It doesn’t take money to give back. In this episode, Frank Shankwitz, Creator and Co-Founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, joins Mark Yuzuik and Yolanda Martinez as they talk about the importance of giving back and making a difference in someone else’s life. Get to know Frank a little deeper as he shares his phenomenal journey and the lessons he’s learned from his unintended mentors who saw the good in him. They take a deep dive into how Frank saw a way to touch the lives of millions of people throughout the planet and the reason God spared him from death with the power of a wish. Tune in and experience Frank’s voyage and learn how you can give back even if you think you don’t have any to give.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Power Of A Wish: Giving Back When You Can With Frank Shankwitz
It is party Friday. That’s what we’re doing. Everybody has to watch at Friday. That’s what it’s called, Watch Party Friday. Throwback Thursdays are on Wednesdays. Watch Party Fridays is on. Make sure you do the little watch party and everybody gets to check it in. Remember, we’ve been talking about wanting to do this for a while. It’s like, “What would it be like to have Frank on with us?” We did the interview with Larry Wilcox from CHiPs. If you saw the interview, it was only supposed to go 45 minutes. It went an hour and 25. Larry is a nutcase. That guy keeps laughing.
You are not any different.
No, I’m not. Not since I’ve gotten older. I keep on aging every day. Every year, as many times as possible, we get to go to think, “Secret Knock.” Secret Knock is an influential community where who’s who of who is there. They all come there with zero egos. It’s the coolest place in the world. I’ve done a few shows. I remember meeting this gentleman and he was like, “This is the guy that started Make-A-Wish Foundation.” I’m like, “Is he the real guy, the actual guy?” He’s like, “He’s the real guy.” I’m like, “No way.” It was Frank. When you meet somebody, you’re intimidated and you don’t want to go up to him because it’s like, “Who is this guy?” It’s like, “He’s the real Santa Claus.” If there’s a real Santa Claus, it would be Frank.
With the cowboy hat. He’s the cowboy version of Santa Claus.
If you think about influential people in your life, he’s always brought there because he’s an inspiration to many people out there. Here’s a human being that had one asset, he cared about people more than anything else. That grew to millions and millions of influencing people to do the right thing for those that didn’t have much time left. Every time we’d go to Secret Knock, we got to see Frank. I always go up there and act like I’m walking by, “I didn’t see you here, Frank.” I Intentionally walk by to be next to him and to say, “Hi.” That’s how you set yourself up for that.
We did the interview with Larry and I said, “I would love to have Frank get on.” I thought, “I’ll call him, why not?” The only thing he could say is to not answer or say, “No.” If he doesn’t answer, then he didn’t say no. If he answers and says, “No,” at least we tried. He was like, “No, I’ll rearrange my schedule.” I was like, “He must be a real cowboy because real cowboys will do whatever it is.” If you’ve never heard of Make–A–Wish Foundation, then it’s your first day on earth and we want to say happy birthday to the newborns out there because I know everybody has. He’s an amazing human being. What he has done, what he’s accomplished and what he’s gone through, he did not get a silver spoon in his hand but he gives a lot of golden spoons out, that’s for sure. We wanted to bring him on here. You’ve got to see the most powerful movie that will make you smile, laugh, be grateful, and make a difference.
It makes you cry too.
You’re going to cry, more than one time.
Let’s say you’ll go through all the emotions when you watch that movie. It’s an emotional, heart wrenching true story that hits home for anybody that watches it, even if you’ve never heard Make–A–Wish Foundation. Everybody has heard of it. You know what they do. You know who they help. This movie will definitely tell the whole story on how it got started. He experienced having to go to a hospital and meet a child who didn’t have much time left. To see that transformation in someone as an adult is amazing. You’ve got to watch it.
I want to ask you a question. I remember when I was in Scottsdale, I had a gentleman, a friend of mine, Bob Greathouse and he goes, “One of the people next door to him was part of Make–A–Wish Foundation.” I don’t know if they were high end or if it was Frank. I’m going to find that out.
You can find out right now. You can ask all those questions.
Let’s bring him on, the founder, the miracle man, it’s what I like to call him, the Walt Disney for children, