Recent news of a partnership between a veterans group for women and YWCA of Alaska reminds Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan of a touching meeting between Mary Louise Rasmuson and members of the Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW). As Diane recounts in this post, Mary Louise passed away just a month after that meeting. But the special place in her heart for other women vets lives on.
In the summer of 2012, I was privileged to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Mary Louise Rasmuson and several Alaska women veterans. At the time, Mary Louise, who served as head of the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) in the Eisenhower/Kennedy days and on the Rasmuson Foundation board for 50 years, was 101 years old. The women were members of the emerging Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW) organization, led by founder Vanessa Meade.
The conversation was exciting. The AVOW members asked question after question about Mary Louise’s experience in the service from World War II through the sixties. And Mary Louise asked the women about which branch they were affiliated with, what rank they had achieved, and details of their service. At the end of the discussion, Mary Louise expressed her appreciation to the women for establishing a resource for Alaska’s women veterans, and surprise there were so many (est. 12,000.) She invited the women to come see her again when they had determined how she could best assist in their efforts. A month later Mary Louise Rasmuson passed away. An all-woman color guard attended at her funeral.
Soon after that, the YWCA of Alaska embraced the emerging organization, inviting AVOW to become a program of the Y. And months later, Rasmuson Foundation established the Alaska Women Veterans Endowed Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation, designating the AVOW group as the initial beneficiary of fund earnings.
Today, fewer than a quarter of Alaska’s veterans are seeking services from the VA. Many don’t even THINK of themselves as veterans. On January 22 I had a chance to attend a very special gathering. The Alaska director of the Veterans Administration, Susan Yeager, the first woman to hold that position, announced that Konstanse K. Shuey, Alaska VA Patient Relation Assistance, would be moving into a new office at the YWCA and begin working as the Alaska VA Women Outreach Liaison. This unique partnership between the VA and YWCA will provide Alaska’s women veterans with a pathway towards accessing the services they have earned.