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Ann Mary (Cherrington) Stevens

Photo of Ann Mary (Cherrington) Stevens
19291978
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Community Activism, Role Model, Volunteering

Biography

Ann Stevens was born Sept. 20, 1929, in Denver, Colo. and was adopted by a distinguished Denver couple, Dr. Ben Cherrington and wife Edith. Dr. Cherrington was a college professor who served as chancellor of the University of Denver. He was invited to Washington, D.C., in 1938 by Secretary Cordell Hull to head the Division of Cultural Relations of the State Department; and in 1945 Dr. Cherrington was asked to be an advisor to the U.S. government in San Francisco when the United Nations was chartered. There, he authored the provision setting up the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO.

Stevens learned much from her father regarding the duties of public service and diplomacy, and during her youth spent some time living in Bethesda, Md., while Dr. Cherrington served in nearby Washington, D.C… She graduated from high school in 1946 at the age of 15, and, when it came time for her to choose a college, Stevens selected the progressive Reed College in Portland, Ore., where she majored in political science and international affairs.

After graduating from college, Stevens moved to Washington, D.C. to work for State Department’s United Nations Affairs Office in the Foreign Service Officer Division. It was during this time that Stevens met a young lawyer who worked at the Department of Interior named Ted Stevens. They were married in Denver on March 29, 1952, and then returned to Washington, D.C. The following year the couple moved to Alaska. Shortly after their arrival, Ted Stevens was asked to serve as U.S. Attorney for Fairbanks, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 30, 1954.

In Fairbanks Stevens began the full time job of raising children. Three children, Susan, Beth and Walter, were born. In a 1978 article written shortly after Stevens’ death, Fairbanks resident Mary Elizabeth Lomen remembered when the Stevens’ first arrived in Fairbanks. “We knew them when they first came here. She was lots of fun. She was always so natural. She was just Ann.

In 1956, after three years in Fairbanks, Ted Stevens was appointed to be legislative counsel and solicitor in the Department of Interior and the family returned to Washington, D.C. Once Alaska gained statehood the family, with two more children, Ted Jr. and Ben, returned north, this time settling in Anchorage in 1960.

Once settled and while her husband pursued his legal and political interests, Stevens pursued interests of her own. She served as a director for the American Red Cross from 1961 to 1963. When her children became active in Girl Scouts, Stevens also became involved as a troop leader and was active in scouting from 1962 to 1966. She became a participant in the Salvation Army as well, actively volunteering her services from 1963 to 1966. Stevens joined The League of Women Voters. As volunteers, Stevens and League members researched candidates’ backgrounds and provided an objective view of individuals running for office. In addition, campaign issues were researched with information provided to voters in voter information brochures and pamphlets prior to an election. Another project Stevens and League members worked on in the early days of Statehood was a study of how to implement local government after Alaska became a state.

When the Great Alaska Earthquake struck Southcentral Alaska in March 1964, Ted Stevens was named chairman of the Red Cross Disaster Committee. Ted once reflected that he “… may have been the chairman, but Ann was the volunteer,” who worked tirelessly along with many others to help those devastated by the earthquake. Stevens also participated in the Red Cross response to the 1967 Fairbanks flood, the worst disaster in the history of that city. According to Red Cross literature, Stevens “… worked in mass care, completely relocating a boy’s school from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Later in Washington, she was amazed to hear the National Director of Disaster Services say that mass care was normally a four-month course. Ann told him her training had taken about 30 minutes.” Stevens’ last job with the Southcentral chapter was as chairman of volunteers.

Stevens’ other interests at this time included the World Affairs Council, coordinating Rotary events with other wives of Rotarians, then called “Rotary Anns”, and serving as vice-chair on a committee that was supporting Anchorage Unification efforts in the mid-70s with neighbor Frank Reed.

In addition to raising her family and her active participation as a community volunteer; her return to Alaska also was the beginning of another career that Stevens shared with her husband – politics. It began in 1962 when her husband ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate, and continued with a successful bid for a seat in the Alaska State House in 1964, a seat in which he served until 1968. During the legislative sessions, Stevens and the children would move to Juneau where she ran the household and organized the family. Stevens and other legislators’ wives managed families but also made time to sit in the gallery to keep abreast of important legislation during the first years of statehood.

Stevens developed a reputation as a tireless campaigner for her husband, becoming a favorite among Alaskans wherever she campaigned. During her husband’s 1968 campaign for statewide office, Stevens was given an honorary chauffeur’s license by Teamster head, Jesse L. Carr, when she decided to drive around the state campaigning for her husband in a motor home named “Stevens Steamer.” Stevens and the five children hauled campaign materials and traveled the state for months visiting every town on the road and marine highway systems that could manage the “Steamer.”

Although Ted lost the 1968 campaign, he was appointed to the seat vacated by the death of Senator E.L. “Bob” Bartlett; in January 1969 the Stevens family packed and headed back once again to Washington, D.C., where Ann Stevens assumed the role and duties of an active Senate wife. She soon joined the Red Cross Senate ladies in a program she called “bandage flapping.” Every Tuesday the senators’ wives met and prepared a special compress used in cancer operations. “I thought it would be World War I stuff,” Stevens said later, “but it’s one way I know to get acquainted.” And get acquainted she did. “She was well known by the wives, and she was very well liked,” reported the Anchorage Daily News Washington correspondent in 1978. Stevens formed close friendships with other Senate wives, regardless of their husbands’ political parties. Stevens, along with her close friend Rose Blakely, eventually formed two successful businesses in the Washington, D.C. area with other Washington wives. Elizabeth Dole, wife of former Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, and a former president of the American Red Cross, once remembered her friend Ann Stevens as “the epitome of today’s accomplished woman, full of life and full of joy.”

