View from Fairbanks to Petersburg

Community members represent Alaska

Foundation board members gather on the Capitol steps in Juneau in 2019. FROM LEFT: Mike Navarre, Ed Rasmuson, Rebecca Brice Henderson, Kris Norosz, Curtis McQueen, Marilyn Romano, Cathy Rasmuson and Lile Gibbons. BACK: Laura Emerson, Jason Metrokin, Jay Gibbons and John Gibbons. (Photo by Michael Penn)

Meet our community board members

  • Rebecca Brice Henderson, Fairbanks resident and small business owner of Santa’s Travel
  • Curtis McQueen, business leader, most recently CEO of Eklutna Inc., an Alaska Native corporation.
  • Jason Metrokin, Bristol Bay Native Corp. president and CEO
  • Mike Navarre, president of Zan Inc.; former state legislator, state commissioner and Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor
  • Kris Norosz, Petersburg community leader; former seafood company executive and fisheries biologist
  • Marilyn Romano, Alaska regional vice president for Alaska Airlines

Local residents add dimension and strong Alaska voices to our board. They share perspectives from varied regions and cultures, from different business and government experiences. Our board members not only bring diversity, they value and promote it in the work of the Foundation. They are our advocates and allies, for long-standing work enhancing philanthropy and nonprofits across Alaska, and for new efforts such as solving homelessness. CEO Diane Kaplan recently led conversations with board members. The interviews have been edited for space and clarity. Our six community members reflected on the Foundation’s impact and what it’s like serving on a family foundation board.

Michael Stevens, tribal administrator of Oscarville Traditional Council, talks with board member Kris Norosz, in blue, and Diane Kaplan, Foundation president and CEO. In the background is Michelle DeWitt, executive director of Bethel Community Services Foundation. The board visited the Southwestern Alaska communities of Oscarville and Bethel in 2017.

What unique point of view do you bring to the Foundation as a community board member?

Curtis McQueen: I get to bring my Tlingit culture and my adopted Dena’ina culture. And I get to take what I’ve learned back to two great cultures that I’ve spent my life working with, amplifying the work that Rasmuson does.

Kris Norosz: I feel an obligation to represent Southeast, to represent coastal communities, based on my experience in the seafood industry, and a rural perspective as much as possible.

Rebecca Brice Henderson: Inherently, we’re all imprinted with our view of Alaska. It’s our responsibility to bring that to family board members who might not live here.

Jason Metrokin visited Kodiak in 2019 to celebrate a remade Kodiak History Museum.The Foundation supported the upgrade with a $175,000 award to the Kodiak Historical Society.

How does the vision of the founders, Elmer Rasmuson and his mother, Jenny Rasmuson, influence the Foundation today?

Jason Metrokin: I was a young banker in Ketchikan. Elmer came to town and he wanted to know what I thought and what my insight was in the community. He spent his time in any town he was in, in Alaska, talking to people and listening to what they had to say about things that were important to them and important to the state. And I think that carries through with the Foundation every day.

Board member Curtis McQueen speaks with Elizabeth Ripley, president and CEO of Mat-Su Health Foundation, in November 2019 during a community luncheon with the Rasmuson Foundation board. (Photo by Stephen Nowers)

Are there ways you’ve seen impact beyond the grantmaking?

Rebecca Brice Henderson: Just creating the space to have a conversation.

Kris Norosz: And the ability to bring people in from all walks of life. When you think about the dental health program, when you think about convening people on fiscal policy, on homelessness, I think the Foundation’s taken a real leadership role.

Jason Metrokin: The Foundation has really pushed people to think beyond what the realm of possible is and just be more cutting edge than most other organizations.

Kris Norosz: Once you know that Rasmuson Foundation’s involved, there’s this level of trust for other people to get involved and to have a more honest conversation about things.

Mike Navarre: Where Rasmuson makes such a huge difference is the collaboration and focusing on issues that otherwise end up languishing. There are lots of good ideas, and Rasmuson is able to provide seed money to get things started.

