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Cathryn “Cathy” (Robertson) Rasmuson

Photo of Cathryn “Cathy” (Robertson) Rasmuson
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Community Service, Philanthropy, Public Service


Cathy Rasmuson’s impact as active Vice-Chair of the Rasmuson Foundation since 1997 is immeasurable. Her caring influence can be felt everywhere—from Alaska’s Native villages and urban cities to health care and the arts—with thousands of Alaskans every day benefitting from her passion to make Alaska a better place to live.

Rasmuson has been guided by a generous heart her entire life. She grew up in a modest household in Canada, but one rich in empathy and compassionate awareness for others. Her parents’ faith and their example as role models gave her a strong moral compass.

She believes everyone has strengths and gifts and it’s important to recognize who you are, what your gifts are, and make the most of them. As a young girl, she realized that she had a particular gift for organization and strategic thinking. These gifts have served her well in all her endeavors—from her service on the Rasmuson Foundation championing causes to hosting innumerable events, receptions, and dinners for a myriad of organizations from The Foraker Group to Sitka Fine Arts and many others.

One of the Rasmusons’ significant achievements has been to nourish the growth and expansion of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Rasmuson has a particular love of the arts and museums. When she is traveling, she never misses a museum.

Some of Rasmuson’s personal commitments include being the co-chair of the successful capital campaign for the Providence Cancer Center and as a founder and long-time Board member of Covenant House. She has been instrumental in establishing the pediatric/newborn intensive care unit at Providence, as well as being involved in supporting Catholic Social Services and the McAuley Moms. Rasmuson has initiated and shepherded many Rasmuson Foundation programs, such as expanding dental services in rural Alaska. In the last thirty-five years, she has served on numerous boards, including Alaska Children’s Services and the Alaska Repertory Theatre, in addition to countless committees. Rasmuson commented that the board and committee experiences have taught her to listen and to be grateful.

It was her sense of adventure that brought her to Alaska, where she met her lifelong mentor and loving partner, Ed Rasmuson, appropriately enough at a Valentine party. It was also this sense of adventure that provided her with one of her most memorable experiences. One year, Joe Reddington, the father of the Iditarod, offered a trip to anyone who would like to actually do the Iditarod trail. Joe schooled them in the art of dog-mushing and gave them each their own team—and then they began the 1200 mile journey! This is not for the faint of heart—it is cold, hard work and dangerous. They were all novices making their way to Nome. Those who made this journey became lifelong friends—as you do when you go through adversity together. The compassion that each had as they helped each other through some very rough times has stayed with them. Accomplishing this goal required enormous mental strength and determination, lessons that were transferred to the rest of her life.

Rasmuson loves to dance and is usually game for when “volunteers” are called for, be it the hula, flamenco, Irish, or Native dancing. Of course, she does extensive community volunteering. For example, when in the desert, she makes weekly visits to an elementary school for underprivileged children in Indio.

Ironically, Rasmuson dislikes fundraising, though she knows it is essential to seek funds to support causes she cherishes. However, her passion for a cause and commitment transcends that challenge, which takes her out of her comfort zone.

It is her temperament to wake up every morning and want to make the best of each day. She greatly values her friends, particularly their loyalty. She also enjoys reading—and thus her support of statewide libraries is well-known. She does enjoy cooking and her favorite specialty cuisines are Moroccan, Indian, and Italian. Rasmuson loves to golf, but has yet to hit that elusive hole-in-one. In addition to golf, she loves hiking, which led her to another adventure of hiking the historic Chilkat Trail with friends.

Her travels have included nearly every region of Alaska. Through these onsite visits, she sees firsthand the needs of each of these communities by meeting with elders and community leaders and hosting town meetings to learn about their vision of how their villages and towns can move toward a brighter future.

Key to Rasmuson’s character is not to seek the spotlight or acclaim for her many achievements and spheres of influence. Rather, she always gives credit and recognition to her partners, collaborators, and teams for the successes that were achieved. She has been honored, though, with the Ed and Cathryn Rasmuson Hall at UAA, the Lizzie Award from Covenant House and has been recognized as a YWCA “Woman of Achievement”. Her bio on the Rasmuson Foundation website is modest and brief, simply stating her board service with the Rasmuson Foundation and that her family is important to her life. She has three children and eight grandchildren and devotes her time to being a friend, a grandmother, the Rasmuson Foundation, and travel.

Rasmuson has truly been the heart of the Rasmuson Foundation. Her generous spirit and heart have touched many. As Alison Kear of Covenant House Alaska states: “She tirelessly gives her time to her friends, to those in need, and to the community. She is a selfless and powerful role model.”

She has always been powered by a passionate commitment and she has done a great deal of good for the state of Alaska.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Individual comments from Barbara Baugh, Pamela Brady, Alison Kear, Julie Fate Sullivan, Diane Kaplan and direct conversation with Cathryn Rasmuson



Mary Louise Rasmuson

Photo of Mary Louise Rasmuson
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Community Activism, Military, Philanthropy


Mary Louise Milligan entered the United States Army with the first group of American women selected for the Women’s Army Corps. She retired 20 years later as a Colonel after serving the last six years as Director of the Women’s Army Corps. Mary Louise broke down barriers for women in the U.S. armed forces successfully pursuing a career previously unavailable to women at a time when it was not popular to do so. She was a consistent advocate for improving the opportunities for women in the Army and for people of color to receive equal treatment in pursuit of military careers and engaging in community life.

