|9th Governor of Alaska Territory|
June 5, 1957 – August 1, 1958
|Preceded by||Waino Hendrickson (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||Waino Hendrickson (Acting)|
Michael Anthony Stepovich
March 12, 1919
Fairbanks, Territory of Alaska, U.S.
|Died||February 14, 2014 (aged 94)|
San Diego, California, U.S.
|Relations||Nicole Burdette (niece)|
John Stockton (son-in-law)
Michael Stockton (grandson)
David Stockton (grandson)
|Education||Gonzaga University (BA)|
University of Notre Dame (LLB)
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1943–1947|
|Rank||Yeoman (Third Class)|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Michael Anthony Stepovich (March 12, 1919 – February 14, 2014) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the last non-acting Governor of the Territory of Alaska. Stepovich served as Territorial Governor from 1957 to 1958, and Alaska was given U.S. statehood in 1959.
Stepovich was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew up in Portland, Oregon. His parents had immigrated to the United States from what is now Montenegro and Croatia in the late 19th century. Following his education and military service during World War II, Stepovich established a law practice in Fairbanks 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.
Stepovich was involved in public service for decades, ranging from his service in World War II to his post-statehood political career. He was a large part in the effort for obtaining Alaska Statehood, beginning with his appointment as governor in 1957.
Early life and education
Stepovich was born to a well-known Montenegrin miner father, Michael "Wise Mike" Stepovich, and a Croatian mother, Olga (from Sutivan, Brač), in Fairbanks, Alaska, on March 12, 1919. The Stijepovich family is one of the oldest families in Risan, today Montenegro. His father, originally called Marko, moved from there to the USA 1892. His parents divorced when he was 6 months old and his mother took him to Portland, Oregon, where 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.
After completing his law degree, Stepovich enlisted in the United States Navy and was assigned to Camp Parks' legal office. 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.
Stepovich began his political career in 1950 when, running as a Republican, he won a seat in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives. Two year later he advanced to take a seat in the Alaska Territorial Senate. He remained in the senate for two terms, becoming the minority leader in 1955.
Territorial Governor of Alaska
The appointment of Stepovich as Governor of Alaska Territory came as a result of a recommendation by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton. Seaton had traveled to the territory to interview potential candidates following the resignation of Governor B. Frank Heintzleman. While the Fairbanks attorney had not applied for the position, Seaton was still impressed by him. 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 non-acting governor.
Much of the new governor's term was spent lobbying for Alaskan statehood. In this effort he traveled widely through the Continental United States speaking and giving interviews on behalf of the territory. His efforts even included a January 19, 1958 appearance on the game show What's My Line?
Involvement in the Alaska Statehood Act
Stepovich was seated in the House Gallery when the House cast their votes on the Alaska Statehood Act. Upon its passage by the House, Stepovich would celebrate with Delegate E.L. "Bob" Bartlett, as well as New York Representative Leo W. O'Brien, and Pennsylvania Representative John Saylor. The bill passed, despite opposition from the powerful Chair of the Rules Committee, Virginia Representative Howard Smith & House Minority Leader Joe Martin. This was namely because of powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who was one of the most influential members of Congress, and heavily backed the Alaska Statehood Act, partially because Alaska was heavily Democratic. Cheers came from the streets of Alaska as the news came to the soon-to-be state, and an Alaskan native remarked "It's a good thing. I like to see it come on fine. I will enjoy my first vote for President."
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, setting the elections for November 25. 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.
Following his unsuccessful Senate run, Stepovich returned to his legal practice in Fairbanks. He remained there until 1978 when he and his wife relocated to Medford, Oregon. Despite the move, the former governor still maintained his legal residence in Fairbanks.
Personal life and family
On November 25, 2003, Stepovich's wife, Matilda, died.
While visiting his son in San Diego, California, Stepovich suffered a head injury as result of a fall. He died on February 14, 2014, after spending six days in a hospital. 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.
- "'Wise' Mike Stepovich." Alaska Mining Hall of Fame. Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation, n.d. Web. 11 June 2017.
- Karlo, Milan, and Helen Karlo-Vuckovich. Early Days: Serbian Settlers in America: Their Life and times. Tucson, AZ: Karlo, 1984. 70–71. Print.
- McMullin, Thomas A.; Walker, David (1984). Biographical Directory of American Territorial Governors. Westport, CT: Meckler Publishing. pp. 25–26. ISBN 0-930466-11-X.
- Vuka:Destiantion Alaska
- "Alaska: Land of Beauty & Swat". Time. Vol. LXXI, no. 23. June 9, 1958. Archived from the original on January 7, 2007.
- "First Homebred Governor Goes to Work in Alaska". Life. Vol. 43, no. 6. August 5, 1957. pp. 53–56.
- "Stepovich Nominated As Alaska Governor". Ellensburg Daily Record. May 9, 1957. p. 1.
- "Last living territorial governor honored at UAF". Anchorage Daily News. May 30, 2009. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011.
- "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. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011.
- What's My Line? – Ralph Bellamy; Ricardo Montalban (panel) (Jan 19, 1958)
- "Alaska Governor Resigns for Race". New York Times. August 2, 1958. p. 8.
- Davies, Lawrence E. (November 27, 1958). "Alaska's Democrats Sweep Top Posts in First Election". New York Times. p. 1.
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- "Alaska Posts Won by Egan and Rivers". New York Times. November 9, 1962. p. 38.
- Davies, Lawrence E. (October 23, 1966). "Egan Faces a Close Fight for Re-election as Governor of Alaska". New York Times. p. 78.
- McCallum, Jack (April 25, 1988). "Not a Passing Fancy". Sports Illustrated. Vol. 68, no. 17. pp. 72–78. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
- Yardley, William (2014-02-19). "Mike Stepovich, Who Led Alaska to Statehood, Dies at 94". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
- "Obituaries". Anchorage Daily News. November 30, 2003. p. B7.
- "Former Alaska territorial governor injured in fall". San Jose Mercury News. Associated Press. February 13, 2014.
- Richardson, Jeff (February 14, 2014). "Alaska Territorial Gov. Stepovich dies at age 94". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
- Richardson, Jeff (February 28, 2014). "Family, friends say goodbye to Alaska territorial Gov. Stepovich". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
- Mike Stepovich at 100 Years of Alaska's Legislature