Board members Rebecca Brice Henderson, center, and Kris Norosz talk with community members at the Mat-Su Health Foundation in November 2019 during a luncheon with the Rasmuson Foundation board. (Photo by Stephen Nowers)

How is this different than other boards you have served on?

Jason Metrokin: We only meet twice a year.


Marilyn Romano: First of all, there are family members on the board, so you actually walk in with a sense of legacy. There is something very special about family and the work that Elmer did around the state.

Curtis McQueen: The dynamic staff are so involved and the board’s so involved, they feel like family. The staff — their input’s respected, it’s brought into the room, and it actually helps challenge my thinking.

Rebecca Brice Henderson: I’ve looked for opportunities to learn about other facets of my community that I wasn’t so familiar with and bring that back to the table.

Board member Marilyn Romano, at left, speaks with staff and students of the Alaska Native Science Engineering Program in August 2019 during the Grantmakers Tour of Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Nechodomu)

How has the image of Rasmuson Foundation changed from its start as the philanthropy of a conservative banking family?

Jason Metrokin: When I think of modern day Rasmuson Foundation, I go back to not just the diversity amongst the board members, but the staff as well. When I go out into the community and I’m in a Pacific Islander community or a Korean community or an African American community, LGBTQ community, the arts community, the name Rasmuson is brought up time and time again. Today it’s a much broader picture that people are painting of the Foundation, because of the diversity and the sort of groundbreaking way that the Foundation goes about itself.

Kris Norosz: I want to thank you because I know you’re in large part responsible for the talent and diversity of the people on your staff. And I know that you seem to have a real commitment to realizing the importance of that.

Board member Mike Navarre, center, speaks with Major John Brackenbury of the Salvation Army of Alaska at the Mat-Su Health Foundation in November 2019 during a community luncheon. The board awarded the Salvation Army a grant in November for King’s Lake Camp. (Photo by Stephen Nowers)

Do you have a strategy for making your term as a community representative on the family foundation board count? Is there advice you might give to an incoming community member?

Mike Navarre: The strategy I’m working on is identifying where the needs are, to leverage the funds from Rasmuson Foundation. You have to make a good, strong case for what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Rebecca Brice Henderson:  I think personal philanthropy is the biggest takeaway for me. I will give in ways that I hadn’t even considered before.

Kris Norosz: Take every opportunity that’s offered, be involved in discussions, move around the state and meet people, understand their organizations, their communities, their needs.

Board member Jason Metrokin, President and CEO Diane Kaplan, board member Rebecca Brice Henderson, Vice Chair Cathy Rasmuson and Chairman Ed Rasmuson are seen at the September 2019 launch of a $40 million initiative to solve homelessness.

Looking ahead to the next five, 10 and even 20 years, can you name some priorities you would like to see the Foundation work on?

Jason Metrokin: The continued need to prioritize diversity and inclusion in our state. Just when we think we’re making strides in the right direction, I’m gobsmacked by what some folks in our communities will do and say. And then also our increasingly worsening domestic violence.

Rebecca Brice Henderson: Prevention. We’re so good at responding and reacting to issues that are right in front of us, but I think that we could really change the landscape if we started investing in and preventing the problems from occurring.

Marilyn Romano: We all need to be prepared for what our country and our state and the communities are going to look like post-COVID-19. I think if you would’ve asked me that in December, my answer may have been different. Now living this every day, I think that we are going to need to find our voice in how we rebuild communities.

Anything else?

Jason Metrokin: For new board members, my advice is strap in and get ready for a ride.  Because it is meaningful and impactful.

Marilyn Romano: A lot of times with an organization like the Rasmuson Foundation, people talk about the bigger grants. The impact comes as much from the small grants as the big ones because the small ones, they’re spread out. They touch so many people’s lives. In many instances, they are the ones that are needed so badly to do some of the most important work in the state.