In 1961, she married widowed Elmer E. Rasmuson and moved to Alaska. She and Elmer founded the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, now the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. She has served on the Board of the Rasmuson Foundation since 1967 and has set a model for personal philanthropy that will impact the state forever.

Sharon Richards

Photo of Sharon Richards
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Community Service, Education, Non-Profit Leadership


Volunteer, activist, educator, non-profit leader, elected official and small business owner are the broad titles Sharon Richards has carried during her life in Alaska. In all of her roles, Richards has reached out to people from minority communities and has been a tenacious advocate for women, children and families. Richards has led a life of non-profit leadership and volunteerism which has inspired many. She is a quiet leader who looks for people’s strengths. She believes in a public process which involves all people, not just the well connected. In 1988 Richards worked with a group of women to establish a YWCA in Anchorage, resigning as president of the organizing board to become is first executive director and growing the organization for the next 14 years from a staff of one to a staff of 14 operating out of their own building – Richards retired in 2002.

Prior to the YWCA, Richards was director of Community Relations at United Way and trained hundreds of non-profit boards of directors from across Alaska in legal and financial responsibilities. She also taught that studying issues made people informed voters and participants in society which turned them into leaders. She encouraged young women and minorities to take charge of their lives, to develop small businesses and to ecome college and/or career educated in order to become better leaders. Through this work, Richards has served as a role model for young women in the community who aspire to public service and political positions.

Before moving to Alaska, Richards had worked as a classroom language-arts teacher for junior-high-aged students. In 1967 she made the transition to Anchorage with her first husband and 18-month-old son – she also was four months pregnant with her daughter. This is when her life-long commitment to volunteerism and training others to become community and business leaders began. During this beginning she also had a third child, a son.

Early in her career, Richards worked as director of the Volunteer Center during Mayor Tony Knowles’ administration. In this capacity she established the annual city-wide volunteer recognition and Volunteer Service Awards. For six years she served on an Anchorage School District committee that dealt with minority concerns. After chairing it she was appointed and then elected to the Anchorage School Board where she served nearly eight years (1988-1995) twice elected president by her colleagues. She also served as secretary-treasurer for the state-wide Alaska Association of School Boards.

Some of her other community commitments have included: president of many organizations including the League of Women Voters, KAKM, Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club, Association of Non-Profit Corporations and the Anchorage Association of Volunteer Administrators plus chair of the Anchorage Daily News Neighbor-to-Neighbor Fund. She was also on the boards of directors of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Community Foundation. Because of Richards leadership and hard work she received the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce ATHENA award in 1999; the YWCA Women of Achievement Award in 1998; the Citizen of the Year Award from the Alaska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in 1994 and was recognized by LULAC, a Latino organization for outstanding commitment, involvement and contribution to the minority community in 1986.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

2000 ATHENA Society Directory, Profiles in Leadership

Michelle “Mish” Ridgway

Photo of Michelle “Mish” Ridgway
Categories: 2018 Alumnae, Conservation, Education, Exploration, Marine Ecology


Upon the sudden death of marine scientist, educator and conservationist Michelle Ridgway, there was much discussion on social media. One comment, though, seemed to capture them all. It came from former legislator Andrea Doll … “I am mourning the loss of someone greater than life.”

Life-long Alaskan Michelle Ridgway was, indeed, a larger than life figure. Whether piloting a submarine to explore the ocean’s largest undersea canyon, helping document a new species of kelp or whale, fighting for marine conservation across Alaska or building the next generation of Alaskan scientists with her marine science camps … Michelle was at once memorable and impactful.

Michelle developed her love and appreciation for marine life while growing up on Ketchikan’s shore. She later pursued her education in marine biology, algal ecology, and fisheries sciences at Evergreen State College, the University of Washington, Kobe University (Kobe Japan), and University of Alaska Fairbanks.

While working as a fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the 1980’s, Michelle loved conducting fisheries fieldwork throughout Alaska. She later worked as a Research Associate with the University of Alaska and ultimately developed a career as a private contractor, creating a consulting firm (Oceanus Alaska) and educational portal (Alaska Deep Ocean Science Institute) through which she was actively engaged as a marine ecologist, researcher, and educator for nearly three decades.

Michelle Ridgway was a marine ecologist in the most comprehensive sense of the term. She was fascinated by the intricacies and inter-relationships of marine species, from microscopic zooplankton to the massive whales they nourished. She studied, described, and measured the bio/chemo/physical properties of the marine environment needed to sustain marine species, helping to define species’ Essential Habitat in objective and mathematical terms.

Michelle believed the only way to truly understand a marine species and its habitat was to observe it in situ— alive and underwater. So she dove, she ran Remote Operating Vehicles (ROV), and she piloted submarines. She was at home underwater. She explored marine realms from the tropics to the ice-covered arctic, from intertidal pools to ocean canyons, observing and then sharing this unique perspective with others.

A highlight of her career was to be among the first scientists to ever explore the Zhemchug Canyon, an 8,500-foot deep canyon that plunges into the Aleutian Basin near the Pribilof Islands. Sponsored by a research expedition of Greenpeace, Michelle piloted an 8-foot-long solo submarine to explore, document, and sample deep-water denizens of the canyon’s depths. Her observations during these dives shed new light on the distribution of zooplankton communities in Zhemchug Canyon depths. Rather than living only in the upper water column and raining down to depths as detritus as was commonly believed, Michelle found these tiny creatures (that form the basis of the entire marine food web) even at depths of nearly 1800 feet in the Zhemchug Canyon. In her own words, Michelle noted, “The entire water column was teeming with a very dense aggregation of zooplankton. It’s rich and living at every depth we examined.”

