Spotlight COlorado  

Have You Met?

James Polsfut is definitely a man of the new millennium. He’s a Harvard undergrad – and a MBA Stanford grad. He has “movie star” looks, is obviously highly intelligent - with a remarkable knowledge of history, and he has adopted a beautiful boy, Javier, from an orphanage for abandoned children in Mexico. Mr. Polsfut previously volunteered at another nearby orphanage for many years, and he is bilingual in Spanish.

He’s already done more with his life than most mortals his age. He ran for Colorado State Treasurer in 1998 on the Democratic ticket and only lost by a small margin. If we are lucky, James won’t give up on his political career and will run for another public office again.

He’s a man true to his values. Just like he knows now, he knew early on in life what he wanted to achieve – to do all he can within his capabilities to make positive contributions to our world. Jim has tons of charisma along with a “no-nonsense” type of charm that captures your attention.

Jim has specialized in financial services management throughout his career and is currently the President of the First Western Development Corporation, a subsidiary of the First Western Trust Bank located in Denver.

Following college graduation, he traveled throughout Latin America on a Benjamin Trustman Fellowship, and he studied in Costa Rica on a Rotary Fellowship. In 1999 he was one of 20 United States citizens to be awarded an American Memorial Marshall Fellowship in its inaugural year, and in that capacity traveled extensively to five European Countries.

Mr. Polsfut is active in the Denver community as past chair of the trustees of the Urban Peak shelter for homeless and runaway youth, and as a board member of the University of Denver Social Science Foundation, the Mayor’s Council on Homelessness, the Child Family Development Committee of the Rose Community Foundation, and the Girl Scouts Mile High advisory board among many other organizations. In addition, he continues to be an active supporter of IPODERAC, an orphanage located in Puebla, Mexico, and he oversees Puente Colorado, a civic organization he founded in 2002 to raise funds in Colorado for not-for-profit organizations in Mexico.

Previously, Mr. Polsfut served as the chairman of the Governor’s Council on Housing and the Homelessness, as the Treasurer of the Mi Casa Resource Center for Women, and as a board member of Special Olympics of Mexico, the Latin American Education Foundation, and the Arvada Council for the Arts and Humanities.

Jim is an upstanding fellow, who has an admirable work ethic, stands up for his principles, believes that one person can affect great change, and has true compassion for the under-valued people of our society - to the point where he is willing to single-handedly do what he can to make the world recognize the plight of so many people struggling in the world today.

Jim is a man whom you can count on to do what he says he will do. He’s someone to be reckoned with; when he puts his mind to doing something - along with his sense of ethics and values - the job will get done.

Do you have a favorite childhood story?

When I had Chicken Pox, my grandfather came over, put two silver dollars in his eyes and looked through the window. It made me laugh.

What is your favorite place in your house? Definitely, the porch swing.

If you were to move, what will your home tell its next owner about you? The house would show that I like History. When I refinished the walls of my Denver Square built in 1905, I had to remove nine or ten layers of wallpaper. In each room however, I left a square foot swatch of the first layer in a central part of a wall, where a wall hanging might otherwise go. I hung a frame around each swatch, revealing the pattern of the room when the house was first constructed.

What social or charitable event is your favorite? For almost 10 years, I’ve served on the board of Urban Peak, which among other services provides a shelter for homeless and runaway kids. Each year, the “Climb the Peak” dinner invites a handful of kids to the microphone to talk about their lives. What they say is always emotional and unpredictable. A few years ago, the father of one formerly homeless kid also went to the microphone. He said he imaged having to talk to a large audience like the one in front of him someday about his son. The youth had been through so many troubles and dangers; however, the father thought he’d be speaking at his son’s funeral. Instead he was helping to celebrate his son’s achievements in overcoming his past.

What fundraising activities are you involved in at this time? I help to raise money for Urban Peak, the Graduate School of Public Affairs at DU, the IPODERAC Orphanage in Mexico, the Casa del Sol Orphanage in Mexico, Montview Church in Park Hill, and the occasional political candidate. Meanwhile, even though I don’t really eat them, I have a perfect record of never declining to buy cookies from any Girl Scout who will ask.

Who is your hero, and why? If I were given the chance to have supper with one person in particular, it would be Jimmy Carter. I realize his presidency wasn’t notable, but his life as a former president has been exceptional. He is a prolific author, a consummate intellectual, a man of deep faith, and truly a global humanitarian.

Who is your mentor? I’m privileged to have had many men and women in my life extend their guidance and support to me. Perhaps two stand out among them. First, when I was in high school in Arvada, I met then-Congressman Tim Wirth. I began to volunteer in his office, and eventually was allowed to drive him around the district when he came home from Washington on Saturdays. Our talks in the car shaped me greatly at a pivotal time in my life. My values as a Democrat were forged then; and with Tim’s active encouragement, I applied to Harvard and followed in his footsteps as an undergraduate there.

