American Hero: Frank Shankwitz
It’s not too often that we’re graced with the opportunity to meet a true American hero. Around 8 years ago, while attending the Secret Knock seminar, we at American Hat Makers had the opportunity to receive invaluable advice from the one and only Frank Shankwitz. As one of the founders of the Make-a-Wish foundation, Frank has dedicated the majority of his life to impacting the lives of terminally ill children through his selfless acts.
Raised in northern Arizona, Frank graduated from Prescott High School in 1961. Frank graduated from Phoenix College in 1970, with continuing education at Arizona Western College and Arizona State University.
Following high school, Frank enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, was stationed in England, and received an Honorable Discharge in 1965. Upon returning home, Frank was employed by Motorola, Inc. for seven years. In 1972, Frank started his career with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, assigned to the Arizona Highway Patrol as a car officer assigned to Yuma, Arizona where Frank’s interest in working with children began as a coach for the Special Olympics program.
In 1975, Frank was transferred to the Phoenix area to be part of a new 10-man Motorcycle Tactical Unit designed for work throughout the state. For the next 10 years, whenever assigned to small towns, Frank would visit local grade schools and talk about bicycle safety and let the children sit on his motorcycle.
Frank was one of the primary officers from the Arizona Highway Patrol who was responsible for granting the “wish” of a 7-year old boy with leukemia, who wanted to be a Highway Patrol Motorcycle Officer like his heroes, Ponch and John from the television show, “CHiPs”. Chris was made the first and only Honorary Arizona Highway Patrol Officer in the history of the Arizona Highway Patrol, complete with a custom made uniform, badge, and Motor Officer Wings.
Chris succumbed to his illness a few day after receiving his “wish”, and was buried with full police honors in Illinois, with Frank leading the police funeral procession. Chris was the inspiration for Frank’s idea to start a non-profit foundation that would let children ‘make a wish‘ and have it come true.
Officers Frank Shankwitz and Scott Stahl flew back to Illinois for the funeral, where Chris was given the ceremony of a fellow fallen officer. From the time the two officers landed in Chicago to when they left again, word spread of their story, and they were amazed at how strangers were affected by it. They talked on the flight home of making this the beginning of something wonderful for children. Meanwhile in Phoenix, similar discussions were taking place. At an officer’s retirement party, Shankwitz talked to Kathy McMorris, the wife of a DPS officer, about creating a wish-granting organization.That summer, a group of working-class DPS officers, friends and family gather. That meeting marked the beginning of Make-A-Wish. The first donation is $15, given to Shankwitz by a grocery store manager. In November of 1980 the group receives its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization. By the following spring the group has raised $2000 and can grant its first official wish. Today, the organization grants wishes through its 61 chapters located throughout the US. Make-A-Wish also operates in 45 other countries around the world through 38 affiliate offices.
Frank retired as a Homicide Detective from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, returned as a sworn Reserve Detective assigned to the Prescott Police Department Cold Case Homicide Unit, and is the current secretary/member with the Yavapai County Mounted Sheriff’s Posse. Frank has 42 years of service in law enforcement.
Coming soon, a film centering around Frank’s life will be released. “Wish Man” covers Frank’s young life, the incidents and people who helped develop his character, and his adventures during his law enforcement career, including being killed in the line of duty and being brought back to life. And, finally, it portrays his realization of what his mission in life was when he met Chris, the little boy who inspired Frank’s idea to create the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Greg Reid, Dave Corbin, Frank Shankwitz, and Garth Watrous at the U.N. Greg was the recipient of the coveted “Excellence in Leadership and Empowerment” award.
Having the rare opportunity to meet with someone so passionate about helping others is truly inspiring. Frank’s actions have guaranteed that sick children worldwide have the chance to experience life’s immense joys, and have truly solidified his reputation as an American hero.