Michelle never just observed and documented marine life. Her passion was in sharing what she knew. This sharing of knowledge— through elaborate descriptions, intimate photos, and underwater video— was Michelle’s unique gift. Her fascination and appreciation of marine species, their habitat, adaptations, and ecological connections was contagious. She would explore tidepools with a 5 year old in the morning and testify about Essential Fish Habitat before federal resource managers in the afternoon… and both audiences would come away with a new awareness of their marine environment.

But Michelle connected uniquely with young minds and beginning in 2005, she collaborated with local conservationists, school districts, and Native entities to develop and deliver intensive Marine Science Camps. Over ten years, she directed more than a dozen week-long marine science camps in Old Harbor, Juneau, Akutan, the Pribilof Islands, and Sitka. After tailoring a curriculum for each oceanic locale, local culture, and research/vessel resources available, Michelle directed these camps as action-packed, research-based scientific expeditions for students. She taught her students to observe without preconceptions. As a result, she and her student scientists collected data and samples during these camps that were instrumental in documenting a new species of kelp and beaked whale. NOAA is now emulating her design of marine science camps as a way to bridge government scientists with student groups.

Michelle’s impact on her students went beyond the Science Camps. Karin Holser, a teacher in the village of St. George, says, “She was willing to do whatever was needed to inspire them to want to learn more and to understand the ocean that surrounded their island. She was an incredible mentor to many of the kids of both St. George and St. Paul Island. She took these science camp kids to the Smithsonian to work with the new whale species that was discovered on St. George. She took them to NYC to the Explorers Club, she coached them to be keynote speakers at a North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) conference, and they got an award from the Alaska Conservation Foundation.”

To the students in these science camps, Michelle was on the level of famed oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle (dubbed “Her Deepness” by fellow scientists). Michelle mentored and inspired them to the same degree that Sylvia Earle inspired her. It should be no surprise to learn that Michelle joined Sylvia as a member of the prestigious Explorer’s Club, an international organization of scientists, adventurers and philanthropists, promoting exploration throughout the world.

Beyond her exploratory nature, Michelle was known in the marine fisheries and conservation world as an unblinking advocate for marine species, habitats, and resources. Her dedication to science-based marine conservation led to Michelle’s service as an early board member (1995-2001) of the Alaska Marine Conservation council (AMCC) where she helped build a community-based conservation program. Michelle inspired the new organization to address large fishery management challenges by focusing on the whole ecosystem and the fishing communities that rely on healthy oceans. She guided the program to be rooted in science while boldly challenging the status quo.

In 2000, Michelle was appointed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (NPFMC) Advisory Panel where she served from April 2000 through December 2008. It was in the policy forum where she used her marine ecology acumen to scrutinize decisions that most others at the table considered from narrower perspectives.

David Witherell, the current Executive Director of the NPFMC, says, “Michelle was a passionate advocate for resource conservation and habitat protection in the marine waters off Alaska. As a scientist with first-hand knowledge and direct observation of seafloor habitats, she brought a unique perspective to the Advisory Panel’s discussions and deliberations on the best approach to conserving and managing the fisheries off Alaska.  Michelle had a great influence on the development of major conservation policies, including actions taken by the Council to protect vast areas of deep-sea corals, reduce bycatch, and reduce potential impacts of fishing on Steller sea lions.”

Michelle also served as an advisor to NOAA on the National Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee from 2010-2014. Later she worked closely with Alaska Native Tribal communities to help nominate the Pribilof Domain of the Bering Sea as Alaska’s first National Marine Sanctuary.

Although leading a full career as a marine ecologist and conservationist, Michelle always made time to reach out to young people— and especially women— aspiring to become marine scientists. In her own notes about her career, Michelle stated that she mentored dozens of young women in high school and college. One of these dozen young women is Emma Good currently a student at Western Washington University. Emma Good says, “What I will remember most is Michelle’s passion and commitment to not only help, but inspire young scientists like myself to succeed in the field. For young students it is so important to have strong role models and I hope one day I will be able to give back to this community in the same way that Michelle mentored and cared about me.”

In her personal life, Michelle embraced life with the same degree of passion she exhibited in her professional life. She sailed, mushed huskies, was a volunteer fire-fighter/EMT, and played a mean game of tennis and hockey, among many other activities. But foremost in her life was her fierce loving loyalty to family and friends.

Michelle believed one thing that wove together the many strands of her life:  What you do matters.  Whether exploring the waters depths, teaching a friend to mush dogs or visiting distant relatives, she made an intentional effort in every moment of her life.  She believed it mattered.

Additional Resources:

Anchorage Daily News story about her trip into Zhemchug Canyon –

Link to submarine video of Michelle’s solo submarine journey into Zhemchug Canyon –

Anchorage Daily News story about new species of beaked whale –

Journal Nature article on the discovery of Golden-V kelp at the Pribilof Islands –

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Martha M. Roderick

Photo of Martha M. Roderick
Categories: 2011 Alumnae, Civic Involvement, Education


Martha Brady Martin was born in 1931 in Knoxville, Tenn. At age 16, she went to Radcliffe. In 1955 she came to Alaska “just for the summer” intending to return to Boston for a job with John Hancock Insurance Company. She did not go back. Her first job in Anchorage was to sell advertising for the program of a traveling circus. Giving her sales pitch at Cordova Airlines, she was asked her dress size, and when it was determined she would fit the stewardess uniform, was offered a job. She accepted, and traveled on a DC-3 around Alaska. She met an attractive truck driver (Jack Roderick) in Anchorage and married him. They raised two daughters.

