Banker, philanthropist Elmer Rasmuson dies

Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Banker, philanthropist and Alaska pioneer Elmer E. Rasmuson died Friday night at a Seattle hospital. He was 91.

The son of missionary parents, Rasmuson rose to become mayor of Anchorage and chairman of National Bank of Alaska, the state's largest and oldest bank.

Besides business, Rasmuson was influential in politics and fisheries and was one of the state's most generous supporters of education, museums and libraries.

''He dedicated his life to Alaska and Alaskans,'' said U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, who once was hired by Rasmuson to be an NBA branch manager at Wrangell. ''He made a fortune in Alaska, stayed in the state, and invested his money in Alaska.''

''Elmer Rasmuson not only witnessed history, he helped make it as a businessman with an exceptional sense of civic pride, responsibility and dedication,'' Gov. Tony Knowles said.

University of Alaska Fairbanks history professor Terrance Cole, who collaborated with Rasmuson on a history of the bank and the family, said Rasmuson was probably the most influential person in the history of the university outside of founding president Charles Bunnell.

Rasmuson served on the UA Board of Regents from 1950 through 1969 and was board president for 16 of those years. The library on the Fairbanks campus, which Rasmuson made a special area of interest with gifts and consultation, bears his name.

''He was interested in so many things. It's hard to summarize him,'' Cole said. ''He's a lot like the descriptions people always had of Theodore Roosevelt ... He had an insatiable intellectual curiosity that was so much fun to be around.''

On his 90th birthday, Rasmuson and his wife, Mary Louise, announced what was believed to be the largest philanthropic gift in Alaska's history. The couple said they would donate $50 million to the Anchorage Museum of History and Art as their first gift for the expansion of the museum.

At the same time, they announced a $40 million donation to the Rasmuson Foundation, which makes grants to education and social service nonprofit organizations through the state.

In August, Rasmuson donated $5 million to the UA Fairbanks Museum, the largest gift from an individual ever received by the university.

Rasmuson was born Feb. 15, 1909, at Yakutat, to Jenny Olson and Edward A. Rasmuson, who met in 1905 while both were missionaries of the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church.

According to a bank history, E.A. Rasmuson immigrated from Sweden and studied law by correspondence at Yakutat, eventually passing the bar in Juneau. The family moved to Skagway in 1916 and Rasmuson was hired as the bank's attorney.

With the bank in financial trouble, and founder Andrew Stevenson in poor health, Rasmuson was picked to lead the bank despite his lack of banking experience. He turned to correspondence classes again to teach himself the banking business.

Elmer Rasmuson's first job with the bank was as janitor. After graduation from high school, he worked as a teller and bookkeeper. He attended college at the University of Washington and at Harvard, working summers at the bank, and graduated in 1930.

After attending Harvard Business School, he considered a career in academics, but a lack of Depression-era teaching positions sent him searching for work in banking and accounting in New York and Texas.

He returned to Alaska in 1943 when his father was in poor health and no longer could run the bank. He was named president that year.

After the first state Legislature lifted restrictions on branch banking, Rasmuson helped consolidate pioneer banks in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Homer and Kodiak with NBA to form Alaska's largest bank.

In 1939, he married Lile V. Bernard, who died in April 1960. The couple had three children -- Edward Rasmuson of Anchorage, and Lile Gibbons and Judy Rasmuson of Connecticut.

Rasmuson married Mary Louise Milligan in November 1961.

Rasmuson was a strong proponent of statehood and as mayor of Anchorage sponsored creation of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. He ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1968 as a Republican.

Rasmuson was a member of the International North Pacific Fisheries Commission from 1969 to 1984 and was first chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

''His dedicated work on fisheries helped protect Alaska's economy and build an industry within the 200-mile limit,'' Knowles said.

Rasmuson was Alaskan of the Year in 1976.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS