1950-1969 Elmer Edwin Rasmuson
The Early Years and Education
Elmer Edwin Rasmuson was born in Yakutat, Alaska, on February 15, 1909, to Swedish missionary teachers Edward Anton (1882-1949) and Jenny (Olson) Rasmuson (1880-1966). While serving as a missionary, Edward Anton studied law by correspondence, and was admitted to the Alaska Bar. He was appointed U.S. commissioner of Skagway in 1915 and became corporate counsel for the Bank of Alaska at Skagway in 1916. He was later named president of the bank, serving in that role until 1943.
Elmer and his older sister, Maud Evangeline, were raised in Skagway and his first job was as a janitor at the bank where his father worked. After he graduated in 1925 from Queen Anne High School in Seattle he worked at his father's bank for a year before leaving Alaska to attend the University of Washington. He transferred to Harvard University and in 1930 graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. In 1935 Rasmuson earned a master's degree from Harvard Business School and began his doctoral studies. The Great Depression forced a return to the world of business, this time in New York City. He became chief accountant for National Investors Corporation. Two years later he became an accountant for Arthur Andersen and Company working in the tax department until 1943 in the New Jersey, Houston, and New York offices.
While in college, Rasmuson spent his summers working in some of the Alaskan banks the family owned in Anchorage and Ketchikan. After completing his degree, Rasmuson returned to Alaska due to problems in the Cordova branch of Bank of Alaska; he managed the branch for a year.
Edward Anton Rasmuson's health was failing in 1943, so he urged his son to return to Alaska. He did, and was named president of the banks his father had run for 24 years. He moved the headquarters operations from Skagway to Anchorage before his father’s death in 1949.
A year after statehood, Rasmuson merged five Alaskan banks—Miners and Merchants Bank of Ketchikan, Bank of Wrangell, First Bank of Sitka, Bank of Homer and Bank of Kodiak—with the Bank of Alaska, which was renamed National Bank of Alaska. The merger gave NBA 16 offices around Alaska and total assets of about $60 million, making it the largest bank in the state.
On October 27, 1939, Elmer Rasmuson married Lile Vivian Bernard. Lile and Elmer had three children: Edward Bernard, Lile Muchmore, and Judy Ann.
On April 30, 1960, Lile died after a long battle with cancer at the Memorial Hospital in New York City. She had been active in community affairs such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. She was 48 years old.
Late in 1960, Rasmuson met Col. Mary Louise Milligan, Director of the Women's Army Corps, at a conference for civilian aides. They were married on November 4, 1961. She retired from the military in July 1962 after twenty years of service.
Settling in Anchorage in 1949, Rasmuson quickly began what would be decades of public service dedicated to the people of Alaska. He served as the director of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce from 1944 to 1946; as an Anchorage city councilman in 1945; and as chairman for the Anchorage City Planning Commission from 1950 to 1953.
In 1950, Rasmuson was appointed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents (succeeding Austin "Cap" Lathrop after his death) and served as president from 1956 to 1968. He retired from the board in 1969.
Rasmuson had a lifelong commitment to education, and particularly libraries. He helped found the Heritage Library (now located in the Wells Fargo headquarters in Anchorage), libraries in rural Alaska, and the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks which opened in 1970 and was named by the Board of Regents in honor of his many years of service to the university. That year at commencement he was awarded an honorary degree. He was the commencement speaker and was given the first UA President’s Medal of Excellence.
In 1955, Rasmuson became the Swedish vice-consul in Alaska, then consul in 1967. His duties included settling estates of Swedish nationals who died in Alaska, handling absentee ballots and aiding in the processing of visas. The King of Sweden made him a Knight 1st Class, Royal Order of Vasa in 1966 and in 1977 he was awarded the Royal Order of the Northern Star. His business and public affairs duties caused him to resign that year.
Rasmuson was appointed as a civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army from 1959 until 1967 served under five secretaries.
On March 27, 1964, The Good Friday Earthquake leveled the city of Anchorage. There was serious discussion of abandoning Anchorage altogether. Dismayed by what he considered a disorganized response to the great earthquake, Rasmuson ran and was elected mayor of Anchorage. By 1965, Anchorage was recovering and slowly returning to normal. Rasmuson served until 1967, overseeing much of the reconstruction of the city.
In 1968, Rasmuson ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and beat his competition, Ted Stevens, but then lost in the general election to Democrat Mike Gravel. That same year, Bob Bartlett, Alaska’s other senator, died and it was assumed that Governor Wally Hickel would appoint Rasmuson to the seat. Instead, Hickel gave the job to Stevens, who held the position until 2009.
On October 30, 1969, President Nixon appointed Rasmuson to the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission. He served until 1979.
He remained active in his civil affairs until his death.
His Legacy and Rasmuson Foundation
In 1955, he and his mother, Jenny, established Rasmuson Foundation in order that Jenny’s estate support charity and in honor of her late husband Edward Anton. The foundation quickly grew and, together with the Loussac Foundation, focused their grants on capital items within the state of Alaska. Then as now, the founders believed that operating costs should be taken on by the recipient organization. Elmer continued to contribute to the foundation during his life including a $40 million gift in 1999 and, upon his death in 2000, through his estate. Eventually the foundation outgrew its relationship with National Bank of Alaska and became the independent private foundation it is today.
Rasmuson's legacy reflects his commitment to the university. With funds made available by him and his Rasmuson Foundation, the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library Alaska and Polar Regions Collections department expanded in the early 1970s and then again when the library was renovated in 1984. He contributed to documenting and preserving hundreds of movies about Alaska and funded the creation of the Rasmuson Fisheries Research Center.
Elmer Rasmuson died on December 1, 2000. His support of the intellectual life of Alaskans continues through his legacy gifts and funding from Rasmuson Foundation. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News in 1999, he said “We need to step up recording our oral histories. Up at the University (in Fairbanks) we have boxes of film, motion and stills, and diaries that need to be collated,” he said.
UA Site named after Elmer Rasmuson
Elmer Rasmuson is also mentioned in these articles
Public Service: An Added Dimension, Fairbanks Flood 1967, Part 2
UA Honorary Degree Recipient (1970)
90 Years, $90 Million: Rasmuson donates stock, Anchorage Daily News, February 16, 1999
Dedication of Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, May 3, 1970
Elmer Rasmuson A Life of Service: The Papers of Elmer E. Rasmuson (1909-2000)
The Elmer E. Rasmuson Alaska Film Archives has posted five short clips of Elmer Rasmuson speaking on education, the University of Alaska, Arctic research and the UAF Rasmuson Fisheries Research Center.
Patriarch Passes, Anchorage Daily News, December 3, 2000
University of Alaska, Alaska Seas and Coasts Volume 7, Number 1, February - March 1979 Bullish for Fish
Alaska Business, January 1984