The namesakes of Rasmuson Hall: Philanthropists Edward and Cathrynn Rasmuson

The west campus of UAA houses a building named in honor of Alaska’s largest charitable foundation. Rasmuson Hall, formerly called the Business Education Building was renamed after Edward B. Rasmuson and his wife Cathryn Rasmuson, who sponsored the building through his family’s charity foundation in 2006. Edward is the current chairman on the board of the Rasmuson Foundation that his great-grandmother, Jenny Olson Rasmuson, started in 1955.

Edward is a third generation banker and Alaskan who is credited with evolving the Rasmuson Foundation into the largest charity foundation in Alaska. He graduated from Harvard in 1962, then spent two years working at an investment firm before he moved back to Ketchikan in 1964. After returning to Ketchikan, he started his career at the National Bank of Alaska. By 1974, he was president of the bank and became chairman of the board in 1985. When the National Bank of Alaska merged with Wells Fargo, Edward became the chairman of the Statewide Advisory Board for the bank.

Cathryn Rasmuson has served as vice president of the Rasmuson Foundation since 1997. In the past 35 years, she has been involved with countless numbers of non-profit organizations and providing her expertise to those in need. Cathryn was born in Canada and moved to Alaska in 1969, where she met, fell in love with and married Edward in 1969, just seven months later. She wouldn’t become a citizen of the United States until 1977. Cathryn and Edward have devoted almost 40 years to the Rasmuson Foundation in an attempt to keep its original values.

Edward’s great-grandmother Jenny started the foundation in honor of her late husband Edward Anton (E.A.) Rasmuson. E.A. assumed control of the National Bank of Alaska in 1918, he had no banking experience but still accepted the formidable task of taking on a bank in serious financial trouble. Jenny and E.A. never lost faith in the bank and grew it into one the most profitable banks in Alaska. When E.A. died in 1949, he left the bank to his son, Elmer Rasmuson, Edward’s father.

Elmer grew the bank from a community level into a statewide establishment. Elmer established the foundations first grant of $250. When Elmer passed at the age of 91 in 2000, he left his personal fortune of over $400 million to charity, most of which went to the family foundation.

Today, Edward and Cathryn have grown the foundation’s budget to over $650,000,000. Achieving all of this while while still keeping true to the values established by Edward’s great-grandmother.

Vice President of Communication at the Rasmuson Foundation, Cassandra Stalzer, has worked for the foundation for almost eight years. Stalzer works with the foundation in an attempt to increase understanding about their grant making opportunities. In her time at the foundation, Edward and Cathryn have stayed readily involved with all of the foundation’s works.

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“In my time here, Ed and Cathy have been the chair and vice chair respectively of the Foundation,” Stalzer said. “They have taught me how to take the long view in solving social issues, how to apply financial concepts to social sector investments, and that gratitude for the work of others is a powerful force for good.”

Edward and Cathryn lead the decision to have Rasmuson Hall at UAA renovated and updated for students when it was renamed. For years, the couple has lent helping hands to Alaskans across the state. Their charity will live on in Rasmuson Hall and Alaska for years to come.

Rasmuson Hall is named after Edward and Cathryn Rasmuson. The building was renamed in 2006. Photo credit: Kelly Ireland