At their home Stevens was down to earth, and in welcoming everyone to their home, she could put everyone at ease. She was well known for her “hamburger noodle bake” and for cooking fresh salmon in her dishwasher. Her informal entertaining was a legend in the capital. If time was short, and number of guests large, she had been known to bring home buckets of fried chicken “and serve them with aplomb,” she once said. Besides hosting visitors to their home, Stevens would cook lunch for the senators’ Wednesday meetings with the Senate leadership, and oftentimes included Alaska salmon. A secretary to one of the other senators said her boss and others used to serve deli sandwiches, while Senator Stevens was spoiling them with Alaska salmon. Stevens welcomed Alaskans into their home, and always found extra room in her home to help a fellow Alaskan.

She served as a mentor and guide to the young Alaska staff members living in a big city far from home and had a special impact on many of the young Alaska women she met. One of former Governor Mike Stepovich’s daughters, Toni Gore, recalls Stevens had a caring, committed and outgoing nature along with a great sense of humor.

Stevens was a steadfast advocate for women’s involvement in public service and for opportunities and education for women. Stevens returned to Alaska from Washington, D.C. often, and she hosted large luncheons in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau exclusively for groups of Alaska’s women. At these gatherings, she would talk about life in Washington, D.C. and answer questions about national and state issues. These functions were well attended, and women young and old enjoyed hearing insider information about the goings-on in the Senate and in Washington, D.C.

Another example of Stevens’ interest was involving young women in important policy issues and helping mentor them, is one remembered by Gore of Stevens taking her and her sisters, Andrea and Melissa, to the U.S. Senate’s family gallery to witness the historic tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Spiro Agnew to approve the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973. Stevens wanted to share this important moment with young Alaskans.

For almost 10 years, beginning in 1968, Stevens would travel extensively across the state. An article in the Anchorage Times put it this way: “Ann Stevens, petite, blond, unaffected and unpretentious, has traveled the state for weeks at a time, ever since her husband’s appointment to the U.S. Senate … In cities and villages from Petersburg to Barrow, she has slept on the floors of homes when beds weren’t available, taken potluck with whalers, held an infant while its mother sewed sealskins in a home lit by candles …. and crawled into sleeping bags in trappers’ cabins.” Her down-to-earth quality combined with a respect for every individual she met, endeared her to people from all walks of life across the Last Frontier. Not surprisingly, Stevens had the same effect on national and international dignitaries she met over the years. Archbishop Francis Hurley said of her, “She moved easily and graciously among national and international leaders but with equal ease and grace among those from whom she came…. “

Stevens also took great pride and pleasure at being invited by the Eskimo community in Barrow and Wainwright to join them on their yearly whale hunts. “I’d be devastated if they forgot to invite me,” Stevens said in 1977 after helping the villagers pull in a whale on the ice near Wainwright.

For much of the 1978 campaign season, Stevens was the primary campaigner for her husband’s re-election. Ted Stevens spent much of that year in Washington, D.C. leading the charge in the debate on the Alaska land’s bill, and much of the credit for his runaway victory was given to his wife’s vigorous campaigning on his behalf. Stevens spent election night in Anchorage, calling her husband throughout the night as election results came in. She left for Washington, D.C. a few days later, telling friends she’d be back in three weeks.

Three weeks later, Stevens perished when the Lear jet she was riding in crashed while landing at the Anchorage (now Ted Stevens) International Airport.

The tributes from friends and admirers were many. Among them, Joe Josephson, who wrote: “By all evidence…, Ann Stevens carved out a sensible and sensitive role. Probably no woman in Alaska history has met all of the challenges as the partner of a mate in public life with equal success, in each aspect of a well rounded life. She was wife, mother, friend, advisor, and businesswoman. She could organize her time, without losing spontaneity and spark, and without a trace of brusqueness. She was comfortable with the high and the mighty, and with ordinary folks.” He went on: “Although devoted to her husband’s Republican causes, she knew the limits for partisanship, and she understood that an incumbent serves all his constituents, regardless of party.”

Oliver Leavitt, a whaling captain from Barrow, eulogized Stevens with these stirring words: “Ann Stevens shared her life with us. She was a part of us, whether on a whale hunt or in the quiet of our homes. She understood the beauty and silence of the ice….. her eyes would sparkle with the capture of a whale as she joined in the work and enthusiasm of an entire community harvesting its subsistence. She reflected the spirit of our dance, of feasts and festivals. She also understood the dramatic change that we, as a people, are experiencing and was most helpful in translating that change to ourselves and to the world that she knew. The same person hosted us and helped us feel at home in the much different atmosphere and complexity of our nation’s capitol.”

This was Ann Stevens, a woman who possessed many personal qualities regarded as characteristically “Alaskan.” She was independent, versatile and intelligent. Stevens was comfortable in any setting, whether as a hostess in Washington, D.C. working long hours on a political campaign, or doing volunteer work to aid those in need. She was a caring mentor and positive role model for Alaska women of all ages. That special blend of Alaska independence, trust and genuine concern for Alaska and her people, endeared Stevens to the hearts of many on whom she has left a permanent impression.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/4TaHe6vS5v4

Resources

Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Times, December 5–10, 1978

Fairbanks Daily News Miner, December 5-10, 1978

Rocky Mountain News, December 06, 1978

Dr. Ben M. Cherrington Obituary, Washington Post, May 05, 1980

Dr. Ben M. Cherrington Obituary, Denver Post, May 3-8, 1980

American Red Cross, South Central Alaska Chapter Materials, 1979 and 1998

Anchorage Daily News, April 04, 1998

Version of Ann Stevens Biography penned by Barbara Andrews, 2014