Territorial governor remembered in Juneau
JUNEAU – There was a moment of silence on the House floor Friday after an announcement that former Gov. Mike Stepovich had died.
The silence was in sharp contrast to how lawmakers remembered him.
Words like boisterous, opinionated and passionate were used to describe him.
Sen. John Coghill, a Republican from North Pole, called Stepovich’s passing a milestone.
“Every generation is going to have their time and be gone,” Coghill said. “There’s a sadness to it. But there’s also a gladness. They did their part.”
Coghill said the state was lucky Stepovich had lived so many years, so there was time for Alaskans to ask him questions and seek his wisdom.
Stepovich’s family said he died from injuries due to a fall, just a few weeks shy of his 95th birthday.
Coghill said his father, Jack, was good friends with Stepovich, and it was hard to call him Friday and break the news about his death. Jack Coghill was lieutenant governor under Wally Hickel.
Coghill said the state has lost a lot of people recently who helped to build the state — and Alaskans are losing touch with a generation which wasn’t afraid to “think big and work boldly.”
Another Republican from the Interior, Sen. Click Bishop, said he will miss having a direct connection to Alaska history. Bishop said in recent years, the two had met for lunch.
Bishop said Stepovich was sharp for a man in his nineties and he enjoyed listening to his stories.
“In my opinion, you couldn’t write a better story about an Alaskan pioneer than Mike Stepovich.”
Stepovich had served in the Territorial Legislature and was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower to serve as territorial governor.
He was the first Alaskan to fill this role and literally became the face of Alaska’s battle for statehood after Time magazine put his picture on the cover.
Stepovich’s large family, which eventually numbered 13, also attracted media attention, perhaps because it was symbolic of a new and growing state.
Sen. Dennis Egan, a Juneau Democrat, remembers the Stepovich children well. When his father, Bill Egan, was elected governor, his family moved into the governor’s mansion.
Egan said he was accused of causing BB gun damage to a painting.
“I said, ‘don’t blame me. It had to be the Stepovich kids, because I didn’t do it,’” Egan insisted, almost as if he were a kid again.
The Stepovich family, with their youth and energy, made their mark.
Egan said his father and Stepovich disagreed, but were still good friends.
“Politics was different back then. You’d argue like crazy during Legislative sessions,” Egan said, “But you were best of friends at night. They all had different views, but they were working for the betterment of the territory back then and the state.’
Coghill said he believes Stepovich helped create enthusiasm for statehood.
“He was a big picture thinker, a little bit of a dreamer,” Coghill said. “And I think that dream helped make Alaska.”
Gov. Sean Parnell ordered the state flag to be lowered on Friday.
The family said services are pending.