The fourth Saturday of this month was much more than just a warm sunny day in the capital city. It was the first annual day set aside to honor the late senator who changed the landscape of a territory, and Alaskans throughout the resulting state celebrated Ted Stevens Day.
Stevens was a senator for 40 years, representing Alaska in the U.S. Senate from 1968 until 2009. He was revered for bringing home billions of dollars in federal money and projects to the state and was the longest-serving Republican senator in history. He died Aug. 9, 2010 in a plane crash in southwest Alaska.
Juneau citizens danced at Sandy Beach, threw Frisbees, barbecued hotdogs and salmon, walked along the Gastineau Channel’s edges, hiked through forests and climbed mountains — just as the late Ted Stevens might have done and did love to do.
“Ted was a great guy and I am a good Republican,” Patrick Owen said as he tended to hotdogs on a grill. “I worked in his campaign. Many don’t know how humorous he was, but most of the time there was so much work to do. We will never get another senator like him.”
Amidst photos of Stevens looking on as President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, and Stevens in football uniform, his admirers milled about.
“I worked with Ted on the steering committee back in the day,” Paulette Simpson said. “There was always that sense that Ted Stevens cared about everyday Alaskans.”
“He was my senator my whole life,” Juneau resident and attorney Ben Brown said. “I got to work for him while at law school in North East Boston. I got to watch what he did and appreciate him first hand.”
For Catholic Community Services Executive Director Rosemary Hagevig the day is bittersweet.
“Senator Stevens was a wonderful supporter and partner for a lot of our programs,” Hagevig said. “Particularly for families, children, and seniors. Unfortunately we are finishing up our last round of Senator Stevens funding assistance in September. He paid close attention to the needs of Alaskans.”
Many shared personal stories of Stevens. One mentioned the Oktoberfest where Stevens went up to the top of the tram just to hang out with people. Another told of Stevens’ passion for ice cream and treating his staff at McDonalds.
Tlingit carver and ivory worker David Davis said, “He did a lot of work for the native people and saw to it that the natives were taken care of.”
On April 22, 2011, Gov. Sean Parnell signed into law House Bill 101, a bill that forever designates the fourth Saturday of every July as Ted Stevens Day.
“I am honored to sign this bill establishing the fourth Saturday of every July as Ted Stevens Day,” Parnell said at the signing. “Sen. Stevens’ life was defined by his lifelong dedication to Alaska and her people. His service to Alaska spanned six decades and touched thousands of lives. Sen. Stevens made our state a better place – and his legacy will continue offering hope and opportunity to future generations.”
The bill, sponsored by the House Rules Committee, was officially introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 18.
The original legislation would have designated Ted Stevens Day in November, on his birthday, but his family asked that it be moved to July, because that’s when he returned to Alaska and would spend time hiking, or fishing or enjoying the great outdoors and showing Outsiders around the state.
As the measure made its way through the committee process, it was carried by committee chairman, Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage.
“It seems only right and fitting that we should honor Sen. Stevens with a day of remembrance and celebration when Alaska’s great outdoors is in full bloom,” Johnson said. “Amidst unparalleled beauty from majestic fjords and mountain peaks to salmon streams and fish camps, Alaskans will pause and remember this Great Alaskan — who was as grand as any who have come before, or any who will ever come again.”
The Legislature unanimously passed the bill. During the floor vote on the bill in the House, many members used the opportunity to eulogize Stevens, praising his contributions to the state.
“Sen. Stevens played hard,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “And worked even harder. He began working in Alaska long before statehood. When he came here to Washington, D.C., to represent us in the Senate, he fought for Alaska every single day for forty years. It’s not a stretch to say nearly every inch of road, building or pipe in the state bears his imprint; along with programs that keep us healthy, protect our fisheries, and educate our children.”
Murkowski stated that Stevens was Alaska’s founding father, the Alaskan of the 20th Century, and a legend lost nearly a year ago.
“He built Alaska,” Murkowski said. “Ted was Alaska. And we all miss him.”
Gov. Parnell hosted a picnic at the Anchorage Park Strip that included a booth in honor of Stevens.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich released a statement saying it was absolutely appropriate that Alaskans take a day in the beautiful Alaska summer to honor Stevens, “Sen. Stevens loved the outdoors and we can all honor him by enjoying the many opportunities we have here.”
In the Mat-Su Valley, hundreds gathered at Janet Kincaid’s on Finger Lake for a family picnic. On the Peninsula, throngs of music lovers gathered at Soldotna Creek Park for “Ted Stevens Concert in the Park with Hobo Jim and Troubadour North.”
In Girdwood a community walk was held on the Winner Creek Trail.
Fairbanks unveiled an exhibit at the Senator Ted Stevens Gallery inside the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The exhibit is titled “Ted Stevens and Alaska Statehood: The Process and the Passion.” A public celebration called “Jazz on the river,” featuring a live jazz band, was held at the Alaska regional native corporation headquarters of Doyon Limited in downtown Fairbanks on the banks of the Chena River.
Sen. Stevens’ grave is at Arlington National Cemetery. A headstone is still under construction for future delivery.
Congressman Don Young wrote on his Facebook page Saturday morning, “I hope you’re all enjoying Ted Stevens Day. Ted was a great man and dear friend of mine who accomplished so much for our state. I encourage you all to get outside and enjoy this beautiful day!”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.