Janet Leath kicks off WinterFest with open house at the Knoll


Photo: Huiling Wu/Iowa State Daily

Janet Leath shakes hands with Spencer Vore, senior in accounting, right, while talking to him; Mary Hallman, senior in kinesiology and health; and Jake Swanson, junior in global resource systems, during an open house at the Knoll on Monday, Nov. 26. The university president’s wife prepared hot chocolate and desserts for guests as well as introduced the Knoll. 

Lissandra Villa

A tree, lights, decorations, cookies and hot chocolate helped transform the Knoll into a scene straight out of a Christmas movie as it received guests on WinterFest’s first night.

“It looks like something that should be off Pinterest,” said Erin Robinson, freshman in chemical engineering.

On Monday, Nov. 26, Steven and Janet Leath’s residence doors were open to everyone to tour the main level of their home and enjoy a cup of Knoll Hot Chocolate.

“I always love this hot chocolate because it’s a little different than most,” said Andy Luse, graduate student in business administration. “This stuff always tastes more authentic,” 

The rich hot chocolate’s not-so-secret recipe was available for guests to take home.

Luse also said he liked the new baby grand piano, a difference he noticed from the last time he’d attended the event.

He was not the only returning guest.

“My office comes here every year and [we have] our picture taken with the president’s wife, and we come for the hot chocolate,” said Rita Knight, who was attending the open house for her sixth year with other members of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “We were especially excited about the new furniture and the way it’s been decorated, just to see the touches that the new first lady has put on the house. It’s gorgeous. … We met Mrs. Leath, and she was charming,” 

Janet, the hostess, did a lot of the decorating herself, but she was not without help.

“Some interior design students did the wreath over the fireplace,” Janet said. “I had already done [some garland], but when I saw what they did compared to what I did, I took mine apart and redid it. … They served as my inspiration to do the rest of it. They set the bar really high. … They were wonderful.”

Janet said she had stayed up until two in the morning to finish decorating the eight and a half foot tree and had finished other details to the house throughout Monday as well.

The Leaths added personal touches to the decorating, including their 25-year-old Christmas cactus that sat next to the piano.

Stewart Burger, coordinator of special events, said that the Knoll Open House is a tradition that was started during Gregory Geoffroy’s reign as president.

Members of the President’s Leadership Class greeted guests and helped serve the hot chocolate and cookies.

Quill and Dixie, the Leaths’ dogs, were in the backyard, where they excitedly ran up to the fence whenever someone arrived.

The number of guests that attended was determined by the amount of hot chocolate served, which ended up being roughly 450 servings.

Sixty dozen cookies were also prepared.

“The cookies are a little different this year,” Luse said. “This year they tasted like the dutch letters, but in a cookie form. … They tasted awesome.”

The Knoll Open House is just one of many events happening at Iowa State this week for WinterFest.

“I think people seemed pleased to be able to see the house and have the famous hot chocolate,” Janet said.