Magazine Feature / People

Alumnus brings Mongolia, Colorado together

It’s not often a person can claim to have linked two countries together, but Jim Wagenlander (BA ’70) is an exception. He’s one of the key people behind the tighter bonds the United States is now enjoying with Mongolia. 

In 1989, he and his Denver law firm, Wagenlander & Heisterkamp LLC, looked to expand their law practice internationally. After eight months, they settled on Mongolia because of its similarities to the Rocky Mountain West. 

“This turned out to be truer than I had ever imagined,” says Wagenlander, who is also the honorary consul for Mongolia and a founder of the Ulaanbaatar-Denver Sister Cities Committee.

In May, Denver dedicated its new City of Ulaanbaatar Park at Lowry. “I want to ensure a permanently active sister city relationship between Denver and Ulaanbaatar [Mongolia’s capital city] that’s meaningful to the people, companies and institutions in each city,” Wagenlander says. 

Wagenlander explains he’s seen two realizations come from the relationship between the Rocky Mountain West and Mongolia. 

“First, on the opposite side of our world is a land and people that we have much in common with,” Wagenlander says. And secondly, there is a personality and character that’s forged by people who live on wide-open lands under a big blue sky; the same sky that those of us in the Western United States share with [Mongolia]. 

Such realizations certainly open new perspectives and relationships that can only enhance our personal lives and our shared planet.”

Wagenlander says Mongolian leaders visit Denver regularly, and 50-plus Colorado companies and institutions are now involved with Mongolia. And since the early 1990s — soon after Mongolia abandoned socialism — many Mongolians have earned graduate degrees from the University of Denver’s law and business schools. DU students have also traveled to Mongolia to study abroad.

“Nearly 2,000 Mongolians live in Colorado, and education and cultural exchanges, like the Sister City School Pairing Program and an annual delegation to Ulaanbaatar, continue to grow,” Wagenlander says. “This, together with business activity, in many ways makes Denver the center for Mongolian activities in North America.”

John Ritter (BA ’72) executive vice president at Sholom & Zuckerbrot Realty, a commercial real estate firm in New York, says Wagenlander has “opened the door” between Mongolia and the United States. 

Ritter, who first met Wagenlander at DU in 1968, says, “What struck me was that he was very opinionated and we had a great time discussing politics.” 

He adds that Wagenlander has been “integrally involved” in helping develop Mongolia. 

“He set up the sister cites program and arranged for bilateral relationships between many cultural institutions in the U.S. and similar institutions in Mongolia,” Ritter says. “And he’s arranged for many Mongolians to come to the U.S. to learn English and gain higher education at local schools in Denver.” 

Today, Wagenlander’s firm represents and helps establish businesses and non-governmental organizations in Mongolia.  

“After becoming a democratic society and a difficult transition to a free market economy, Mongolia is now starting to boom,” Wagenlander says. “I’m committed to assisting in this process [and] supporting Mongolia’s desire to also preserve its land and culture.”

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