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.
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.
"...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.
In New York, Rasmuson eventually found employment in the financial field with Arthur Andersen & Co. He moved to Summit, New Jersey, where he met and married Lile Vivian Bernard on 27 October 1939. The couple moved to Houston, where Rasmuson managed a tax department for Arthur Andersen. In 1942, he transferred back to the New York office. That same year, Edward Anton, suffering from ill health, asked Elmer to be president of the Bank of Alaska. In 1943, EER returned to Alaska.
Under Elmer Rasmuson's guidance the National Bank of Alaska would become the first statewide branch banking system in Alaska. His son, Edward, would eventually follow in his footsteps and continue the family business.
"One of the greatest blessings in my life was my marriage to Lile..." (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 36).
On 27 October 1939, Elmer Rasmuson married Lile Vivian Bernard. Lile and Elmer had three children: Edward Bernard, Lile Muchmore, and Judy Ann. In addition to being a mother and housewife, Lile was also active in community affairs such as the Boy and Girl Scouts. Lile, Elmer and the three children led a joyous life together. On 30 April 1960, however, Lile died after a long battle with cancer.
"My life with [Mary Louise] has been full of unexpected adventure" (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 42).
Late in 1960, EER met Colonel Mary Louise Milligan, Director of the Women's Army Corps, at an annual conference for Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army. Elmer, still shaken by Lile's death, probably didn't expect to marry again. Romance blossomed, however, and Mary Louise and Elmer were married on 4 November 1961. Mary Louise retired from the military in July 1962 after twenty years of service and the couple forged their new life together.
"...sheep hunting is...addictive. You never give it up until the eyes grow dim and the legs falter" (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 215).
Elmer Rasmuson enjoyed a variety of recreational activities. He was a member of several organizations, but his major interests were in aviation, hunting, and boating. EER used his aviation skills to reach remote hunting camps and fishing areas. He began pursuing sheep in 1950 and enjoyed the chase so much that in 1953 he achieved the "Grand Slam" for successfully hunting all four species of North American sheep.
"One of the great pleasures of my life is standing at the helm of the Nanook" (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 211).
Another of Rasmuson's interests was sailing. He became actively involved in the sport when he lived in the East, and his enthusiasm for it continued throughout his life. One of the major attractions was the potential for fishing and crabbing, activities enjoyed by both EER and Mary Louise. Another advantage was the ease of visiting coastal bank branches.