Three years ago, our president and CEO, Diane Kaplan, coaxed Dick Mandsager out of retirement to lend his energy, wisdom and curiosity to our effort to end homelessness in Anchorage. As Diane notes, “Even after three years, you can still see the twist marks on his arm.” Today, he leaves his position as the Foundation’s senior fellow on homelessness to retire for real, leaving behind a system with increased funding, more partnerships, better data and the nimbleness to adapt during a pandemic.
When he arrived, Dick was already well-loved and well-respected in Alaska for his many years of service in the medical field as a pediatrician, public health officer and hospital administrator. His retirement as chief executive of Providence Alaska Medical Center was only a few days old when he answered Diane’s call. As he stepped into his new role, he already had the perspective that “Housing is a prescription for better health.”
The value that Dick has brought to Anchorage’s effort to solve this problem has been tremendous. He staffed the newly created Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council of business, government and health care executives, presented to lawmakers in Juneau, crunched numbers and sought out national experts. He worked tirelessly to build bridges between the widest variety of partners to create a better system of care and reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community. Whether you work in city hall, invest in real estate, staff a nonprofit shelter or are simply a member of our community at large, Dick has taken your call and tried to figure out how your energy could be put to good use.
More than a year ago, before COVID, Dick was considering ending his fellowship to spend more time with his wife, Ruth, and their family. When the director of a local nonprofit at the forefront of the fight to end homelessness heard, they shed tears. That says something about the impact Dick has had as a collaborator, thought-partner and problem-solver to those who do the tough job every day of serving our neighbors. When I think about how Dick shows up, I’m reminded of a quote by the author David Augsburger, “Being heard is so close to being loved that to the average person they are almost indistinguishable.” Dick is really good at listening — really good at actually hearing you. This is a quality that we need more of — a willingness to listen and to incorporate the ideas of others.
Don’t mistake a quiet and thoughtful demeanor for anything other than persistence and grit when it comes to working towards a goal. Dick has always kept the North Star in sight, creating a system of care and a community response so no one gets stuck in the experience of homelessness. He’s been a champion for elevating the voices of folks with real-life experience and for addressing racial disparities in our community. He’s spent countless evenings in community council meetings, city assembly meetings, nonprofit board meetings and numerous other forums where folks gather to share, plan or sometimes vent.
Homelessness is a symptom of broad issues in our country and in our community. We’ve made some progress over the last few years, but we’ve also experienced unprecedented challenges. The Foundation will continue to link arms with many other organizations and individuals to build a better system. This work goes on. It was United Way President Michele Brown who initially recommended that we approach Dick. So it is perfectly appropriate that Michele, recently retired from the United Way, take on Dick’s role as senior fellow on homelessness at Rasmuson Foundation.
The community will miss his leadership. I am going to miss our daily 9 a.m. check-in, during which he always brings a few moments of levity and calm and a positive outlook on a day that we both know will bring potential setbacks amid the gains. The last three years have given me a lifelong friendship that has already made me a better person. Dick, enjoy your second well-earned retirement, and thank you for making Anchorage a better place for all of us.