Julie and Richard Folta help themselves to some of the 21,350 cookies prepared for the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. Richard Folta said his first visit to an open house hosted by the governor occurred many years before Alaska became a state in 1959. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Julie and Richard Folta help themselves to some of the 21,350 cookies prepared for the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. Richard Folta said his first visit to an open house hosted by the governor occurred many years before Alaska became a state in 1959. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Tens of thousands of cookies, decades of memories at governor’s Holiday Open House

Richard Folta says much has changed — but lots of food hasn’t — since his first visit before statehood.

Richard Folta says he first attended a holiday open house at the governor’s residence back when Ernest Henry Gruening was governor, years before statehood. A lot about the event has changed in the 70 or so years since — and some things not so much.

“There was lots of food,” said Folta, a retired attorney who moved back to Juneau a year ago after working throughout the state. However, outside “it was pretty sparse. There wasn’t much indication there was Christmas coming up.”

Folta returned Tuesday to this year’s Holiday Open House for the first time since before he got married around 1960. His wife, Julie, joined him for her first taste of the tens of thousands of cookies and other edibles available, along with a chance to meet Gov. Mike Dunleavy, hear music performed by local students, and see the elaborate lights and decorations on the exterior of the Governor’s Residence.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy greets Indiana Strong, 9, his sister Rozina, 4, and their grandmother Pauline during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy greets Indiana Strong, 9, his sister Rozina, 4, and their grandmother Pauline during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Richard Folta said he was the head of Juneau’s engineering department for three years before becoming an attorney and getting involved in work outside Juneau, thus resulting in the long gap between visits to the governor’s house. But he said his work on a case involving “abusive logging practices” in the mid-1970s captured the personal attention of at least one other governor, as then Gov. Jay Hammond “really blasted me, calling me a bad man.”

“It was a bad year for us,” Richard Folta said of the period that followed. Due to ongoing harassment they moved to the Pacific Rim region, living in Saipan and Yap for about a decade before returning to Alaska when “nobody knew who we were.”

“They did make some changes to the law, which is what we had wanted, ” he added.

Students from the Juneau Alaska Music Matters program perform holiday songs during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Students from the Juneau Alaska Music Matters program perform holiday songs during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The open houses were started by Territorial Governor Walter Eli Clark and his family on New Year’s Day 1913. The events have taken place every year since, apart from two years during World War II and in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Food served this year included 21,350 cookies, 79 pounds of toffee and brittle, 57 pounds of chocolate, 50 pounds of fudge, plus hot cider and other drinks, according to the governor’s office. Music was performed by students from the Juneau Alaska Music Matters program.

While the three-hour event was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., people were let in early due to heavy rain and wind outside, which also meant there were no lines during the first hour of the event.

“This is as bad as (the weather’s) ever been,” said Pauline Strong, who’s been coming to the open houses for the past decade, and was accompanied by her two grandchildren Indiana, 9, and Rozina, 4, this year.

Sawyer Jackson, 7, accepts a cookie from Julie Sande, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Sawyer Jackson, 7, accepts a cookie from Julie Sande, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, during the annual Holiday Open House at the Governor’s Residence on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

While visitors didn’t have to stand for long outdoors, the same wasn’t true for some of Dunleavy’s top appointees. Several of his department commissioners were standing outside the entrance of the Governor’s Residence offering cookies and cider to visitors hoping for a nibble before making it indoors.

“I just go where I’m told,” said Julie Sande, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, when asked how she got assigned to stand outside the door of the Governor’s Residence with a tray of cookies. “I’m a resident of Southeast so I can handle this weather.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

A crowd of early arrivals fill the Governor’s Residence during the annual Holiday Open House on Tuesday. While the event was scheduled to start at 3 p.m., people were let in early due to heavy rain and strong winds outside. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A crowd of early arrivals fill the Governor’s Residence during the annual Holiday Open House on Tuesday. While the event was scheduled to start at 3 p.m., people were let in early due to heavy rain and strong winds outside. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A handful of people cluster outside the Governor’s Residence during the annual Holiday Open House on Tuesday. Rain and wind meant short waits for most visitors wanting to get inside. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A handful of people cluster outside the Governor’s Residence during the annual Holiday Open House on Tuesday. Rain and wind meant short waits for most visitors wanting to get inside. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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