The other mentor to whom I owe much gratitude is Bill Sorensen, who back when I was graduating from high school, ran the former investment firm Boettcher & Company. Bill interviewed a handful of graduating high school seniors each year and offered college scholarships out of his own pocket to four new students yearly. I received one such scholarship and while the financial aid made a world of difference to me, Bill’s counsel was of even great value. It was from Bill Sorensen that I first heard the expression, “What goes around come around.” Today, I am pleased to help support seven college students with financial aid - and a bit of advice, in a small way putting into practice the expression I first learned from Bill.

Incidentally, Bill Sorensen still lives in Denver, and former Senator Tim Wirth now lives in Washington. In keeping with the very good mentors they are, my opportunities to sit down and chat with them about life continue to this day.

What do you like most about the town or state you live in? I’ve traveled to some 30 countries and lived in places like New York City, Boston, San Francisco, and Mexico City. Colorado is unique among them all, thanks to the climate, the seasons, the people, and the natural environment all around us. I especially like southern Colorado, with county names like Costilla and Huerfano revealing themselves as part of Mexico before the Mexican/American war. My favorite hike is Hidden Lake near Glenwood Springs. It’s an hour of vertical climb, but well worth the view at the top.

Is there another city/state/country that is also special to you? I was born on September 15th, the day each year when at 11 p.m., Mexicans in their towns and villages gather to celebrate their independence from Spain. Perhaps my birthday is the initial reason I drew close to the country. Suffice it to say, though, that Mexico is a second home. I travel there about once every three months, specifically to an orphanage in Puebla where my son and I volunteer.

What is you pet peeve? Split infinitives. If you want to really make me grimace, all you have to basically do is to incorrectly use your verbs.

What are your hobbies or other interests? Given my love of Mexico, perhaps it isn’t surprising that studying, speaking, reading, and dreaming in Spanish are favorite pastimes of mine. I learned the basics of the language in elementary and middle school, and I find ways to use it throughout every day. There’s something about using another language that makes even the routine activity interesting.

What do you most value in your friends? An intellectual curiosity and a sense of humor.

What did you learn from your experience as a candidate for Colorado State Treasurer in 1998? To be involved in a political campaign is like no other endeavor. It’s all encompassing, filled with unexpected turns, and requires a lot of discipline not to react emotionally to both the praise and criticism showered upon you. It was a successful campaign in many ways, I suppose, with a narrow defeat. Certainly, a rewarding experience. I strongly believe that men and women who are dedicated public servants can significantly make a contribution. We depend on our politicians and their good judgment more than we are willing to recognize. It’s important that good people run for office.

What is your advice for a happy marriage? Ah, now this is a question on which I can shed absolutely no light. Having yet to be married, I firmly believe in the concept of a happy marriage, but the how, the when, in my case, remains a spellbinder.

What’s important in your life? Without question, my son. After volunteering for many years at an orphanage for street children in Mexico, I met a little, five-year-old one day named Javier at another little orphanage for abandoned children. After lots of consideration, I decided to adopt him, even though I’m still not married. Today, Javier’s 11, and our family’s still pretty small, although we have a dog named Zapote, and over Christmas, Javier adopted a cat we found abandoned in Queretaro, Mexico. Javier named him Diego, after the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

What one word describes you best? Community-interested….if you’ll permit me to hyphenate.

What one word would others use to describe you? Serious, I suppose, but with a whimsical, dry sense of humor.

Who is the most interesting celebrity you’ve ever met? In the early 1990’s on a business trip to New Delhi, I took a flight to Calcutta. After walking and getting lost for some three hours, I finally arrived at my destination. The Sisters of Charity Orphanage. I made a small donation at the door, and when asked if I’d like a receipt, I agreed, if only to be able to enter the building for a few minutes. To my surprise, the person who brought me the receipt was Mother Teresa. We spoke for only three minutes or so, but I’ll never forget her gnarled feet and hands, and the way she challenged me to stay involved in the work of the world.

What would you do if you were “King of the World”? In the summer of 1981, the Dalai Lama came to Denver and visited the Governor’s office where I was working as an intern at the time. I’ll probably never forget his visit among us that day. Perhaps it’s for that reason that I’m especially moved by a statement attributed to him “I don’t want all people of the world to be Buddhists. I want those who are, though, to be good Buddhists. And I want Christians to be good Christians, Muslims to be good Muslims, and Jews to be good Jews.” It’s a message of inclusion and diversity, and if I were a world leader, I’d hope to learn by it.

What is you personal motto – or favorite quote? The last line of John Kennedy’s inaugural address is certainly among my favorites. It goes something like this: “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His help and His blessing, but knowing here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

What is the best advice your Mom/Dad ever gave you? When I was a small boy, I went to an auto show at the old Currigan Hall in Denver with my father. There we met an actor from the “Mission Impossible” television show. I must have displayed to my father how impressed I was with the man, his fame, and the like. My father said: “Everyone puts on their pants one leg at a time.” It took me a while to understand what that meant, but as I grew up to meet all kinds of people in the world, I’ve never forgotten what my Dad said that day.