When the longest-serving Republican Senator perished in a plane crash in August 2010, obituaries recalled the legislator’s Hoosier roots. Strongly identified with Alaska since the early 1950s, Ted Stevens had spent his formative years in Indiana.
The 40-year veteran of the US Senate was born in 1923 in a cottage built by his paternal grandfather in Indianapolis. The third of four children, Stevens’ early life was unstable. Though his family moved to Chicago when he was six, Stevens’ parents divorced there; and the children returned to Indianapolis, where they were taken in by their grandparents. Young Ted attended School Number 84, later attended by his friend and fellow Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
Ted’s father moved back to Indianapolis during the Depression. Although Stevens’ siblings eventually moved with their mother to California, Ted stayed to take care of his father, recovering from temporary blindness, and a developmentally disabled cousin. To help support the family, Ted delivered The Indianapolis Times, which he’d pick up at a site near 42nd Street and College Avenue. Later in life, he recalled the day in 1932 when the papers trumpeted news of the Lindberg kidnapping.
In the fall of 1938, Stevens enrolled in Shortridge, the academically illustrious Indianapolis high school. By December, however, financial woes forced his move to California, where he moved in with an aunt.
After distinguished service as a pilot during World War 2 and with a degree from Harvard Law School, Ted Stevens relocated in Alaska to work at a Fairbanks law firm, and went on to play a key role in the fight for Alaskan statehood, which was achieved in 1959. As Alaska’s Republican Senator from 1968 to 2009, Stevens was highly successful in passing legislation and securing federal funding to promote economic and social initiatives in the sparsely populated 49th state.
Though he was born in Indiana, Stevens’ death was more characteristic of his adopted state, where treacherous terrain and weather conditions make for challenging air travel. In 1978, Stevens survived a plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his first wife.