Service above self: Remembering Ed Rasmuson’s enduring legacy

by Catalina Myers  |   

Ed and Cathryn Rasmuson's portrait hangs in Rasmuson Hall on UAA's Anchorage campus.
At UAA, Ed and Cathryn Rasmuson, along with the Rasmuson Foundation, funded and created numerous opportunities directly benefiting students, faculty and staff. (Portrait courtesy of the Rasmuson family. Rasmuson Hall photo and graphic by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

In Alaska, the name Rasmuson holds weight like few others, and the enduring legacy of their family’s namesake lives on through his desire to connect Alaskans through business and philanthropy, as well as creating programs that will continue to help the state evolve and grow. 

With the passing of Edward B. Rasmuson in January of this year, we are reminded of the impact one person’s fierce loyalty to people, preserving culture and vision for the future can have on a community. For Ed, with the steadfast partnership of his wife Cathy, this meant pouring his life’s work into the state of Alaska. Whether through his many contributions in business, from running the family bank — National Bank of Alaska (NBA) — to expanding the philanthropic reach of the Rasmuson Foundation, which has granted more than $475 million in charitable contributions directly benefiting Alaskans.

Growing up as a third-generation Alaskan during the territorial days, Ed spent his youth discovering the state’s wilderness through flying, hunting and fishing, sealing his love of the state, its people and culture. He attended Anchorage High School, now known as West Anchorage High School, and graduated from Lakeside High School in Seattle before heading to the East Coast to pursue a degree in history from Harvard College.

After returning to Alaska, Ed devoted himself to the family business, working his way up the ranks at NBA and eventually leading the organization before guiding the sale of the bank to Wells Fargo in July 2000. After the sale of NBA, Ed turned his attention to the family’s foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, which his father established in 1955, and served as chairman on the board for over two decades. His family said Ed’s devotion to the public good was unwavering and apparent throughout his business career and philanthropic endeavors.

His community service included serving on the University of Alaska Board of Regents, the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Directors, the Board of Trustees at Alaska Pacific University and Sheldon Jackson College, the Anchorage Museum Foundation board, Atwood Foundation board, Rotary Club of Anchorage (three decades of perfect attendance), Elks Club, Pioneers of Alaska, Explorer’s Club, University of Alaska Fairbanks Fisheries Research Center advisory board, United Way of Anchorage and The Foraker Group.

At UAA, Ed and Cathryn Rasmuson, along with the Rasmuson Foundation, funded and created numerous opportunities directly benefiting students, faculty and staff. Over the years, these contributions included:

  • Support of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), including a $5 million award for program expansion, a $2 million challenge grant for the ANSEP Building and a $2 million challenge grant to establish the Dr. Herbert P. Schroeder ANSEP Endowed Chair.
  • Funding to launch Operation Mary Louise, a community-based project spearheaded by UAA faculty that aims to increase the visibility of female veterans in Alaska, connect them with resources and create a community culture for women veterans.
  • A grant to expand the Alaska Joint Library Catalog, which lets people reserve books from dozens of member libraries across Alaska, including the UAA/APU Consortium Library.

Ed’s legacy lives on through the university’s iconic Edward and Cathryn Rasmuson Hall, located on the Anchorage campus, named for his and his wife’s service to UAA and the University of Alaska System. 

Ed Rasmuson’s life is celebrated this week in Anchorage in a service that will draw hundreds of Alaskans. Forever committed to education, his family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts are made to support his selected nonprofits, including the ANSEP program and UAA/APU Consortium Library.

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