Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Elmer E. Rasmuson Library
view all hours

Elmer Rasmuson: A Life of Service: Biography

Elmer Rasmuson: A Life of Service: The Papers of Elmer E. Rasmuson (1909-2000)

Elmer E. Rasmuson- A Life of Service - The Papers of Elmer E. Rasmuson (1909-2000)

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.

Jenny [Olson] Rasmuson, ca. 1905

Photograph
Jenny [Olson] Rasmuson, ca. 1905
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-02

Edward Anton Rasmuson, ca. 1905

Photograph
Edward Anton Rasmuson, ca. 1905
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-03

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.

Harvard University Album Cover, ca. 1930

Painted leather Archives
Harvard University Album Cover, ca. 1930
Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers
2001-128-32
This is either an album or a diploma cover. The Harvard University seal is painted on the front and on the verso are the initials "J. R."

Professional Activities

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.

Oil and Gas Federal Income Tax Manual, 1966

Book
"Oil and Gas Federal Income Tax Manual," 1966
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-33
Written by Elmer Rasmuson when he worked for Arthur Andersen & Co., this book has been continually updated by the firm and is still in use today.

Proposed bank and store building Sixth Ave. & Broadway for Bank of Alaska, Skagway, Alaska, 1916

Architectural Drawing
"Proposed bank and store building Sixth Ave. & Broadway for Bank of Alaska, Skagway, Alaska," 1916
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-34
The Bank of Alaska building in Skagway was the town's first concrete structure.

Stock Certificate, 1916

Stock Certificate, 1916
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-35
Philipp Silbermann was the owner of the Bank of Alaska's stock certificate number "1." He purchased ten shares of capital stock on 17 February 1916.

 

Arthur Andersen, 1944

Photograph
Arthur Andersen, 1944
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-08
Arthur Andersen was an important role model for Elmer Rasmuson. The inscription reads: "To Elmer Rasmuson - for whom all of us have the greatest respect and admiration."

Bank of Alaska's first building in Anchorage, 1916

Photograph
Bank of Alaska's first building in Anchorage, 1916
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-09
The first Bank of Alaska building in Anchorage was a tiny steel shack located at 4th and E.

Marriages

"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.

Engagement announcement, 1939

News clipping
Engagement announcement, 1939
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-36

Lile holding an infant (possibly Edward), ca. 1940

Photograph
Lile holding an infant (possibly Edward), ca. 1940
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-04
Lile holding an infant (possibly Edward), ca. 1940

Ed, Lile, and Judy Rasmuson, 1952

Photograph
Ed, Lile, and Judy Rasmuson, 1952
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-05
Today, Edward, Lile, and Judy are members of the Rasmuson Foundation's Board of Directors, where Edward is chairman. Lile is a Representative in the Connecticut State Legislature and Judy raises award-winning golden retrievers.

 

"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.

Lt. Colonel Mary Louise Milligan, ca. 1950

Slide
Lt. Colonel Mary Louise Milligan, ca. 1950
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-06
Mary Louise Milligan served twenty years in the Women's Army Corps. In 1955, she became Director and was promoted to the rank of colonel.

 

 

Christmas card of Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson, 1961

Photograph
Christmas card of Elmer and Mary Louise Rasmuson, 1961
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-07
Elmer and Mary Louise married in November 1961. She retired from the Women's Army Corps at the end of July 1962.

Recreational Activities

"...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.

Elmer Rasmuson holding a sheep horn, 1952

Photograph
Elmer Rasmuson holding a sheep horn, 1952
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-10
Rasmuson loved sheep hunting. He wrote, "I believe that in no other activity, except my banking business, have I spent so much time and dedication of my life" (Cole and Rasmuson, Vol. 2, 220).

Breaking champagne on Nanook, 1976

Photograph
"Breaking champagne on Nanook," 1976
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-11
Mary Louise christens the Nanook. Rasmuson was fond of cruising to areas where he and Mary Louise could fish and catch crabs.

Nanook, 1977

Photograph
"Nanook," 1977
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-12
Mary Louise and Elmer Rasmuson cruise on Nanook.

 

The Skipper, 1992

Photograph
"The Skipper," 1992
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-13
Elmer Rasmuson stands at the helm of Nanook.

Cremation of Care, 1992

Photograph
"Cremation of Care," 1992
Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections
Elmer E. Rasmuson Papers 2001-128-14
Rasmuson, a member of the Bohemian Club, stands dressed as a torchbearer during a ceremony performed at the annual encampment at Bohemian Grove.

Elmer E. Rasmuson Library
1732 Tanana Loop
PO Box 756800
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-6800
Phone: 907-474-7481​​
Text: 907-341-4404​
AskRasmusonLibrary@uaf.libanswers.com

UAF is an AA/EO employer and educational institution and prohibits illegal discrimination against any individual: www.alaska.edu/nondiscrimination.