When my grandfather and former Bank of Alaska President Edward Anton Rasmuson died in 1949, the Bank’s board meeting minutes noted that he never thought of money as having any value for its own sake. His mission in life had been not only to help local Alaskans “develop their businesses,” but also to demonstrate “personal responsibility for moral and spiritual leadership” wherever he went.
Rasmuson Foundation marked a significant milestone in 2012 when it crossed the threshold of $200 million in social investments to realize our mission of “being a catalyst to improve the quality of life in Alaska.”
What does that mean, to improve the quality of life in Alaska?
“With life-threatening winds blowing and huge waves breaking across the Bear’s wooden deck and hull, [Captain Micheal] Healy would have to… send men high into the riggings to break loose ice, or adjust sail, while others had to clear ice from the decks if the ship was to stay on course and remain seaworthy.
A guiding principle for Rasmuson Foundation is reflected in one of my father Elmer’s sayings: “A community that invests in itself is a healthy community.” His philosophy manifested itself in both his professional and philanthropic pursuits. As a banker he expected people to invest their own money in their homes and businesses before they asked him to provide a loan.
Almost 50 years ago, Alaska’s Southcentral communities of Valdez, Seward, Kodiak, and Anchorage were rocked by the largest earthquake ever recorded in North American history. The powerful quake temporarily liquefied soils, destroyed homes, structures and streets, disrupted electric and phone service, ruptured water, sewer and gas lines, and created a 400-mile-an-hour tsunami that reached shores as far away as California and Hawaii.
In the opening chapters of his memoir, “Fifty Miles from Tomorrow,” lifelong Alaskan Willie Hensley recounts the challenges and pleasures of living a traditional Inupiat childhood north of the Arctic Circle in territorial Alaska. Winters on Kotzebue Sound are nine months long, the sun barely edges above the horizon, and the wind can lash so hard you cannot safely step outside.
Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie once observed, “You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb himself.” While the vernacular shows its age, the principle, as valid today as it was 100 years ago, is at work behind some of Rasmuson Foundation’s major initiatives in 2007.