Mike Stepovich

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Mike Stepovich
Governor of Alaska Territory
In office
April 12, 1957 – August 1, 1958
Lieutenant Waino Hendrickson
Preceded by Waino Hendrickson (Acting)
Succeeded by Waino Hendrickson (Acting)
Personal details
Born Michael Anthony Stepovich
(1919-03-12)March 12, 1919
Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.
Died February 14, 2014(2014-02-14) (aged 94)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Matilda Baricevic
Alma mater University of Portland
Gonzaga University
University of Notre Dame
Religion Roman Catholic[1]

Michael Anthony "Mike" Stepovich (March 12, 1919 – February 14, 2014) was an American lawyer who, from 1957 to 1958, served as the last Governor of Alaska Territory. Following his education and military service during World War II, Stepovich established a law practice in his home town of Fairbanks, Alaska and began his political career by winning three terms in the Alaska Territorial legislature. During his term as governor, he was a leading advocate in the effort to gain statehood for Alaska. Following Alaska's admission to the union, he made an unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat and two unsuccessful attempts to be elected Governor of Alaska.

Background[edit]

Stepovich was born to Michael and Olga (Barta) Stepovich in Fairbanks, Alaska on March 12, 1919.[2] His parents divorced when he was 6 months old and his mother took him to Portland, Oregon.[3] There he was raised by his mother and stepfather. Stepovich was educated in parochial schools and Portland's Columbia Preparatory School before enrolling at the University of Portland in 1937. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1940 and from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Laws in 1943.[2]

After completing his law degree, Stepovich enlisted in the United States Navy and was assigned to Camp Parks' legal office.[2] After three-and-a-half years of military service, he was discharged as a yeoman third class. Following his discharge in 1947, he returned to Portland for a short time to court his future wife before moving to Fairbanks, Alaska. In Fairbanks he took his bar examination and was appointed city attorney by the end of the year and establishing a private practice.[3] Stepovich married Matilda Baricevic in November 1947. The marriage produced thirteen children: Antonia, Maria, Michael, Peter, Christopher, Dominic, Theodore, Nicholas, James, Laura, Nada, Andrea and Melissa.[2] Through Nada, Stepovich became the father-in-law of former NBA player John Stockton.[4]

Stepovich began his political career in 1950 when, running as a Republican, he won a seat in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives.[3] Two year later he advanced to take a seat in the Alaska Territorial Senate.[5] He remained in the senate for two terms, becoming the minority leader in 1955.[2]

Governorship[edit]

Stepovich (bottom, second from right) celebrating Alaska becoming a state, January 3, 1959

The appointment of Stepovich as Governor of Alaska Territory came as a result of a recommendation by US Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton. Seaton had traveled to the territory to interview potential candidates following the resignation of Governor B. Frank Heintzleman.[3][6] While the Fairbanks attorney had not applied for the position, Seaton was still impressed by him.[3] President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Stepovich for the position on May 9, 1957 and he took office on June 5 as the territory's first native-born governor.[2][6]

Much of the new governor's term was spent lobbying for Alaskan statehood.[2] In this effort he traveled widely through the Continental United States speaking and giving interviews on behalf of the territory.[7] His efforts even included a January 19, 1958 appearance on the game show What's My Line?.[8]

President Eisenhower signed the Alaskan Statehood Bill on July 7, 1958. Following this event, Stepovich issued a proclamation setting the dates for primary and general elections to determine officeholders for the new state.[2] The Territorial Governor then resigned on August 1, 1958 to run for a seat in the United States Senate. Following his departure, Territorial Secretary Waino Edward Hendrickson succeeded as Acting Governor.[9]

Later life[edit]

Stepovich's bid for a United States Senate seat was unsuccessful, with the former governor losing to Ernest Gruening during a November 1958 special election.[10] Despite the loss, he remained active in Alaskan politics for several more years. In 1960, Stepovich campaigned against a ballot initiative to move the state capital from Juneau to Anchorage.[11] This was followed by a 1962 run for Governor of Alaska were Stepovich suffered a close loss to incumbent William Allen Egan.[12][13] The former governor's final campaign came in 1966 when he lost to Wally Hickel during the 1966 Republican primary election for Governor of Alaska.[14]

Following his unsuccessful senate run, Stepovich returned to his legal practice in Fairbanks.[2] He remained there until 1978 when he and his wife relocated to Medford, Oregon.[7] Despite the move, the former governor still maintained his legal residence in Fairbanks.[2] On November 25, 2003, Stepovich's wife, Matilda, died.[15] The former governor was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Alaska Fairbanks on May 10, 2009.[7] On May 9, 2013, he became the earliest serving US governor still living when Governor George M. Leader died at the age of 95.

While visiting his son in San Diego, California, Stepovich suffered a head injury as result of a fall.[16] He died on February 14, 2014 after spending six days in a hospital.[17] Stepovich's body was returned to Fairbanks, Alaska. A memorial service was held for him at Sacred Heart Cathedral on February 28, 2014 followed by burial at Birch Hill Cemetery.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Boom, Tony (February 18, 2014). "Medford man was last territorial Alaska governor". Mail Tribune. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McMullin, Thomas A.; Walker, David (1984). Biographical Directory of American Territorial Governors. Westport, CT: Meckler Publishing. pp. 25–6. ISBN 0-930466-11-X. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Alaska: Land of Beauty & Swat". Time LXXI (23). June 9, 1958. 
  4. ^ McCallum, Jack (April 25, 1988). "Not a Passing Fancy". Sports Illustrated 68 (17): 72–8. 
  5. ^ "First Homebred Governor Goes to Work in Alaska". Life 43 (6): 53–4, 56. August 5, 1957. 
  6. ^ a b "Stepovich Nominated As Alaska Governor". Ellensburg Daily Record. May 9, 1957. p. 1. 
  7. ^ a b c "Last living territorial governor honored at UAF". Anchorage Daily News. May 30, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Dec. 16: Big ice melt; polar bears find food on land; Stevens signs his desk; measuring snow by radar; century-old hardware store closes; Tlingit quarterback". Anchorage Daily News. December 16, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Alaska Governor Resigns for Race". New York Times. August 2, 1958. p. 8. 
  10. ^ Davies, Lawrence E. (November 27, 1958). "Alaska's Democrats Sweep Top Posts in First Election". New York Times. p. 1. 
  11. ^ Davies, Lawrence E. (August 7, 1960). "Alaska is Divided on Capital Shift". New York Times. p. 66. 
  12. ^ "Alaska Democrats Nominate Gov. Egan". New York Times. August 16, 1962. p. 8. 
  13. ^ "Alaska Posts Won by Egan and Rivers". New York Times. November 9, 1962. p. 38. 
  14. ^ Davies, Lawrence E. (October 23, 1966). "Egan Faces a Close Fight for Re-election as Governor of Alaska". New York Times. p. 78. 
  15. ^ "Obituaries". Anchorage Daily News. November 30, 2003. p. B7. 
  16. ^ "Former Alaska territorial governor injured in fall". San Jose Mercury News. Associated Press. February 13, 2014. 
  17. ^ Richardson, Jeff (February 14, 2014). "Alaska Territorial Gov. Stepovich dies at age 94". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 
  18. ^ Richardson, Jeff (February 28, 2014). "Family, friends say goodbye to Alaska territorial Gov. Stepovich". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Waino Hendrickson
Acting
Governor of Alaska
1957–1958
Succeeded by
Waino Hendrickson
Acting
Party political offices
New seat Republican nominee for Senator from Alaska
(Class 3)

1958
Succeeded by
Ted Stevens
Preceded by
John Butrovich
Republican nominee for Governor of Alaska
1962
Succeeded by
Wally Hickel
Honorary titles
Preceded by
George Leader
Earliest Serving Governor Still Living
2013–2014
Succeeded by
John Patterson