When my grandparents E.A. Rasmuson and Jenny Olson met and married in Yakutat at the dawn of the 20th century, they embraced the Tlingit culture, learned the language and opened their minds and hearts to the people of this beautiful land. Our core family values — building community, bringing people together, encouraging everyone to help others — are etched into Rasmuson Foundation culture, down to the very spot where we gather.
Our board room features a big round table, a shape chosen for good reason. Around a circle, we can all look at one another, see who is speaking and who seems poised to do so. Everyone, from a community volunteer to the CEO of a corporation, feels equal. There is no worry about who sits at the head — or the foot. The first one was made some 20 years ago by Anchorage furniture maker and civic leader Ernie Hall. When we moved three years ago to bigger offices, we expanded to a bigger table, made by another woodworker, Mike Kurtzweil of Wasilla. Groups convene around the table whether to work on homelessness, healthcare or awards for talented artists. Our board meets there. So does our staff, every week.
In 2018, we entered new territory with our homelessness initiative. We also reached a milestone in grantmaking. From the first $125 we paid out in 1955 for a film projector to the last check mailed last year, our grant awards have amounted to more than $400 million.
My father, Elmer Rasmuson, said “helping others is an Alaskan tradition.” In the coming months as we as a state work through challenges, let’s keep thinking about those family values of doing what’s right and taking care of one another, no matter where we are sitting.