Martha was interested in politics, and the year she arrived in Anchorage she was elected secretary of the local Democratic caucus. She joined the League of Women Voters and chaired a committee conducting a two-year study of Anchorage’s first general plan. She was a member of the speaker’s bureau promoting the formation of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough. After statehood, Gov. Egan appointed Martha Alaska’s representative to the Western States’ Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE).

The Roderick family went to New Delhi, India, in 1967, where Jack served a year as regional director for the Peace Corps. After their return, Martha pursued her particular interest in education. She served on Anchorage School District committees from 1969 to 1983, and was elected to the Anchorage School Board in 1984 and served on it for four years, her last year as president.

As a child, Martha had watched her grandfather pay his garden workers, mostly African-American citizens, to stay after their work day so he could teach them to read. Inspired by that, Martha regularly volunteered for more than 40 years, particularly at Fairview Elementary School, to help children succeed at reading. Her commitment to education was sincere. One year, Martha spent her Permanent Fund dividend on a “for-keeps” book for every student at Fairview School. Later, she taught as part of the Title One program at Fairview, and taught pre-GED students at the Adult Learning Center. She found success with her approach to determine what was of interest to the student. For boys who answered “heavy equipment”, Martha would have them use a heavy equipment manual as the textbook.

In 1980, Martha attended the Radcliffe Management Training Seminar and did an internship at Massachusetts Education Television. On her return to Anchorage in 1981, she became the first community access coordinator for Multivisions Cable Company. There, she set up what is now the Anchorage School District Channel 43. She met with local groups and worked to get them to produce and broadcast television shows about issues and events of interest to their constituencies.

Martha contributed her time, intelligence, skill, and energy to helping young people learn to read, and to working to help the Anchorage school system excel. She believed the ability to read could make a difference between a life of success and one of discouragement. The Martha Roderick Books for Kids Fund, established after her death in 2008, allows her family to continue her program of giving a “for keeps” book to every child at Fairview Elementary School.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Teri May (Laws) Rofkar

Photo of Teri May (Laws) Rofkar
Tlingit Name: Chaas’ Koowu Tia’a 19562016
Categories: 2017 Alumnae, Tlingit Culture, Traditional Weaving


Teri Rofkar, a Raven from the Snail House, was a renowned Tlingit artist, a weaver known nationally and internationally for her spruce tree root baskets and Ravenstail robes.

At an early age, she was introduced to traditional Tlingit weaving techniques by her maternal Tlingit grandmother, Eliza Monk, whom she visited in the summers in the village of Pelican in Southeast Alaska. Both her parents, Bud and Marie, were artists who experimented with multiple art forms. While Rofkar did not begin her professional thirty-year career as an artist until 1986, she credits her grandmother’s early teachings as inspiring her interest in the traditional gathering and weaving techniques.

From careful examination of traditional baskets, discussions with elders and experimentation with the Ravenstail techniques of twining, Rofkar was able to learn the 6,000 year-old traditional Tlingit methods of gathering and weaving natural materials. She created both waterproof baskets from spruce tree roots and dancing Ravenstail robes. Since both were created through the same twining technique Rofkar sometimes referred to her robes as “dancing baskets”.

To use these traditional methods requires an artist to have an enormous capacity for work, a great deal of time, and a tenacious dedication. Rofkar estimated that each hour of digging spruce roots resulted in 8 to10 hours to prepare the roots for use. Weaving a small basket could take 40 to 210 hours, or 80 to 2300 hours for a large basket. To create a Ravenstail robe first required 6 months of spinning and then 800 to 1400 hours to twine the robe on a frame.

Once Rofkar learned and mastered the 6,000 year-old gathering and weaving techniques, she realized she needed to re-introduce this ancient knowledge to others. She did not considered herself a teacher, but believed that spreading her understanding of traditional Tlingit cultural practices was a necessary and obvious obligation. She acknowledged her role as a culture bearer by commenting: “I get to carry the culture for a little while, and then I’ll hand it off.”

While Rofkar did not have the same passion for teaching as she did for basketry, she taught the ancient gathering and weaving method widely and in a variety of ways. She led school children on field trips into the woods and taught them how spruce roots could be gathered from the same trees, year after year, without damage, so they would continue to be a renewable resource. For many years she conducted workshops for professional artists throughout the country, as well as leading spruce root harvesting classes in Cordova, Sitka and Yakutat.

Rofkar was recognized and honored by her peers by being chosen to deliver keynote addresses, lectures and master classes around the country from California to Minnesota to the East Coast. For a number of years she was an artist in residence at the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center in Sitka, the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She taught Ravenstail weaving classes at the University of Alaska Southeast and conducted apprenticeship programs. In addition to teaching the traditional cultural techniques to others, she worked with the National Museum of the American Indian to develop a protocol for the care and conservation of Tlingit baskets that was shared with other museums.

In 2013 she worked with an educational consultant to create an indigenous science curriculum based on the processes of gathering, planning a design and weaving a robe. For a number of years, Rofkar was an Affiliated Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that houses the country’s largest collection of Northwest baskets. Her work involved examining and identifying which spruce root baskets had been made in the 6,000-year-old traditional Tlingit way and exploring the connection between science and art in the basketry. Rofkar documented this work in a book she wrote which, at the time of her death, was in the final stages of editing and review. She perhaps best summarized her roles as artist and teacher when she stated: “I’m hoping that the pieces that I create are the teachers. They’ll be looking at them, you know, 200 years from now. ‘Ah, this is what they were doing’ “.

