Although he was raised in relative poverty, living across the street from a county dump in East Los Angeles for much of his youth, Phillip J. Stevens counts himself among the fortunate American Indians.
For starters, he says, he was able to attend and graduate from UCLA's engineering school.
And then, after working for TRW for a dozen years, and collecting several patents in the field of rocket propulsion in the process, Stevens achieved his goal of starting his own company, Ultrasystems Inc. in Irvine.
Along the way, Stevens, who says he is 3/16 Sioux, began using the fruits of the entrepreneurial side of his life to help his fellow Indians.
He has been active in American Indian activities in Southern California for 18 years and now wants to expand his efforts by raising money for the Red Cloud Indian School on the Sioux Indian reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D.
"The American Indian is the most disadvantaged minority group in America," Stevens said. "They need a tremendous amount of help, and they are somewhat forgotten among all the rest of the needy people and causes in this country."
Stevens is co-chairman, along with singer-actress and part-Indian Connie Stevens (no relation), of a $200-a-plate dinner June 20 at the Irvine Hilton Towers that he hopes will raise as much as $100,000 for the 700-student school.
Stevens, who has spearheaded food and fund-raising drives on behalf of Orange County's 25,000 American Indians since setting up his business here in 1969, says that by targeting the Red Cloud school he hopes to break the cycle of unemployment and poverty with improved education for the Sioux children.
700 Sioux Attend
About 700 Sioux children attend the school, which was founded in 1888 by two Jesuit priests.
Citing statistics that show a staggering 85% unemployment rate on the reservation, Stevens says that education and job training that emphasizes technical and engineering skills can help reduce that level.
"The only way out of poverty and despair is through education," he says. "I want to help these children get degrees in science and technology areas. That's where the jobs are and that's what helped me get where I am today."
After spending a dozen years with TRW, finally as director of its Minuteman missile program, Stevens left and, with the aid of a Small Business Administration loan, opened Ultrasystems in 1969.
Initially patterned after the much larger Fluor Corp., Ultrasystems went after engineering and construction contracts for energy projects. The company now derives a substantial portion of its $200-million-a-year revenues from top-secret military projects that have cushioned it from the steep decline in energy-related construction projects.
'Symbol of Frustration'
Stevens says he became interested in the plight of the American Indian after reading of the Indian invasion and sit-in at Alcatraz, the presently unused federal prison in San Francisco Bay. "I viewed as the ultimate symbol of their frustration that they would do something like that," he says. "And I thought I could probably do something to help."
In the ensuing years, Stevens has acted as an adviser to other minority businesses through the Small Business Administration and has raised money from his employees for needy American Indian families.
The upcoming dinner will be highlighted by a program of tribal dancing featuring Sioux, Apache, Cherokee and Kiowa dancers. Television personalities Robert Conrad and Lorne Greene are also scheduled to appear.