Bringing Juneau’s annual holiday village to life is a labor of love for Sam Adams. But, an upcoming move to the Lower 48 means that this is likely her last year on the job —but not necessarily the last season for the village.
Each November since 2014, Adams has volunteered her time to set up a collection that includes thousands of miniature, holiday-themed buildings complete with small, festive figurines in a locally donated space. Because of her work, Juneauites can stroll through and see a jolly collection of holiday-themed neighborhoods bathed in light and rendered in ceramic.
The annual, season-long event, raises thousands of dollars for local charities.
“The holiday village brings me a lot of joy,” Adams said while getting a little choked up in a Monday morning phone interview with the Empire. “I started the collection when I was teaching pre-school and teaching about holiday traditions. It was a tradition my mom shared with me,” she said.
She said the collection had grown over the years through thrift store hunting, donations and sponsorships. For many local families, a visit to the display and a game of I-Spy in the exhibition had become a cherished holiday ritual, she said.
Adams said she wanted to make sure the tradition could continue after she leaves the area. So, she started looking for a partner organization that could offer the space and labor to set the display up each holiday season.
She didn’t have to search for long before Patsy Anderson-Dunn, who owns the Mendenhall Mall, offered to host the display.
“I talked to Patsy and she jumped on it right away,” Adams said.
Anderson-Dunn recently assumed ownership of the mall and has a long history with the property. Her parents built the mall, then sold it about 14 years ago. However, through a series of events in 2020, Anderson-Dunn is once again engaged in running the mall as the owner.
In an interview with the Empire last month, Anderson-Dunn said she is focusing on revitalizing the mall and that community activities are a vital element in her strategy.
“The Mendenhall Mall is happy to take it on. We’ve even joked about me flying me up to do it next year,” Adams laughed.
Raising money, making memories
Adams said that the event had raised more than $26,000 for local charities, including AWARE, the Glory Hall, Meals on Wheels, the Southeast Alaska Food Bank, Shop with a Cop and Juneau Alaska Music Matters.
“There’s no set fee,” Adams said.
She explained that donation boxes at the end of the display allow people to select which charity to donate to or take a pass and just enjoy the collection.
“People have the autonomy to choose,” she said, adding that charities often benefit from matching funds that increase the size of the donation.
Adams said she would miss seeing the people who come through to see the display and hearing the stories of how the collection reminds people of happy times with relatives. She said several of the pieces in the collection were donated by families in memories of loved ones who have died.
“There is so much sentiment attached to it,” Adams said. “People love it.”
Adams said she is looking for volunteers to work at the village so it can be open more hours and that she’d like to attract a group of people to help with future setup. Those interested can call or text her at (907)500-8525.