As an artist, Rofkar was not afraid to experiment or incorporate contemporary design or new materials with traditional methods and techniques. She wove cedar bark and pine needles into her baskets, incorporated tiny maidenhair ferns for decoration, and experimented with adding copper, silk, and glass beads. She honored the utilitarian roots of her baskets by filling each one, at least once, with berries.

In order to weave an all-mountain goat wool Ravenstail robe, the first in 200 years, she had to learn from local “oldtimers” how, where and when mountain goat undercoat could be gathered. Then, after learning how to spin the hair into wool, she wove a robe utilizing the traditional Ravenstail twining method. In the side panels she incorporated the very modern design of the double helix of the Baranof Island mountain goat’s unique DNA.

In recent years, Rofkar was working on what she called her Superman series of regalia that included the mountain goat robe and two others. One proposal was to use Kevlar material for a bulletproof Ravenstail robe, but trying to procure such material proved difficult. Her third idea was to create a robe of illumination that could shine like the northern lights when triggered by audio signal by weaving luminescence and nanotechnology into the fabric. She did succeed in creating a prototype of this robe using fiber optic wire.

Rofkar’s seventeen Ravenstail robes and numerous spruce root baskets are exhibited at museums and other facilities throughout the country. These locations include: the Denver Art Museum, Chicago Field Museum, Natural History Museum in New Your City, Portland Art Museum, Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (depicts Good Friday Quake in Ravenstail robe design), University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, University of British Columbia Museum, Fairbanks Court House, UAF Museum of the North, Doyon Corporation, Visitors’ Center, US Forest Service in Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska High School.

On the occasion of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Southeast in 2015, Rofkar worked with the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka to bring her robes back to Sitka from collections around the country. She commented at the time that: “This will be the first occasion in historic time that this many of this type of robe will be dancing”. At the May 1, 2015 ceremony, dancers wore her robes and danced during the commencement celebration. The University’s invitation to the ceremony included the following:”Teri’s robes are a repository of her research, math, and science not separate from, but including, spiritual, functional, and historic ancient culture. These artifacts and Teri’s continued work are a porthole into indigenous methodology that keeps all of these disciplines living and dancing into the future. Please join us as witness to this once in a lifetime gathering of traditions…”

Throughout Rofkar’s thirty-year career as a professional artist she received a number of significant awards and honors, including the following:

2001-2010: Artist in Residence, Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural Center, Sitka;

2002: Commissioned to weave a basket for “2002 Governor’s Art Awards”;

2003: Native Arts “Smithsonian Visiting Scholar” at the National Museum of the

American Indian;

2003: Artist in Residence, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA;

2004: Governor’s Award for Native Arts in Alaska;

2004: Buffett Award for Indigenous Leadership (Ecotrust);

2005: First place, Twined Miniatures, TOCA National Basketweaver’s Conference;

2005: Solo Exhibit, Anchorage Museum of Art and History;

2005: Alaska Native Art Festival, National Museum of the American Indian and

Natural History Museum,Washington, D.C.

2006: United States Artists Fellowship (inaugural class);

2006: Selected to demonstrate traditional art of Tlingit basket weaving,

Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, 6/30/06-7/4/2006;

2008: National Native Master Artist Initiative grant;

2009: NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award (the nation’s highest award for

traditional folk arts and crafts; awardees known as “Living Cultural Treasures”);

2009: Artist Fellowship Awards, Rasmuson Foundation;

2012-2014: Received support from Creative Capital for her Superman series;

2013: Distinguished Artist Award, Rasmuson Foundation, “recognized as an artist with stature and a history of creative excellence”;

2013: Artist Fellowship for Traditional Arts, Native Arts & Cultures Foundation award;

2013: Selected to deliver keynote address, Art Alliance Communities Conference,

San Jose, CA.;

2014: All mountain-goat wool Ravenstail robe awarded first place, Sealaska

Heritage Institute Juried Art Show;

2015: Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, University of Alaska Southeast Sitka Campus;

2015-2020: Rofkar’s work included in ”Native America Voices: The People-Here

and Now” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology

and Anthropology. She also served as a content advisor for the exhibit.

According to her sister, Rofkar was always a planner, thinking ahead to the next steps to take. She was a meticulous note taker, resulting in precise journals recording her research. She was practical and pragmatic and knew when it was time to create items for commercial gain and when she could create art. When she realized that operating the gallery in which she had partial ownership took too much time from her work as an artist, she sold her share. She was not afraid to try and fail; simply noting that something had not worked out. An “aha” moment, which changed her life, came about in 1996 when she stepped on a fragment of a spruce root basket that had been buried in the mud and preserved. The fragment was subsequently dated as being about 5,000 years old. Rofkar realized that the fragment was woven in exactly the way her grandmother had taught her when she was ten years old.

Her sister has made the point that Rofkar was more than just her art. Diane Kaplan, President and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation, which gave a number of awards to Rofkar, stated: “Not only is she an artist of amazing talent and stature, she is also the most delightful, generous and patient person you probably will every meet.” She cared deeply about how best to live and create art, responsibly, in the environment, from eating locally to gathering spruce roots in the same manner and from the same trees as her ancestors had. The more Rofkar worked as an artist utilizing these traditional gathering and weaving techniques, the more she gained insight into ancient Tlingit culture. She explored her culture at great length and the more she learned, the deeper her appreciation.

