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Alaska Philanthropist Mary Louise Rasmuson Walks On at 101

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Mary Louise Rasmuson, whose family foundation has awarded more than $200 million in grants to Alaska nonprofit organizations like the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, walked on July 30 at her home in Anchorage. She was 101 years old.

“We are fortunate to have had Mary Louise in our family,” said Ed Rasmuson, step-son and chairman of the Rasmuson Foundation, in a press release. “We are also fortunate that she loved Alaska.

“Mary Louise's impact can be felt virtually everywhere in our state, whether improving the position of families, founding a world-class museum, enhancing research in healthcare, and advancing understanding of Alaska Native cultures on a national stage. Her contributions have reached every corner of Alaska, from Ketchikan to Gambell.”

She was born Mary Louise Milligan on April 11, 1911 in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her dream was to attend Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, which she did, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1932.

She joined what would become the United States Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942, even knowing women weren’t allowed into the armed services then.

“I knew what war was and I knew I had two brothers that would be going into the service and I saw no reason why women shouldn’t,” Mary Louise said in a YouTube video tribute to her. She served as director of the WAC from 1957-1962.

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She didn’t move to Alaska until 1962 after marrying Elmer Rasmuson, chairman of the National Bank of Alaska. She and her husband’s philanthropic impact toward Native Americans could even be felt at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. where the Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson Theater was named for them.

“The Rasmuson imprint here has really been quite remarkable, they know the connections between Alaska Natives, Aleuts, Inuits, to the rest of the Native peoples and cultures throughout the Americas,” said W. Richard West Jr., NMAI’s founding director and a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, in the tribute video.

"I have yet to find someone more gracious or someone who cared for Alaska—especially Native Alaskans—as much as Mary Louise did," Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said in a statement. "Alaska lost a giant."

Elmer Rasmuson walked on in 2000. Mary Louise is survived by her stepdaughters Lile Gibbons and Judy Rasmuson; her stepson Ed Rasmuson, seven grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

A funeral mass for Mary Louise will be held September 10 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Anchorage. The family has asked that memorials be made in her name to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.

“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,” Mary Louise said with a chuckle in the YouTube tribute video.

See the tribute to Mary Louise Rasmuson here: