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Alaska philanthropist Mary Louise Rasmuson dies at 101

Laurel Andrews
Rasmuson Foundation

On Monday, celebrated philanthropist and Alaska pioneer Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson passed away at her Anchorage home at the age of 101, the Rasmuson Foundation announced in a press release.

Born on April 11, 1911, in East Pittsburg, Pa., Mary Louise Rasmuson’s life was one of service, dedication and breaking barriers. She had been recognized time and again for her profound impact across the state.

In 1932 she graduated from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, Carnegie Tech’s school for women, pursuing higher education at a time when many leading universities did not admit women.

She went on to become a pioneer for women in the armed services. In 1942, she joined the newly created Women’s Army Corps (WAC), defying conventions of a time when women were not accepted into the armed services. She rose quickly through the ranks, and from 1957-62 served as director of WAC. Military historians credit her with major achievements, including working with Congress to amend laws depriving women of service benefits, and expanding the range of military opportunities for women. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry has said that women in today’s Army “march behind Col. Rasmuson.”

Mary Louise arrived in Alaska in 1962 after her marriage to Elmer E. Rasmuson. Together, the couple forged a future for the state.

“People like Mary Louise Rasmuson are at the heart of the American story” James Billington at the U.S. Library of Congress said. “She was an energizing, upbeat force.”

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In 1967, Mary Louise began her service on the board of the Rasmuson Foundation, a post she held for 45 years, playing an active role and attending meetings regularly into her 90s. She helped to direct more than $200 million in grants to Alaska nonprofit organizations during her time there.

“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. She offered sage advice and support to both,” said Diane Kaplan, president of Rasmuson Foundation.

In 1968, thanks to her passion and personal effort, the Anchorage Museum of Art and History was realized. Two years ago she led the ribbon cutting at the latest museum expansion. Now called the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, it fulfills her vision to create a great museum for Alaskans.

Her contributions to society were wide-ranging, extending into many different spheres. She served on the U.S. Army Alaska Citizen’s Advisory Committee, the national board of American Cancer Society, and led the Anchorage March of Dimes Campaign. She was affiliated with many groups including the Palm Springs Desert Museum, Seattle Art Museum, American Association of University Women, and the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

The Rasmuson Foundation has created a video tribute to Mary Louise Rasmuson which concludes with footage of her sharing a quote that exemplifies her service and attitude toward life. “You can’t just live in the past. It’s more important for me what I’m going to do tomorrow than to worry about yesterday.”

The public is invited to attend a funeral mass on Sept. 10 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage. The family requests memorial gifts be made to Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center in lieu of flowers.

Read more about her amazing life of service and an passionate vision, here.