Rofkar’s artist statement summarizes the connections she made between the present and her cultural past; contemporary and ancient culture, nature and art, and her role as a culture-bearer. “I am following the steps of my Ancestors, striving to recapture the woven arts of an indigenous people. The ancient ways of gathering spruce root, with respect for the trees’ life and spirit, are a rich lesson in today’s world. Traditional methods of gathering and weaving natural materials help me to link past, present, and future. Decades of weaving have opened my eyes to the pure science that is embedded in Tlingit Art. The arts and our oral history together bring knowledge of ten thousand years of research to life. My goal is to continue the research, broadening awareness for the generations to come.”

Teri Rofkar was a Tlingit, daughter of Raven from the Snail House (T’akdeintaan), a clan originating in Lituya Bay. She was a member of the Sitka Tribes of Alaska and a shareholder in the Sealaska Native Corporation. Born in California, she lived in Anchorage, Alaska, throughout her school years, graduating from Dimond High School in 1974 and was married in October 1974. She credited her grandmother, the encouragement and help from various elders, and college courses in her art form for her further education. She and her husband Dennis settled in Sitka in 1976 and raised three children.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Conversations with Dennis Rofkar and Shelly Laws (Teri Rofkar’s husband and sister, respectively) and Diane Kaplan, President and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

Teri Rofkar’s website

Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 5, 2016, Article by Michelle Theriault Boots

Anchorage Dispatch News, Dec. 24, 2016, Article by Mike Dunham quoting from 2009 interview with Teri Rofkar

Diane Kaplan quotation from article in “First Alaskans Magazine”, Aug./Sept. 2013, p.58

Anchorage Museum Artist File



Frances Helaine Rose

Photo of Frances Helaine Rose
Categories: 2020 Alumnae, Education, Entrepreneurship


A half-century resident of Alaska, Bronx born alum, Frances (Dushman) Rose never envisioned living a life quite so far North from where she was born and attended college. Rose has taught GED classes to adults, GIs, and prison inmates as well as consulted on adult education teacher training for Native villages in Alaska.

Reflecting on her various new experiences in Alaska, Rose shared watching moose munching as its antlers clonked on her mailbox at her downtown Anchorage home as her favorite.

Rose grew accustomed to spectacular wildlife even when it wandered downtown. Her historic home in Anchorage once housed mink pelt storage.

Rose and her late husband, David Rose, were pillars of the community even before the 1980s North Slope oil development brought boom times to the railroad hub and major port of Anchorage, Alaska.

Rose’s 5 decades in Alaska reflected a “can do” spirit in every enterprise she undertook; especially in vocational education and civic causes.

When their two sons were infants, to cope with the “outrageous” cost of living, Rose did clerical work on military bases.

Rose served ten years on the State Advisory Council for vocational and career education, of which 2 years were as Chair. During this period, she served on the task force to develop the first 5 year statewide plan for vocational education. Starting in 1968, she worked as an instructor at the Adult Basic Education Program (ABE) at the Anchorage Community College and became the director of the program in 1977-79. One of her earliest assignments for ABE was teaching in an Anchorage correctional facility in 1968-69. Although it was outside her comfort zone, she developed a rapport with the inmates as she assisted them in obtaining their General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

After Rose’s 10 years with ABE she consulted for Tanana Chiefs Land Claims College in Fairbanks. Rose developed a training program for teachers from Athabaskan Villages. She also consulted with the Alaska Department of Education to conduct staff development workshops in Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue.

Prior to moving to Juneau with her husband in 1982, Rose was a co – City Administrator for the city of Akutan with Nancy Gross.

While in Juneau, from 1983-89, Rose was a special assistant to the Commissioner of Administration mini cabinet on women’s issues as part of the job.

Rose purchased and owned a women’s apparel shop named Victoria’s from 1985 to 1989.

Rose was Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development assisting in various economic development projects for small businesses from 1990-91.

For many years the Roses were business partners with Susan and Tony Knowles (he became mayor of Anchorage and later Governor of Alaska), in Anchorage’s popular New York style Downtown Deli, a New York style deli restaurant bringing authentic lox, bagels and the Sunday New York Times. On any given day movers and shakers; business, government and Native affairs men and women would hold court at the Deli as they charted Alaska’s future.

Rose’s most significant role in business was Senior Vice President of Administration for Alaska Permanent Capital Management Co. (APCM), a financial investment corporation which she formed with her husband David Rose. APCM grew to over $2 billion in assets under their management. Individual clients are accessing the same technology and expertise that is applied to management of funds for State and local governments, Alaska Native Corporations, financial institutions, health care organizations and The Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.  APCM has hired a diverse group of financial experts from all over Alaska. A significant portion of the staff is women. Rose retired from the firm in 2017, completely turning over the reins to her son Evan Rose.

Rose and her husband created The Frances and David Rose Foundation in 1997. As a community and civic organizer over the past 40 years, Rose was a founding member of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and served on the Alaska Tourism and Marketing Council, the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, and the State Advisory Counsil for vocational and career education. Rose has been a generous contributor to many aspects of what makes Alaska and Anchorage a great place to live.

Rose was a charter member and founder of the Alaska Jewish Museum, which highlights the contributions of Jewish history in Alaska.

In 1959 Rose earned a bachelor degree in history from Queens College in New York and continued her education in 1975 where she earned a Master in Education (adult education) from the University of Alaska.

Fran’s family emigrated from Austria to America in the late 1800s and eventually lived in a multi-family tenement house in the Bronx. While growing up, Fran spent many hours with her grandmother who had lost her sight at age 55. During “Fran” time with her grandmother, she learned Yiddish. Because Fran’s grandmother did not know how to read or write, Fran developed a penchant for education. Fran is a voracious reader of history; the last book she enjoyed reading was “Catherine the Great”.

