ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The prospect of an overflow crowd did not stop thousands of Alaskans from paying their last respects to former Sen. Ted Stevens Wednesday at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, where they sat side-by-side with national dignitaries who had come to remember him.
Vice President Joe Biden and many other guests flew in from all across the country for Stevens’ memorial. At least 11 senators were on the guest list, including Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- and a very close friend of Stevens, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
Most of the state's current and former political figures were in attendance, as well as several thousand Alaskans who came to mourn Stevens. With no parking available at the temple, many parked at the Tikhatnu Commons mall in Muldoon and took a quiet shuttle bus ride over to the service.
Those guests who did not get a seat in the temple’s sanctuary, where the service was held, were seated in overflow rooms where they could watch the memorial on a display.
“I've known him for a long time,” said Mike Hunt, who paid his respects Thursday. “I've flown the Hump with him, I met him in Fairbanks when we were trying to promote the airline, he selected my son to go to West Point.”
Two of Stevens’ daughters came into one of the overflow rooms and profusely thanked the crowd for showing up. They said they were very sorry the gathering could not be seated in the sanctuary, but said that it really meant a lot to the Stevens family to see such a robust turnout.
Meanwhile, from a movie-theater screen to the Pioneer Home in Downtown Anchorage, there were many places across Anchorage where people who couldn't make it to the temple could still watch the service.
Regal Cinemas’ Tikahtnu Stadium 16 at the Tikahtnu Commons, had two theaters open free of charge for people to watch Stevens’ service.
A small crowd at the Pioneer Home said they were really touched by the eulogy, especially when Vice President Joe Biden spoke about how Stevens sought him out after Biden’s wife and daughter were killed.
“Since he knew the family so well, they had each lost their first wives,” said memorial viewer Louise Maakestad. “I guess it touched me emotionally how Sen. Stevens immediately reached out to him and in a very compassionate way, and to me that speaks very highly of a person in a very busy setting.”
“We've crossed paths with him at different things, and I was just saying in there, ‘Remember the time we saw him at the airport?’” said memorial viewer Bud Cunningham. “He was not to busy to stop and say hi.”
Contact Ted Land at firstname.lastname@example.org and Rebecca Palsha at email@example.com