Taking the Ache Out of Bush Life (Alaska)

  • Local Projects
  • 2006

The people served by the Rasmuson Foundation are different. Many reside in very small and isolated towns. Transportation is often poor, weather frequently fierce. Because they are thinly scattered across the Union’s largest state, it can be difficult to provide philanthropic services to Alaskans.

But these challenges have always defined Rasmuson’s work, so the foundation has gotten good at coping. Founded in 1955 with an initial $3,000 gift from Jenny Rasmuson, the foundation was created to honor her husband, a Swedish immigrant who built the Bank of Alaska into a powerful financial enterprise. When their son bequeathed the foundation much of his personal fortune of $400 million in 2000, the task became easier.

With assets of $650 million and annual grants of $22 million in 2014, Rasmuson has disbursed more than $280 million across its state since 1955. The foundation has a hand in most current philanthropy in Alaska, and pays particular attention to small things that can improve the quality of life for ordinary people. A prime example: dentistry. People with normal access to oral care forget how miserable life can become when a tooth erupts and a dentist is nowhere to be found.

In 2006, Rasmuson gave a $1 million grant to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to train special dental-health aides who live in or fly into remote Alaskan villages. The aides provide preventive and palliative care, and improve the oral health of people residing in areas that can’t keep a dentist in business. Rasmuson’s innovation has brought life-changing dental assistance to more than 35,000 rural Alaskans. Other funders have been inspired to export the resoundingly successful program to sufferers in different parts of the U.S.

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