Rose is the mother of two sons, Evan and Mitch Rose, daughter-in-laws Barbara Saenz-Rose and Dale Rose. Rose has five grandchildren, Thomas and Joshua Saenz, and Ben, Shelby and Haley Rose.

Irene Sparks Rowan

Photo of Irene Sparks Rowan
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Activist, Leadership, Native Issues


Irene Sparks Rowan, a Tlingit Indian from Klukwan, became a national figure during the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) struggle,  then returned to Alaska to form and lead her village corporation, Klukwan, Inc. In 1976, Rowan helped lead a world-wide campaign to encourage Alaska Natives to enroll under ANCSA, then returned to Washington, D.C., to work as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Rowan’s mission began as a teenager when she taught a troop of Haines Boy Scouts how to Indian dance. The dancers, accompanied by a drum and bugle corps (Irene dancing and playing the bugle), became the well known Chilkat Dancers. Rowan credits this experience, at a time and in a place where Native values and traditional practices were not popular, as key to shaping her life: making her proud to be an Alaska Native and sharing those traditional values with non-Natives. Her early ability to innovate and lead shines through when the dancers, at the fiercely competitive international intertribal Indian Dance Ceremonial festival in New Mexico, were unexpectedly limited in their music. They then danced to the same chant, three times, but at different tempos, without the audience noticing. The Chilkat Dancers received the grand prize for their performance!

Rowan learned to walk in both worlds at an early age from her mother, Mildred Sparks, a Tlingit Indian from Klukwan. Sparks not only was a lifelong advocate for the Alaska Native people but was an English-speaker and acted as a bridge between cultures. As a teacher in Bethel in the 1960s, Rowan helped to elect the first Alaska Native to serve on the city council. She soon expanded her political interests to the national scene, helping to elect Mike Gravel to the Senate in 1968 and moving to Washington, D.C. Rowan then joined in the fight for the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, one of the very few women so involved.

Upon returning to Alaska, Rowan was elected the president of Klukwan, Inc. in 1975 and immediately led a successful lobbying effort to amend  ANSCA twice: to recognize Klukwan, Inc. as a village corporation eligible for ANCSA benefits; and to allow selection of lands outside their original withdrawal area. As president and chief executive officer, it was then her task to lead the complicated and difficult efforts to establish the corporate structure and the process for land selection. In 1976 she joined forces with Susan Ruddy in a public information company which secured a contract to carry out a world-wide campaign to encourage Alaska Natives to enroll under ANCSA. In the late 1970s Rowan returned to Washington and worked as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior to help sort out and resolve the myriad of questions and issues arising from implementation of ANSCA. Returning to Alaska, she continued her implementation work, this time with the Alaska Federation of Natives. She continued to serve many years on the Klukwan, Inc. board. Rowan maintains that her experience being the “face” of Klukwan, Inc. during its formative years has led her to prefer to operate “behind-the-scenes”. However, it is clear from her activities since that time that when needs are identified, Rowan steps forward to lead and initiate action.

Rowan started the Southcentral Native Educators Association while serving as an adjunct instructor of Alaska Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In 2001 she organized a diverse group of volunteers and organizations into the Alaska Native Heritage Month Committee to create ways to commemorate Native cultures during Alaska Native Heritage Month in November. When it appeared the 40th anniversary of ANCSA in 2011 would pass unnoticed, Rowan initiated, organized and chaired the “ANCSA@40” committee.  This group created a year-long program of drums and lectures, including collecting documents and photographs, to celebrate and honor the efforts of those who fought for ANCSA and to educate those unfamiliar with the struggle. She then arranged for the video tapes and still photos from these events to be archived for the use of future generations.

Outside of her role in Alaska Native affairs, Rowan has broad interests in the larger community. As a businesswoman, Rowan has served on the board of Northrim BanCorp (formerly Northrim Bank) since 1991. As a member of Sisters in Crime, the mystery writer organization, she helped organize an “Authors in the Schools” program and a GCI video conferencing program of Alaska Native authors to encourage young rural students to record their stories. She currently serves on the board of Alaska Moving Images Preservation Association. Rowan cites her selection in 1991 by Freedom House to be an election observer in El Salvador as one of her most valuable experiences.  She traveled for a week in that war-torn ountry with a delegation of individuals from throughout the world known as Freedom Fighters. Rowan said her most enjoyable achievement in life has been to raise two daughters.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Lisa Howell Starr Rudd

Photo of Lisa Howell Starr Rudd
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Advocacy, Civil Rights, Equal Rights


In 1988 the original Alaska Commission on the Status of Women celebrated a decade of advocacy and education on behalf of women. Lisa Rudd, as a legislator in the Alaska State House, sponsored the legislation that created it. Throughout her personal, professional and political life Rudd dedicated her efforts to improve laws, conditions and opportunities for Alaska women, children and people of all races. She was the prime force behind the state’s mini-cabinet on women’s issues, and elevated to priority status the issues of daycare, child support enforcement and the employment of Alaska Native women in state government. At this celebration the first Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame was dedicated to Rudd and her legacy of accomplishments providing a visible role model for tomorrow’s leaders.

“It is not a cosmic coincidence that the Author’s Room at the Z.J. Loussac Library will be dedicated to the memory of Lisa Rudd the same weekend as the Alaska Women’s Run, but it is a nice grace note.

“Thousands of women laughing, sharing, striving, competing with the best while supporting each other – the run is the perfect metaphor for Lisa Rudd’s life,” said Susan Nightingale in her June 10, 1988, Anchorage Daily News article.

