In this week's blog, President Diane Kaplan recounts recent myriad activities and news from the Board, staff, grantees and partners.

While the holiday season did give us a chance to catch our breath, November and December were fairly busy. The following is a sampling of recent activities and grantee news.

Alaska State Senator Anna MacKinnon and Chairman Ed debrief following a discussion about housing construction gridlock, Dec. 18. Also pictured: Alaska State Senate President Kevin Meyer, CIHA's Carol Gore, and AHFC's Bryan Butcher.Alaska State Senator Anna MacKinnon (Fairclough) and Chairman Ed debrief following a discussion about housing construction gridlock, Dec. 18

State Senator Anna MacKinnon and Chairman Ed debrief following a discussion about housing construction gridlock.

Board Chairman Ed Rasmuson, Alaska State Senate President Kevin Meyer and I co-hosted a discussion Dec. 18 with Anchorage legislators, bankers, housing developers, and Housing Anchorage partners to identify ways the Legislature can help relieve housing construction gridlock. They highlighted remedies the state could enact:

  • preserve AHFC housing funding;
  • clarify and make technical improvements to current law; and
  • provide capital support for housing development infrastructure.

At the Transition Team Conference (from left): me, Cindy Roberts, Elsa Sargento and Susan Ruddy.

Board member Jeff Cook and I were among the 250 Alaskans invited to participate in the Governor’s Transition Team Conference. As a member of the infrastructure team, I introduced several key priorities of Housing Anchorage. From left: me, Cindy Roberts, Elsa Sargento and Susan Ruddy.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals held its annual Alaska Philanthropy Day Conference and Awards Luncheon on Nov. 21. Board members Cathy Rasmuson, Natasha von Imhof, Matt Hirschfeld and Linda Leary attended the awards luncheon with Foundation staff. Icicle Seafoods – where new Foundation Board member Kris Norosz is director of government affairs – was named outstanding business. Susan Behlke Foley, former chair of Alaska Community Foundation, received the award for outstanding volunteer.

Women of Achievement luncheon, left to right: Cassandra Stalzer, Natasha von Imhoff, Sammye Pokryfki, Morgan Christen, Diane DiSanto, Kate Slyker, Sharity Sommer, Aleesha Towns-Bain, Sharon Gagnon, Karen Cowart, Aurora Johnson, Belinda Breaux, Kelsey Potdevin, and me.

Current and former board members and staff hosted a luncheon with the YWCA’s 2014 Women of Achievement awardees. Left to right: Cassandra Stalzer, Natasha von Imhof, Sammye Pokryfki, Morgan Christen, Diane DiSanto, Kate Slyker, Sharity Sommer, Aleesha Towns-Bain, Sharon Gagnon, Karen Cowart, Aurora Johnson, Belinda Breaux, Kelsey Potdevin, and me.

Cathy Rasmuson and I attended a special celebration Dec. 10 to recognize the generous $1 million donation by former Foundation Board member Judge James A. and Mrs. Verna von der Heydt to the Anchorage Museum. Verna was an active Museum volunteer for more than 20 years. She and Jim, who died in 2013, provided significant financial support and gifts of artwork to the Museum. Jim was a founding member and first president of the Anchorage Fine Arts Museum Association, now the Anchorage Museum Association.


Ian Dutton, Anthony Mallott, Amy Skilbred (JCF executive director) and JCF Youth Action Committee members Morgan Hopson and Carlton Foss.

COO Ian Dutton, Board Member Anthony Mallott, Juneau Community Foundation (JCF) Executive Director Amy Skilbred. and JCF committee members Morgan Hopson and Carlton Foss at the Nov. 12 JCF Philanthropy Awards Dinner.

I wanted to express my gratitude for making Ken Miller’s presentation on Pick.Click.Give. possible. Being new to Alaska, I appreciated being brought ‘up to speed’ on this wonderful and unique philanthropic program. – Judy Berry, marketing and development director, Anchorage Opera

The Anchorage Park Foundation’s Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) was recently named the first organization in the country to be accredited by The Corps Network’s Corps Center of Excellence, which recognizes comprehensive youth development programs that provide participants with job training, academic programming and leadership skills.

Katherine Gottlieb, president and CEO of Southcentral Foundation (SCF), has received the 2015 Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award from the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The prestigious award was announced Dec. 15.

Vernon Smith, the inaugural UAA Rasmuson Chair of Economics and commencement speaker at the 2014 UAA Fall Commencement, has become the first person to receive both a Meritorious Service Award and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Alaska. Smith, currently a professor at Chapman University in California, shared the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 and set up UAA’s experimental economic laboratory the following year.

In 2014, I was an extremely honored and immensely grateful recipient of a Rasmuson Foundation Sabbatical. During my time off, from June through September, I took 15 minutes each day to draw or paint. Many people helped to make this break possible. The time away meant more to me than I can express. – Nancy DeCherney, executive director, Juneau Arts and Humanities Council

Karen Cowart has joined Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center as its director of development. Formerly director of community affairs for BP Alaska, Cowart currently serves on The Foraker Group operations board and on the Alaska Resource Education and Hospice of Anchorage boards.

Lisa Aquino has been hired as the new executive director of Catholic Social Services (CSS). Lisa has her Master in Health Science from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and comes to CSS from the Alaska Division of Public Health. Susan Bomalaski retired Dec. 1.

The North Pole Public Library ($500,000 Tier 2; Nov. ’13; full array of Pre-Development services) celebrated its grand re-opening on Nov. 23. In 2012, the Borough received a construction matching grant of $6,791,807 from the State of Alaska. The borough approved up to $6.8 million from its Library Special Revenue Fund and Friends of the Library raised approximately $135,000.

Dangerous IdeaPeter Metcalfe, author of “A Dangerous Idea: The Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Struggle for Indigenous Rights” (a project of the Foundation’s $1 million, Tier 2; Dec. ’07, Alaska Humanities Forum Alaska 50th Anniversary Statehood Challenge), has been on a book tour. “We sold out the UAA Bookstore’s inventory and had about 50 people in attendance. We are now promoting in Juneau with book signings and interviews on radio and public television,” he said. “We have been thanking Rasmuson and The Alaska Humanities Forum for the grant support.”

The SeaShare organization ($25,000 Tier 1; Feb. ’14 and Dec. ‘10), which works with the Alaska seafood industry to route bycatch to the Food Bank of Alaska, this month launched a refreshed website. The new look includes compelling video and social media tools. See it here.

The 49 Alaska Writing Center welcomes new executive director, Morgan Grey, who took the helm January 1. Grey is a founding member of 49 Writers.

Alaska Community Foundation has hired Karen Griffith, CPA, as its new chief financial officer. Griffith, who moves from Inlet Petroleum Company, replaces long-time CFO Kate Gerlek.

Staff News

Rasmuson Foundation staff participated in this year’s United Way of Anchorage Day of Caring, Dec. 9. We worked in two shifts at AWAIC Shelter for a day of heavy cleaning in the kitchen and playroom, and painting. Foundation crew included Sharity Sommer, Carmen Goodwin, Claudia Maria-Mateo, Ian Dutton, Jayson Smart, Jordan Marshall, Kelly Wagner, Marian Hunter, Zulie Mason, and me.