By Kim Hanna
Do you know what happened after a man named Frank met a boy named Chris in a place called Scottsdale, Arizona over 30 years ago? The Make-A-Wish Foundation was born—the largest nonprofit wish granting organization in the world!
Frank Shankwitz had a long career with the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) as a motorcycle officer and detective. He recalls that before the Chips television show became popular, kids were afraid of law enforcement officers. But after the TV show gained popularity, he found kids saying “Hey, Ponch, Hey, John!” He remarked, “Cops became heroes!” Frank, who was assigned to a motorcycle traveling squad, parlayed that goodwill when he spoke to school children throughout the state of Arizona about bike safety and other topics of interest to his young audiences.
In addition to speaking at schools, Frank also worked with Special Olympics. His gift for engaging young children and his big heart was noticed by many in the law enforcement community. It was in that circle of influence that Frank became aware of a 7 year old boy named Chris Greicius who was living in Scottsdale with leukemia. “Fate brought us together,” Frank explains.
As it turned out, Chris always had a dream of being a police officer. Chris and his mother, Linda Bergendahl-Pauling, were befriended by Tommy Austin, a U.S. Customs officer and as Chris’ health worsened, Tommy jumped in to action, contacting fellow law officers at the Arizona DPS. They planned a day to make Chris’ dream a reality and Frank was up to the challenge.
The group of big-hearted law officers planned Chris’ dream itinerary for April 29, 1980. The day began in the department’s helicopter with a tour of the city and landed at DPS headquarters where Chris was met by three cruisers, motorcycle Officer Frank Shankwitz, and the Arizona DPS command staff. The excitement continued as Chris was officially sworn in and became Arizona’s first honorary DPS patrolman!
Any patrolman needs to serve in uniform so John’s Uniforms was contacted and the owner agreed to create a DPS uniform custom tailored for Chris! The officers presented Chris with his official uniform and allowed him to take a motorcycle proficiency test on his battery-operated motorcycle in order to earn the wings that were eventually pinned on to his uniform.
A few days after all of the excitement, Chris’ illness landed him back in the hospital where he had a special request…to arrange the room to always have three things in view: his Arizona DPS uniform, motorcycle helmet and “Smokey Bear” styled hat. Frank had the honor of presenting Chris with the motorcycle wings he earned a few days earlier. It was the very next day that Chris passed away.
As a sworn officer, Chris would be honored yet again by his fellow officers. He was to be buried in Kewanee, IL but he would not be without fellow Arizona officers at his side. Arizona DPS officer Scott Stahl joined Frank on the poignant mission from Arizona to Illinois.
Throughout their mission, Frank and Scott reflected on Chris’ happiness during the experiences of his wish coming true. They saw pain and anguish replaced with smiles and laughter. Frank recalls, “If we could do that for one kid, why couldn’t we do it for others?” And they did!
It took six months for Frank to establish the Make-A-Wish Foundation which he ran from the kitchen of his home in Tempe, Arizona. During all of this time, Frank continued to work full time as an Arizona DPS officer and full time for Make-A-Wish. As the first President/CEO, he was unwilling to take any salary from the Make-A-Wish organization, he said, “I just didn’t think it was right to take a CEO salary while I was a police officer asking for donations.” From 1980 until 1983, all of the donations collected went directly to granting wishes. But in 1983 something changed…Frank was promoted to a detective with the Arizona DPS and was required to go undercover for his job. It was at that time that he knew the organization needed professional help if it was to continue to grow, so the board of directors voted to begin taking on professionals to continue the good work he had started.
With its national office located in Phoenix, now the Make-A-Wish Foundation is the largest nonprofit wish granting organization in the world, granting a wish in the U.S. every 40 minutes! The Foundation has earned the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Seal. For every dollar donated, 75 percent goes toward granting wishes. There are 64 Make-A-Wish chapters in over 36 countries worldwide. Throughout the world, Make-A-Wish Foundation International can be found.
So, where is Frank now? He has recently retired from Arizona DPS and is living with his wife, Kitty, in his hometown of Prescott, Arizona. Frank is a current member of the board of directors of the Make-A-Wish Foundation Arizona chapter. That would be enough excitement for most people, but not for Frank. For over two years Frank has been developing a new foundation, The Wish Riders Foundation, as well as the Wish Riders television show! Frank said, “The new TV show, which is currently being produced for network television, will highlight similar acts of inspirational kindness towards others, such as we did for Chris, especially by members of the biker community. The biker community is arguably the most philanthropic group around, and the TV show plans to thoroughly showcase the generosity and the brotherhood of the two wheels.” Each episode of Wish Riders will last one hour and feature plenty of adventure throughout the diverse American landscape along with its noble initiatives that significantly help others. Initial filming for the show utilized several Arizona locations including WestWorld of Scottsdale and Hacienda Harley Davidson of Scottsdale.
Frank and Kitty work on these new projects every day, he remarked, “It only took me six months to put together the Make-A-Wish Foundation but 30 years later, new IRS rules, guidelines, and associated fees for a new non-profit are staggering, especially when trying to open in several states at the same time.” Some people would be discouraged with hurdles like that, but others consider them a small speed bump. Most would bet Frank is about to make history once again!
For more information on the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona, visit www.wishaz.org and for more information on the Wish Riders Foundation and the Wish Riders television show, visit www.wishriders.org.