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Elmer Rasmuson: A Life of Service

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Biography

The Rasmuson family is of Swedish origin. Elmer's mother, Jenny [Olson] Rasmuson (1880-1966) immigrated to the United States in 1898 and settled in Chicago with her brothers and sisters. In 1901 she went to Yakutat, Alaska, to do missionary work. Elmer's father, Edward Anton Rasmuson (EAR, 1882-1949) immigrated in 1900 and headed to Minneapolis, where he attended school and performed odd jobs. He went to Yakutat in 1904 both to teach school and to do mission work. EAR and Jenny married in 1905 and daughter Maud Evangeline was born in 1906. Starting at an early age, Evangeline chose to be called by her middle name. Her brother, Elmer Edwin, was born in Yakutat on 15 February 1909.

Childhood

In 1916, having passed the bar exam in Juneau, Edward Rasmuson became U.S. Commissioner in Skagway and legal counsel for the newly opened Bank of Alaska. Skagway would be the town where Elmer and Evangeline spent their childhoods.

The bank's president was Andrew Stevenson, a visionary who promoted branch banking, a concept not yet embraced by most financial institutions of the day. By 1918, however, wartime pressures and unsound financial decisions led him to leave Alaska. Edward Rasmuson became president, and under his management, the bank recovered to become one of the most respected financial institutions in the Alaska Territory.

Schooling

"...Harvard was the turning point in my life. It opened a new world for me in education, culture and sophistication" (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 21).

Both Elmer and Evangeline graduated from Queen Anne High School in Seattle. Elmer entered the University of Washington in 1926 before transferring to Harvard University to study economics. For the young Alaskan, Harvard was the gateway to a world of intellectual pursuits, spirited discussions, and an abundance of cultural opportunities. In 1930, EER graduated S.B., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and began work on his Ph.D. The Great Depression, however, lead him to seek employment in New York City.

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