|Governor of Alaska|
June 5, 1957 – August 1, 1958
|Preceded by||Waino Hendrickson (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||Waino Hendrickson (Acting)|
Michael Anthony Stepovich
March 12, 1919
Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.
|Died||February 14, 2014 (aged 94)|
San Diego, California, U.S.
|Relations||Nicole Burdette (niece)|
John Stockton (son-in-law)
|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 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.
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 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?
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. 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.
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- Yardley, William (2014-02-19). "Mike Stepovich, Who Led Alaska to Statehood, Dies at 94". The New York Times (in American English). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
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- "Former Alaska territorial governor injured in fall". San Jose Mercury News. Associated Press. February 13, 2014.
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- Mike Stepovich at 100 Years of Alaska's Legislature