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Former Territorial Governor Stepovich Dies at 94

By Abby Hancock, Reporter (Social Issues, Youth Issues, and 2 Your Health), ahancock@ktuu.com
Published On: Feb 14 2014 05:32:00 PM AKST

By Reporter Abby Hancock.  (KTUU-TV)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska -

Former Alaska territorial Gov. Mike Stepovich has died at the age of 94.

His daughter, Antonia Stepovich Gore, tells The Associated Press that he died early Friday morning at a hospital in San Diego. He had been hospitalized since suffering head injuries in a fall last Saturday night.

His 13 children had gathered in San Diego to be with him after he was hospitalized.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced Friday that state flags will be lowered to half-staff, from Friday until Stepovich's funeral.

"Governor Stepovich was a strong, selfless figure," Parnell said in a statement. "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."

In a statement Friday morning, Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was "incredibly saddened" to hear of Stepovich's death, mourning the loss of the state's last territorial governor.

"Mike played a vital role in Alaska's admission to statehood, and for the 54 years that followed he occupied a prominent place on the public policy scene," Murkowski said. "Today we have lost another link to Alaska's territorial history and that leaves a huge hole in my heart."

Those who knew Stepovich say he will be remembered most as a pioneer for Alaska statehood.

"What I remember most about him is that devotion, how hard he worked to bring the issue of statehood to the fore and that meant travelling nationally a great deal," said Arliss Sturgulewski, former state senator. "He really worked hard on that issue and, I think, made a convert of Dwight Eisenhower."

Stepovich served in the territorial legislature for three terms before President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him territorial governor in 1957. He was determined to be the last, said Vic Fischer, Alaska Constitutional Convention delegate and friend of Stepovich for more than 60 years.

"He worked very hard to be the last territorial governor," said Fischer. "Mike will just be remembered as one of the people who made Alaska a state and unfortunately there are fewer and fewer of those. Mike lived the life of a good Alaskan."