This Alaskan couple has given away $500 million

Ash Jurberg
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Two Swedish immigrants who arrived in Alaska at the turn of the 20th century lay could lay claims to being Alaska's most generous couple, having been responsible for $500 million in grants and donations to Alaskan organizations.

This week the Rasmuson Foundation, based in Anchorage, Alaska, announced grants totaling more than $16 million in support of 30 projects, programs, and initiatives. 

Let's take a quick look at the Alaskan couple that has given away millions.

Arriving in Alaska

Jenny Olson arrived in Yakutat in 1901 at 21 as a missionary for the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America. Three years later, Edward Anton Rasmuson came to teach in the school for Tlingit children.

Within months of meeting, they were married.

Edward studied law and moved to Skagway in 1916 to become the United States Commissioner for that city. Although he had no banking experience, he took over the leadership of the Bank of Alaska and helped grow the bank into a profitable and successful business. In addition, his wife Jenny served on the bank's board of directors and helped push business and commerce opportunities within Alaska.

Edward died in 1949 and left the bank to his son, Elmer.


Jenny Olson Rasmuson created Rasmuson Foundation in May 1955 to honor her late husband. Together with Elmer, their vision for the Foundation was to support projects of lasting impact to benefit Alaskans.

They have certainly achieved this. Since the Foundation was established, they have awarded more than $500 million in grants and donations.

Some of the recipients of the grants this year include:

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters, a mentoring program for youth, will get trucks to pick up donations.
  • The City of Unalaska's library will be renovated and expanded.
  • Bean's Cafe will expand its food production facility.
  • The Kodiak Area Native Association will build a new marketplace in the heart of downtown Kodiak.
  • Alaska Public Media is receiving support for Alaska Native producers, writers, and other creatives to continue with "Molly of Denali."
  • Gulf of Alaska fishermen will get access to new fishing opportunities
Alaska’s nonprofits, tribes, and local governments work hard every day to help their neighbors and make life better in immeasurable ways. We are so proud to partner with organizations that build clinics to ensure quality health care, that help children grow and thrive with playgrounds and sports fields, that take care of those who are unhoused and can get on their feet with a little support.” Rasmuson Foundation president and CEO Diane Kaplan.

Your thoughts

Readers, what do you think of the work done by the Rasmuson Foundation? What other organizations in Alaska would you like to see the foundation support?

Please leave a comment below with your thoughts and share this article with others so they can join the conversation.

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