, she said.

"This is the 97th year, and they just didn't have it for two years during World War II, for obvious reasons," Fagerstrom said.

Lifelong Juneau residents Koggie and Tom File said it was nice to see the new governor in Juneau.

"We're just happy to be in this position of serving Alaskans and look forward to more of it," the governor said during the press conference.

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