Mary Louise Rasmuson

  • "Mary Louise Rasmuson was like a mother to me. With her..."
    - Clem Duru
  • "Our hearts go out to the family. Jack and Rita Forbes"
    - Jack Forbes
  • "I did not know Mary Louise, but as a retired Marine..."
    - Colonel Mary Jane Harris
  • "To the Rasmuson family, I am so sorry for your loss. Mary..."
    - Annamay Ivey
  • "What a Grand Lady, It was an Honor to have had the..."
    - Dennis De Loose

Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson, social catalyst and one of Alaska's most endeared philanthropists, died July 30, 2012, at her home in Anchorage, Alaska.

She spent her life breaking barriers, challenging conventions, and seeking to improve opportunities for those around her. She was a trailblazer for women and left her mark across the country and the state of Alaska through her leadership, philanthropy, and the family Foundation that she helped lead with her late husband Elmer E. Rasmuson.

Mary Louise was born in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 11, 1911, to George and Alice Milligan. She graduated from Margaret Morrison Carnegie College with a bachelor's in education, and later earned a master's in school administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1942, as the United States entered World War II, Mary Louise applied to be in the first class of the Women's Army Corps (WAC). One of only 400 selected from a pool of 30,000 applicants, she rose quickly through the ranks and in 1957 became the fifth WAC Director, a position she occupied for six years, first appointed by President Eisenhower and reappointed by President Kennedy.

Military historians credit her with increasing the WAC's strength, insisting on effectiveness in command, working to amend laws that deprived women of service credit and benefits, and expanding the range of women's military opportunities. She retired in 1962 after 20 years of military service, during which she received a Legion of Merit award, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and others. Her oral history was captured in The Library of Congress Veteran's History Project.

Mary Louise arrived in Alaska in 1962 after her marriage to Elmer, chairman of National Bank of Alaska. Together, they formed a formidable team influential in the public and civic agenda in a rapidly developing city and state. Her vision, passion and personal effort led to the creation of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art in 1968. Two years ago, she cut the ribbon on the latest expansion of the Museum, now named the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, a culminating moment in her decades-long vision to build a great museum for all Alaskans.

In 1967, Mary Louise began what would become 45 years of service on the board of Rasmuson Foundation. She maintained an active voice in the affairs of the Foundation and regularly attended board meetings until her late 90s. Even in the last years of her life, she received briefings from staff on the Foundation's grantmaking activities.

She expressed her personal philanthropy to Anchorage Museum, Providence Healthcare in Alaska, Brother Francis Shelter, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. A lifelong Catholic, she made a leadership gift to build Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage and was a benefactor of Holy Rosary Academy. Facilities that bear her name include the Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson Theater at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC), the Elmer & Mary Louise Rasmuson Center for Rheumatic Disease at the Benaroya Research Institute of Virginia Mason Hospital (Seattle), and the Mary Louise Rasmuson Pavilion at the Boy Scouts of America Camp Gorsuch (Chugiak).

Most recently, Mary Louise had been serving as honorary chair of the campaign to revitalize the Veterans' Memorial on the Delaney Park Strip in Anchorage. She was active in numerous organizations including American Cancer Society, Zonta, American Association of University Women, Alaska Native Sisterhood, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. She was a lifetime member of Association of U.S. Army and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mrs. Rasmuson is survived by three step-children: Ed Rasmuson and wife Cathryn of Anchorage, Lile Gibbons and husband John of Old Greenwich, CT, and Judy Rasmuson of Florida; nephew Malcolm Milligan and wife Joyce; grandchildren Jay Gibbons, Jenny Forti, Amanda Baer, Adam Gibbons, David Rasmuson, Natasha von Imhof and Laura Emerson; and 12 great-grandchildren.

A funeral mass will be held September 10 at 2 p.m. in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Memorial gifts may be made to Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK, 99501.

Published in Anchorage Daily News from Aug. 5 to Aug. 6, 2012
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