Other major legislation Rudd sponsored included the creation of a State of Alaska infant learning program, which provided early intervention for infants and toddlers with special needs, ensuring their healthy development. She also sponsored legislation requiring Alaska mariners, familiar with Alaska waters, to pilot oil tankers in and out of Valdez and a separate bill making organ donor registration available on drivers’ licenses. She was active in the women’s-rights movement, and helped to get women’s shelters established in a number ofAlaska communities, incuding Anchorage.

It is a testament to her character, integrity and abilities that three Alaska governors of both parties, Egan, Hammond and Sheffield, appointed her to state posts during their administration.  From 1983 to 1985, Rudd served as commissioner of Administration. In January 1976, Rudd was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Alaska State House Representative Willard Bowman.  She was then elected to that seat where she chaired the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. In 1980 she ran unsuccessfully for State Senate. Rudd served on the Anchorage Charter Commission, the State Commission for Human Rights, and was a member of the Governor’s Equal Employment Committee (1974-1975).  In 1974 she was coordinator of education programs for the Alaska Native Foundation.  She was director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the Anchorage School District (1972-1973).

Rudd also served on a number of community boards of directors including the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Alaska Children’s Services, the Anchorage Employee Relations Board and the Alaska Zoo.  She was a founding member of the Women Executives in State Government.

Many awards, honors and recognitions were given to Rudd throughout her career, among them: the Soroptimist Club of Anchorage’s first annual “Women Helping Women Award”, Community Service Award from the Imperial Court of Alaska (Alaska’s oldest gay community organization) and the Alaska Women’s Commission’s first Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame was dedicated to her.

Rudd received her B.A. in American History and Government from Bennington College and her M.A. in Pubic Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In addition to her public life, Rudd and her husband, Joseph, raised two daughters, Alison and Sandra. To quote them, “She passed on  to us her love of choral singing, berry picking, sailing, playing tennis, fishing and exploring Alaska.  Our mom was an excellent cook and loved to entertain guests for dinner. She enjoyed time at our family cabin and traveling the world.  Prior to mom’s death, she was able to know and love her granddaughter Erin.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech


Susan L. Ruddy

Photo of Susan L. Ruddy
Categories: 2012 Alumnae, Community Organizing, Conservation


Motivated by her father’s love of Jack London stories of the north and by observing her mother as a leader working across party lines in the Rhode Island state Legislature, Susan Ruddy chose to come to Alaska in 1964. With her, she brought the belief that a person can build compassionate communities and embrace and protect magnificent natural environments. Ruddy has devoted the past four decades to conserving Alaska’s unique ecosystems and crafting community infrastructure across the state.

Ruddy founded the Alaska Chapter of the Nature Conservancy in the 1980s to bring science to bear in the identification and protection of biologically unique areas. She also recognized the need to raise funds to accomplish goals, such as community development, so she went on to manage institutions to expand healthcare and education. Ruddy directed the Providence Alaska Foundation, where she championed the establishment of the Providence Cancer Center. The cancer center provides care to families, regardless of income, including the services of a “navigator” who assists them with the range of decisions about cancer treatments. Before Providence, Ruddy served as vice chancellor for University Advancement at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she led a team in acquiring philanthropic gifts to expand science, engineering, and fine arts programs at UAA.

Ruddy has moved seamlessly among the private, public, and non-profit sectors of the state to bring Alaskans together to work out differences and to expand our understanding of one another. On behalf of the Mediation Institute, Ruddy facilitated resolution of land disputes between Alaska Native corporations, public owners, and environmental organizations. In the field of communications, she owned and operated a business that in 1979 produced the first footage of the Iditarod Sled dog race ever available for national television audiences.   

Ruddy raised two curious and kind children, both professionals, who continue to give back to their communities. Sean Ruddy lives in Anchorage with his wife, Pauline, and Lydia Ruddy resides in Indonesia. Susan Ruddy’s personal devotion to the out-of-doors is reflected in her  development of an oyster farm near Halibut Cove with her son his wife. Ruddy kayaks, hikes, and is an avid bird watcher.

Ruddy has volunteered her time as a board member of numerous organizations, including two terms on the National Board of the Smithsonian Institution, several terms on the Commonwealth North Board and on the Providence Region Board. Today she continues to serve on the Board of the Nature Conservancy. As a cancer survivor, she is a strong supporter of the Alaska Women’s Run.

Throughout her career, Ruddy has nurtured the skills of and expanded the knowledge of the next generation of Alaska’s managers, thinkers, and policy makers. She has inspired and mentored many young leaders who are caring for the state’s institutions and communities today. She regards their successes as her lasting contribution to Alaska.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech

Irene Ryan

Photo of Irene Ryan
Categories: 2009 Alumnae, Aviation, Politics, Science


Irene Ryan was a woman of many firsts. She was a pilot, geological engineer, and politician. In June 1932, at age 22, Irene became the first woman to solo an airplane in the Territory of Alaska. She was the first woman geologist to graduate from New Mexico School of Mines. She put that degree to good use when she designed and constructed airfields during WWII, and then after the war, she helped design the Anchorage International Airport.

Irene served in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives and, after statehood in 1959, in the State Senate. Her expertise in oil and mining was seen as very beneficial by the male-dominated legislature. Former attorney general John Havelock said, “It was really extraordinary that a woman could make her way in a man’s world, in a mans topic.” Irene explained, “I have found that the best way to be accepted on equal ground is just to go ahead and quietly do the job at hand.”