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Loussac: Alaska's first philanthropist

Posted: July 14, 2013 - 12:01am
This photo shows Z.J. Loussac, second from right, who donated the first library building for Anchorage, with Gov. Ernest Gruening, far left, Sen. Vic Rivers and a couple military personnel.   Steve McCutcheon - AMRC-AMRC-B1990-014-5-Pol-13-10
Steve McCutcheon - AMRC-AMRC-B1990-014-5-Pol-13-10
This photo shows Z.J. Loussac, second from right, who donated the first library building for Anchorage, with Gov. Ernest Gruening, far left, Sen. Vic Rivers and a couple military personnel.

Zachariah Joshua Loussac was born in Pokrov, Russia in 1882. He went to college in Russia and while there studying engineering, he came under scrutiny for his interest in some of the more liberal literature of the time. In 1907, Loussac fled Czarist Russia for Alaska.

Even though he was a pharmacist by profession, he decided to venture into gold mining in Nome. It wasn’t long before he had gone broke. So he set aside his gold fever and went back behind the counter. Loussac opened a drug store in Iditarod, another in Haines, and a third one in Juneau. When a new town, called Anchorage, was born he started a pharmacy in a tent. As the town grew, he expanded to a second drug store and over the years started a number of other businesses. He never really got over his gold fever, so he was always an easy touch for any miner who needed a grubstake.

In 1942 Loussac sold his drug store business and turned his efforts to philanthropy. Loussac loved Alaska and especially Anchorage. So, in 1946, with the aid of Elmer E. Rasmuson, Loussac created and endowed the Loussac Foundation, “dedicated to the promotion of recreational, cultural, scientific or educational activities in the Anchorage area”. Twice Loussac was elected mayor of Anchorage. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary and the Pioneers of Alaska. He was an Elk, a Mason, a Shriner, and he served on the Territorial Housing Commission and the Pharmacy Board. Loussac was a great collector of Alaskan books and Sydney Laurence paintings, and a big contributor to local causes — he was known as the “best fund raiser in Alaska.”

In 1947 Loussac was elected to the first of two consecutive terms as mayor of Anchorage.

In 1949, at the age of 66, he married Ada Harper. After Loussac said, “I do,” he admitted to friends that “Ada was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

In 1951, the Loussac Foundation underwrote the construction of a new, modern building to house the library at Fifth Avenue and F Street, replacing the older, cramped facilities at Fifth and E Street. The following year Loussac served as an Alaska Territory Delegate to the Democratic National Convention. The new library, which opened its doors in 1955, became known as the Loussac Library. That building was also the home to the Cook Inlet Historical Society Museum, which later became the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. Loussac retired shortly after to Seattle.

On July 13, 1962, Anchorage paid tribute to Loussac on his 80th birthday with a day-long “Loussac Day” celebration. On one of Loussac’s last visits to Anchorage, March 27, 1964, he and Ada were having coffee in a fourth Avenue café when the Good Friday earthquake dropped the restaurant and customers over the hill. Miraculously, they were not hurt. This earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter scale, the largest ever recorded in North America.

Z.J. Loussac was Alaska’s first philanthropist. He was the first living Alaskan to turn over a good share of his wealth to his beloved land. He was the proud recipient of an honorary doctor’s degree from the University of Alaska which read: “Zachery J. Loussac — pioneer Alaskan philanthropist and public servant. You have shown by outstanding example how the fruits of the past may be kept as a heritage for the future.”

Loussac died in 1965 at the age of 83.

1 The Heritage of Alaska by Herb Hilscher

2 Anchorage History by The Cook Inlet Historical Society

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