Two Lifetimes, One Shared Legacy

Brandon Baird

Irving Tragen may just be the real “World’s Most Interesting Man.” In his 95 years, he has held professional posts throughout Latin and South America, including service as a U.S. State Department attaché in Venezuela and head of the USAID program in Bolivia. This year, Irving took a solo trip to the Taj Mahal because he “might not get another chance.”

For the full story, you’ll have to wait for Two Lifetimes as One: Ele and Me and Foreign Service, a forthcoming 700-page memoir on his 57-year marriage to his late wife, Eleanor, and their years spent in the Foreign Service. A sneak peek is available in the form of a huge art collection, which the Tragens made available to the entire community via a donation to Museo de las Americas in 2010.

During their time abroad, Ele became passionate about collecting Latin and South American folk art from local markets. Eventually, the Tragen’s collection swelled to more than 4,000 works. When they returned to the United States, they began looking for a museum that would house their art. After considering several institutions—including the Smithsonian—they selected Museo de las Americas. Tragen Latin American Folk Art Collection is now a cornerstone of the museum’s permanent, pre-Columbian collection.

“I shall never forget the first exhibit of the collection, which Ele attended not long before her passing,” says Irving. “I watched her eyes light up when she saw the market scene the curator had designed and saw the joy she felt when other people admired the pieces. It’s being able to enrich other people’s lives that makes it all worthwhile.”

As a member of The Denver Foundation’s Community Legacy Society, Irving plans an estate gift to support the collection at the Museo in perpetuity. Partnering with The Denver Foundation, he feels, “has given the peace of mind to know that our commitment to the Museo will continue long after my passing.”

Despite a career defined by service and all his professional accomplishments, Irving is most fulfilled by the impact he makes through his philanthropy.

“Philanthropy is much more than giving money,” he says. “Ele and I believe in endowments that build the financial base of the institutions that we seek to support rather than a one-time gift. That’s why I am so grateful to my nephew, Gary Meyer, for introducing me to The Denver Foundation. Its track record, financial discipline, and respect for donors’ goals and wishes made it the right place for my endowment to the Museo.

“It’s a wonderful experience to share items that have meant so much to us,” he continues, “and to know that, because of our partnership with The Denver Foundation and the Museo, future generations can have that same enjoyment."

The Denver Foundation's Community Legacy Society honors individuals who have named The Denver Foundation in their will or estate plan or made any type of planned gift. Members are invited to events on issues in our community and are recognized for their forward-thinking gifts. To learn more about the Community Legacy Society contact Kelly Purdy of the Philanthropic Services Group,

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