1978 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Don't try too hard to reach the top; you'll reach it if you're meant to."
The son of a Danish immigrant, Wallace Rasmussen was raised on a dairy farm in Nebraska. By the time he graduated high school at the age of 16, the Depression and wind storms had devastated the Rasmussen farm, leaving the family penniless. Rasmussen worked at a series of menial jobs—delivering handbills door to door, hiring himself out as a ranch hand, and even cutting jigsaw puzzles. He vowed that if he ever landed work with a big company, he'd never let go of it.
In 1934, Rasmussen got that elusive job. He hoisted ice onto railroad cars for Beatrice Foods Co., then a Midwest dairy-products company with a creamery and ice plant in Lincoln, Nebraska. His mechanical ability took him from chief engineer to plant manager. His hard work and dedication helped him to finally enter corporate management. With each new challenge, he studied on his own to master the new job. 'I only had a high school education, so I had to educate myself,' he says. 'Every time I got into something I might not know enough about, I'd go out and buy every book I could find on the subject.'
By the 1960s, Rasmussen was working at company headquarters in Chicago, serving in several vice presidential positions. In 1976, he became president and chief executive officer, and a year later, chairman and CEO of Beatrice Foods, which had become the nation's largest foot-processing company and a multi-billion dollar business. After a long and rewarding career with Beatrice, Rasmussen retired in 1980.
Today, he lives on a 1,600-acre farm in Nashville, Tennessee, which he has converted into a wildlife habitat. He also raises cattle and the crops necessary to support them. He is a former board member of the Dollar General Corporation and a local mentor to female business officers striving to move up the corporate ladder.
When he retired, Rasmussen made a personal commitment to spend the rest of his life helping students. In addition to five annual scholarships he sponsors at Belmont University and one at Vanderbilt Medical School, in 1994 he established the Rasmussen Foreign Student Exchange Program at Belmont University. Two years later, he funded and established the same program at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.
Much of Rasmussen's time has been spent raising money for the exchange programs, farming, woodworking, learning how to use a computer, and writing his life story. He also spends time with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Rasmussen says he has always cherished his Horatio Alger Award. He believes that a person does not have to have wealth to be successful. His advice has never changed over the years. He says, 'Be honest, dependable, learn skills, and treat others as you would like to be treated. Never cheat because when you do, you cheat yourself.'* Deceased