Mary Louise Rasmuson, a leading figure in Alaskan philanthropy and a champion of women's rights and education, has died at the age of 101, the Rasmuson Foundation on Tuesday.
With her late husband Elmer, Rasmuson was co-leader of the foundation that bore their name for over forty-five years and helped direct more than $200 million in grants to Alaska nonprofits. She was, as well, influential in setting the public and civic agenda for Anchorage and Alaska, and her vision led to the creation of the Anchorage Museum of Art and History in 1968. Rasmuson also served on the boards and in other capacities at many nonprofits, including the American Cancer Society, the Anchorage March of Dimes, the American Association of University Women, Alaska Native Sisterhood, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was a lifetime member of the Association of the U.S. Army and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Earlier in her life, Rasmuson served as director of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II and is credited with a number of achievements while in that position, including working with Congress to increase service credit and benefits for women, integrating black women into the corps, and expanding the range of military opportunities open to all women. Her twenty years of military service were recognized with a Legion of Merit award, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Occupation Medal, and the National Defense Medal. "When you hear about women seizing new opportunities to serve," said former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, "remember that they march behind Colonel Rasmuson."
Rasmuson aspired to higher education at a time when many leading universities did not admit women. She attended Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, the women's college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was one of the first two women awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and received a meritorious service award from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Mrs. Rasmuson maintained an active voice in the affairs of the Rasmuson Foundation and regularly attended board meetings into her late nineties, when she transitioned to an emeritus position. Even in the last years of her life, she received briefings on projects seeking foundation support. "Just two weeks ago, Mary Louise met with the new University of Alaska Anchorage Rasmuson Chair in Economics, and with a group of women veterans who are starting a social service organization," said Diane Kaplan, the foundation's president. "She offered sage advice and support to both."
"We are fortunate to have had Mary Louise in our family," said her stepson Ed Rasmuson, chair of the Rasmuson Foundation. "We are also fortunate that she loved Alaska."