Honoring Mary Louise Rasmuson: School of Social Work faculty Vanessa Meade instrumental in Alaska VA renaming

by Catalina Myers  |   

Vanessa Meade addresses the crowd of veterans and dignitaries
Vanessa Meade, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, addresses the crowd of veterans and dignitaries at the Feb. 24 renaming ceremony of the Alaska VA Clinic to the Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson Campus of the Alaska VA Healthcare System. (Photo courtesy of Vicki Nechodomu, College of Health)

On Feb. 24, the Alaska VA Clinic was officially renamed the Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson Campus of the Alaska VA Healthcare System. The collaborative effort included Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Mary Peltola, with the assistance of Verdie Bowen, director for the State of Alaska Department of Veterans Affairs, Greg Kaplan, special assistant for Lisa Murkowski’s office, Thomas Steinbrunner, the executive director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System and assistance of Dr. Vanessa Meade, assistant professor in UAA’s School of Social Work and U.S. Army veteran. For Dr. Meade, renaming the veteran facility was the culmination of her work toward recognizing veterans — particularly women — and of the incredible contributions Mary Louise Rasmuson made to our state and nation.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Rasmuson enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, beginning her military career as a private, successfully rising through the ranks, before earning the title of director of the newly created Women’s Army Corps by President Dwight Eisenhower. She earned a reappointment of her title by President John F. Kennedy. As director, Mary Louise expanded military jobs for women, created service credit for military retirement and veterans benefits for women, and was recognized for her work to integrate Black women into the Women’s Army Corps. In addition to her military leadership, Rasmuson earned her undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon, her master’s from the University of Pittsburgh, and an honorary doctor of law degree from Carnegie Mellon. 

In 1961, she married the love of her life, Elmer Rasmuson, president of the National Bank of Alaska, retired from the military and settled into life in Anchorage, Alaska. While the name Rasmuson in Alaska is well-known for philanthropy and Mary Louise and her husband's generous legacy lives on through their family’s foundation, her leadership and trailblazing women’s rights during her military service are being more widely recognized and honored. 

“Mary Louise and her colleagues created a path for all women to be included in the workforce through the policies they established in the military,” said Dr. Meade at the Feb. 24 renaming ceremony. “We are all connected to the path they created, and all of the advances that have been made for women in the military and beyond, can be traced back to the cornerstone of her work.”

Dr. Meade is a U.S. Army Gulf War veteran who co-led the steering committee to help launch Operation Mary Louise (OML), a nonprofit collaborative with the Rasumson Foundation, the Alaska Community Foundation and the UAA School of Social Work, to raise awareness, visibility and increase the connection of women veterans in Alaska. According to OML’s website, Alaska has more than 10,000 women veterans across the state, with fewer than one-third currently enrolled in VA health services. 

In a July 2021 Green & Gold News article, Dr. Meade said that Alaska’s women veterans have access to services through the U.S. Veterans Administration and other state organizations dedicated to providing veteran services, many are not aware of the benefits they have earned, which is where OML comes in, providing a crucial missing link. 

Mary Louise Rasmuson was someone Dr. Meade greatly admired and even had the opportunity to talk with her about her military service before she passed in 2012. Rasmuson’s dedication to serving her country and her fierce advocacy for women and expanding opportunities for them within the U.S. military is the heart of OML. It’s a space that provides a community for women veterans and connects them to services to help them navigate their civilian life.

For Dr. Meade, the renaming ceremony in February not only honors the legacy of an incredible woman who was a trailblazer far ahead of her time but continues to highlight the important contributions of women in the military and making veteran services in Alaska accessible.

“May we all continue to carry her legacy forward,” Dr. Meade said.

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