Elmer and Ruth first met in Alaska. They were each an adventurer in their own right, and different paths brought them up North. Originally from Whittier, California, Ruth drove the Alcan with some friends “just to visit” in the late 1940s after she finished secretarial school. Like so many, she never left.

Elmer was a World War II veteran, and at one time, he and five of his brothers were all in the service together. Each one of them came home, and later in the 1940s, Elmer and several of his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps, coming up to Alaska to work construction. At some time, Elmer and Ruth were introduced through mutual friends.

Elmer would go on to own the McKay Hardware store. He and Roy McKay had built a friendship over the years. After Roy had a heart attack, he asked Elmer who was working on the Aleutian Islands to help him run his business, which he did. Eventually, Elmer bought into it and then took it over after Roy passed. Elmer knew that store inside and out and could find anything a customer needed.

In 1959 Elmer & Ruth built a house in Anchorage with a beautiful view of the City. They also kept a condo in Hawaii on Kona and Elmer was an avid hiker. When in Anchorage, he climbed Flat Top frequently.


While Elmer and Ruth never had children of their own, they were very devoted to their many nieces and nephews. They paid for many of them to go to college—giving them $1000 a semester if they kept their grades up.

Elmer’s family was close, and unlike Ruth, who was an only child, Elmer was one of ten children, eight boys, and two girls. Many of Elmer’s family migrated to Alaska over the years, settling in the communities of Kodiak, Wasilla, Sitka, and Anchorage. Despite the distance, Ruth and Elmer would always return home to Spencer, Wisconsin, for an annual family reunion.

 The Schwantes Legacy for Alaska

Elmer and Ruth were devotees of the arts, outdoors, and education. They wanted to make sure their family was provided for, and leave a bequest to the place they called home. To achieve their goal to support the state they loved, they established the Elmer & Ruth Schwantes Fund at The Alaska Community Foundation in 2004.

Today, their generous spirit lives on, enriching the lives of many Alaskans through grants from their charitable fund. Because the fund is endowed, it will exist forever—making grants to support a wide variety of causes across the state.

The Elmer & Ruth Schwantes Fund has now been supporting nonprofit organizations for over a decade. The family is still involved, and ACF now sends lists of grants made from Elmer & Ruth’s Fund for the family to enjoy during their annual reunion in Wisconsin.

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