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 »  Home  »  In Memoriam  »  Mike Stepovic, the Last Territorial Governor of Alaska dies on 14 February 2014 in San Diego
Mike Stepovic, the Last Territorial Governor of Alaska dies on 14 February 2014 in San Diego
By David Byler | Published  02/22/2014 | In Memoriam | Unrated
Mike Stepovic is remembered for bringing Alaska into the United States


Territorial Gov. Michael Stepovich's official portrait from the Anchorage Daily News Archive


According to son Michael Stepovich, his father Mike Stepovich fell at the home of Jim Stepovich, another son, where Mike injured his head and knee and broke a finger.  The Governor remained semi-concious after the fall for several days. (2) Antonia Gore, his eldest daughter, told the Assoiciate Press that Mike Stepovich died early Friday morning in a San Diego Hospital. Antonia said there were three things most important to her father "family, faith, and Alaska, and that could be in any order on any given day." (3)

In a statement from Juneau, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said: "Alaska has lost a true pioneer, Governor Stepovich was a strong, selfless figure. His love for our state is a great legacy that will endure for generations of Alaskans. A devout family man, the governor  will be missed and never forgotten. Sandy and I extend our deepest sympathy to his family and friends who we are keeping in our thoughts and prayers.” The Governor ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff until the funeral. (5)

On the 14th of February, Alaskan Senator Mark Begich said on his facebook page "Today Alaska lost an important figure in our fight for statehood with the passing of former Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich. He was the first person born in Alaska to hold the position."



Governor Stepovich receiving an honorary degree from the University of Alaska on 10 May 2010.  Photo from UA Fairbanks


Marko Stijepovic, Mike's father, had come from Risan in Boka Kotorska in the Adriatic to pack over the Chilikoot Trail to find gold. He staked a claim in 1903 at Fairbanks Creek. Marko Married Olga Barta in 1918 and about a year later Mike Stepovic was born on 12 March 1919 at St Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks.

Young Mike's parents soon divorced and Mike's mother returned to Portland with him where she later married again. Mike was educated in Catholic schools and in Portland's Columbia Preparatory School. He attended the University of Portland and 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.



Mike and Matilda Stepovich receiving polio vaccinations together.  Photo from the Anchorage Daily News archive.


Stepovich enlisted in the United States Navy and was discharged as a yeoman third class. Thereafter he returned to Portland where he courted the young Dalmatian born (6) Matilda Bariacevic whom he married in November 1947.(4)  The former first lady of Alaska died 25 November, 2003. She was 81. They had been married fifty-six years.

Before she died, she recalled how the Slavic prospectors would shout at her "Dalmatinka" and flip silver dollars into Antonia's stroller. This was Mike Stepovich's world - a world for which he worked to bring into the United States.





Mike Stepovich appeared on the cover of Time Magazine on 9 June 1958 with a totem pole with an oil derrick sitting on the top. The original painting that was used for the cover continues to hang in the Stepovich home. (3)



Mike Stepovich working to gain Statehood.  Photo from Crnagorci Sjeveru.


From 1950 Stepovich served three terms as a Republican in the Alaska Territorial Legislature before he was nominated by President Dwight Eisenhower as Territorial Governor May 9, 1957 He took office on June 5 as the territory's first native-born governor. After President Eisenhower signed the Alaskan Statehood Bill on July 7, 1958, Stepovich issued primary and general election proclamations and resigned the governorship. At the age of 38, Mike Stepovic had worked himself out of his job but in the process he had achieved his life's dream and his lasting legacy - Alaska Statehood.



Mike Stepovich standing between President Eisenhower and Secretary of the Interior Frederick Seaton, holding a copy of the Anchorage Times.  Photo from the Rasmussen Library University of Alaska Fairbanks


Sources:
(1) New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/us/mike-stepovich-led-alaska-to-statehood-dies-at-94.html?hpw&rref=obituaries&_r=0
(2) http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/former-alaska-territorial-gov-stepovich-badly-injured-in-fall/article_ebbb1ac4-945a-11e3-8d02-0017a43b2370.html
(3)http://bigstory.ap.org/article/former-alaska-territorial-governor-dies-94
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Stepovich?action=render
(5) http://gov.alaska.gov/parnell/press-room/full-press-release.html?pr=6737
(6) http://www.njegos.org/emigrants/heartland.htm
(7)http://books.google.com/books?id=3Fpnp3ZAB4sC&pg=PA230&lpg=PA230&ots=tU5d1kSPBm&focus=viewport&dq=Olga+(Barta)+Stepovich#v=onepage&q=Olga%20(Barta)%20Stepovich&f=false


Formatted for CROWN by   David Byler
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