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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Alaska Governor's House ready for public

JUNEAU EMPIRE
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Gov. Sean Parnell and First Lady Sandy Parnell pose Monday for a photograph in the library, their favorite room of the Governor's House, with a portrait of William Henry Seward. It was Seward who as Secretary of State engineered the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia in an act that was ridiculed at the time as "Seward's Folly." The Parnells have overseen a major remodel of the official residence during their term and will help celebrate the House's centennial on Thursday. Their dog, Annie, is pictured with them.
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It’s been years in the making, but Gov. Sean Parnell and First Lady Sandy Parnell say the Alaska Governor’s House is ready for its most important birthday.

Thursday, current and former governors and first ladies will be at the house to celebrate the 100th birthday of what’s been home to the state’s top leaders all though statehood, and before that during territorial days.

“It really does represent Alaska — there’s a lot of history here,” said Parnell Monday.

Juneau residents will remember the house as being wrapped in Visqueen for seven months recently, but the payoff was a house that can now withstand the weather, Parnell said.

“We take our responsibility as a steward of the house very seriously, but it’s also a joy to be able to live here,” he said.

The house had extensive repairs in recent years, including plumbing during the Palin administration, electrical during the Sheffield administration, and the recent work on the outside of the house, including the columns out front.

The house’s centennial celebration Thursday will be held on the north lawn, and there will be tours of the first floor.

“It’s going to be an outdoor event, it’s not going to be like the Christmas open house were we are standing there receiving people,” Parnell said.

Former Gov. Bill Sheffield will speak, and there will also be remarks from Clark Gruening, a former Juneau state senator whose grandfather was governor from 1939 to 1953.

Others expected to attend are former Gov. Frank Murkowski and First Lady Nancy Murkowski.

Sen. Dennis Egan, who grew up in the house while his father, the late Bill Egan, was governor, said Monday he wished he could be there but will be in Alberta, Canada on state business.

“There’s such a great amount of history in that house,” he said.

Egan said he remembers fondly his days there, including such duties as serving as official door opener for Christmas parties, with a fish counter in hand to tally the number of guests.

“It was totally different back then, because the state, and the town were so much smaller,” he said.

The Parnells said they appreciate the welcome they received from Juneau residents, as well as the privacy they’ve been able to maintain despite being right in the middle of town.

“There’s always this tension between a residence and openness to the public,” he said. “We want it to be as open as possible, but we need it to be a family residence as well."

Only the first floor is open to the public.

Among the things visitors to the house will see Thursday is its new library, stocked with books about Alaska, compiled with the help of the Alaska State Library, said Sandy Parnell.

Among the books in the library is “The Alaska 67,” a book about the top 67 books about Alaska.

“It’s pretty tough to come up with a consensus on what are the top 67 books, because there’s thousands of books regarding Alaska, but this is kind of a neat book to have,” she said.

Looking down over the library is a portrait of William Seward, another of the most important people in Alaska’s history, though not a governor.

“I think about the politics of him making ‘Seward’s Folly’ a reality,” the governor said.

Among the books they’ve recently read were “Many Battles,” Ernest Gruening’s autobiography, by Sean, and “The Thousand Mile War” by Brian Garfield, the account of World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians, by Sandy.

The centennial celebration will run from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and will feature cookies, popcorn and lemonade, with music from the Alaska String Band, featuring the Zahasky Family.

Sandy said they’ve got tents ready, but the weather forecast looks promising.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com

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