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. “His aim was never concentrated on the accumulation of personal fortune.”
Rasmuson Foundation has always recognized the ability of Alaskans to solve the state’s problems. And time and again, we have demonstrated a willingness to be a loyal and steadfast partner of those who seek to make our state better.
Last year the Foundation made its largest grant ever, launched an unprecedented public education campaign, and drew our 60th Anniversary Celebration to a close. It is my pleasure to review the highlights of our successful anniversary year.
In the spirit of six decades of partnership with the state’s residents, the Foundation introduced Plan4Alaska. I believe it is one of the most important initiatives in our history. Our work to educate and engage Alaskans about the state’s fiscal future is a departure for the Foundation. Never before have we staked so much – funds, resources, credibility and relationships – on a single cause. We have no doubt that it’s worth the effort.
It is not hyperbole to say that Alaska is at a critical crossroads. We face the biggest budget shortfall in our history. In times past, Alaska was saved from the economic brink by oil – first by the pipeline, then by the cleanup of a catastrophic oil spill, and in the early 2000s by skyrocketing oil prices. Oil is not going to rescue us this time. If we want to preserve Alaska’s economy and way of life, Alaskans will need to work together to develop a comprehensive, long-term solution to our budget problems.
In summer 2015, Rasmuson Foundation launched a statewide campaign to talk with Alaskans about the budget crisis, to share facts and options, and to explain the urgency of acting quickly. We hoped to engage and energize the public to insist that elected officials make the tough choices now. Alaskans understand that the hard choices we face are preferable to the harder choices that will come if we do nothing in 2016. Public participation, debate and mutual sacrifice are required to achieve a stable fiscal future.
My father and stepmother had a vision of the benefits that the Anchorage Museum would bring to the city and the state at the inception of the institution. From the first organizing meeting to the legacies from their personal estates, Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson demonstrated their love of and commitment to Alaska’s history and art through the state’s premier museum. They believed that every great city needed to have a great museum and they were instrumental in the establishment and success of a home for the fine arts in Anchorage.
The Foundation continues that legacy with the largest grant it has ever made: $12 million for a major expansion of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. In tribute to the vision of our founders, the Foundation’s grant is matched by members of the Rasmuson family.
The expansion will add approximately 25,000 square feet to the facility and will enhance the museum’s ability to fulfill its mission. It will create more permanent gallery space for pieces from the collection that are currently in storage, and increase temporary gallery space to accommodate changing exhibits by internationally renowned and emerging artists.
Decent, affordable housing is essential to quality of life, strong communities and a vital economy. Yet many Alaskans – including working families, seniors and Alaskans with disabilities – struggle to find adequate housing. Quite simply, the demand outstrips supply, and bureaucratic, political, and economic conditions have created obstacles to private development.
The Foundation uses a range of mechanisms to promote housing: investments in public policy initiatives, direct grants to local housing developers, and Program Related Investments that are usually in the form of loans. Our efforts in 2015 brought our total investments in housing since 2004 to more than $28 million. These investments leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity across the state.
In 2015, the Foundation contributed to senior and workforce housing projects in Anchorage, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kake and Seward. The Foundation works closely with Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to provide grants, federal tax credits, and zero-interest loans.
We also work with partners to adopt successful approaches and seed innovation. In August, Rasmuson Foundation hosted a two-day tour of Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, members of his economic development team, and private sector representatives. The goal was to see first-hand how successful public-private partnerships and cooperation can lead to robust housing development. Rasmuson Foundation will support a housing “czar” reporting directly to the Mayor during his term to promote development and break down obstacles that have stymied private developers.
Jenny Rasmuson moved to Yakutat in 1901 at the age of 21. She came alone, already an ordained minister, to teach. EA arrived in Yakutat three years later, and they soon married. The two of them were many things during their 13 years in Yakutat – teachers, health care providers, musicians and missionaries. But they were also citizens of the Territory who maintained a connection to the people and a love of the land.
Jenny and EA believed it was their calling to help better the lives of fellow Alaskans. But for all they gave, Yakutat gave them so much more. It was in Yakutat that they developed a love for Alaska. They lived from the land – hunting and fishing, raising food and using what nature provided.
In a letter dated 1947, my grandfather wrote that the time he and my grandmother spent in Yakutat were the happiest and best years of their lives. Throughout his life, in many of his speeches, my father proudly introduced himself as a son of Yakutat.
From their love of Alaska that began in Yakutat, my dad and grandmother formed a vision to support projects of lasting impact to benefit Alaskans. Thus, it was right and fitting that the capstone of our 60th anniversary celebration was in Yakutat, with the raising of a totem pole commissioned and carved by Fred Bemis in cooperation with the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe for the occasion. We were honored to have Governor and First Lady Bill and Donna Walker in attendance, accompanied by another accomplished son of Yakutat, Lt. Governor Byron Mallott.
In the last 60 years, Rasmuson Foundation has awarded more than $285 million in grants across the state, supporting everything from Alaska’s unique cultures to the advancement of healthcare. Our history of making grants in Alaska is a testament to the Foundation’s fierce dedication to this place. We stay true to Jenny’s core beliefs in service, family, community, and resource development, and we uphold Elmer’s conviction that a healthy community is one that invests in itself.
As Alaskans, we honor our history, values and families in so many ways — through oral history, art, song and ceremony, and continued lifestyles of subsistence and respect for the land. As we close our 60th anniversary year, our founders continue to be woven into our grantmaking philosophy in each new generation.
Ed Rasmuson, Chair