FAIRBANKS — Who knew stories of finance, investments, bonds and equities could be captivating? But when they concern Alaska’s history, and that of the beloved Permanent Fund, and they’re told by Dave Rose, first executive director of the Fund, issues normally snooze-inducing sleeping aids become amusing and fascinating.
Rose tells a good story, and his memoir, “Saving for the Future: My Life and the Alaska Permanent Fund,” is filled with anecdotes and tales that amplify and magnify his love of life. Born in Queens, NY, Rose grew up Jewish in a working-class neighborhood with “gangs, Irish against Italian and teens carrying zip guns made with one-inch iron pipes. Fights were commonplace.”
Fatherless, with a single mother trying to run a business for which she was unprepared, Rose lived an unremarkable, by his own telling, life: annoying his sister, attending school or working several jobs, enjoying small stretches of country life at an old farm in the Catskills, and expecting nothing more than to follow his father’s footsteps into a printing and envelope business, earning a “modest income.”
But signs of his future success were evident. “Even as a boy, I knew how to work the system,” Rose says of his budding financial acumen. Whether it was exhorting money from his sister’s boyfriends for a movie (pestering them until they paid him to go away and leave them alone) or convincing his mother to help him finance a power mower for his farm chores, Rose learned early the value of hard work and politics. He often held several jobs at once. The boy with few friends had money to enjoy himself and a mother who encouraged him to think outside his small neighborhood and dream of something better for himself.
Rose’s first, but hardly last, foray into activism came in high school, when he lobbied to become one of the “in” crowd. This exclusionary group, personified in the Jamaica High Booster Club, was populated by kids with money and status, and no one who wasn’t one of that crowd could ever join. Rose managed to pester himself into the club, but declined the invitation when he learned the other excluded kids couldn’t join. “The injustice of being excluded because we lived on the wrong side of the tracks stung me,” Rose recounts. “Without ever giving it conscious thought, equal rights became a major theme in my life.”
After getting an accounting degree, knowing it would always keep him employed, and marrying a political opposite in Frances Dushman, Rose found work with an entertainment accounting firm, but it wasn’t what he wanted to do. His law studies weren’t inspiring him either. Wanting desperately to leave New York, he ditched his student deferment and asked to be drafted, for any branch but the Marines. His aptitude and background made him the perfect choice for officer status, but he wanted a short, two-year stint, so he kept declining. That’s how he ended up in Alaska. And after falling in love with the state, he and Fran became permanent residents.
Rose recalls his days as a civilian employee at Fort Richardson, his foray into politics and civic activism and the struggles of the young state to find ways to keep its doors open financially. He was there when Anchorage merged borough and city into a municipality; he was eyewitness to Mayer George Sullivan’s “bare-knuckle” political campaigns (Rose was usually the recipient of the knuckles, he recalls). Rose had a hand in, and served as director of, two major developments still thriving today — the Alaska Municipal Bond Authority, for which he worked after analyzing himself out of his Army civilian job, and the Permanent Fund, the result of the oil boom and the millions of dollars it brought in.
As I said, Rose tells an excellent story. His memories are peopled with larger-than-life characters whose names are familiar — Steve Cowper, Gov. Bill Egan, Tony Knowles (friend and business partner), Arliss Sturgelewski, Bob Gillam, Jay Hammond, Charlie Parr and many others. He talks of the often-tense arguments between pro-development and pro-conservationist factions at war in Alaska. He gives the reader an excellent picture of Alaska in her youth and the growing pains she went through.
But his best stories involve the Permanent Fund, its beginnings, growth, development and ultimate direction. He recounts the differences in goals, objective, even vision, its founders had. Rose is obviously very proud of the fund, and his part in it. But he is also quick to acknowledge the part other people, and even luck, played in creating and maintaining this unique financial instrument:
“The truth is no single person conceived the combination of institutions, laws and policies that made possible creation and growth of the fund. A series of fortuitous events set the stage. A number of leaders took the time to learn. … New agencies took on the burden of meeting contemporary needs. … At critical moments, people of principle stood firm against short-term greed. … Time, luck, and the contributions of many people built the fund before it became an institution that could survive independently.”
His story is entertaining, even mesmerizing at times. He has a good sense of his place in history, and enough modesty to realize he was but a cog in a large wheel: “There’s a good story in my journey. … Yet I am not a hero in this tale, only the main character. My life story isn’t one of overcoming impossible odds or dedicating superhuman effort. It’s about having good mentors and making the most of good breaks — and about where those breaks came from along the way.”
His story is also Alaska’s story, and that of her residents. For that reason, it’s worth the read. The rest? That’s just interest income.
Libbie Martin is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.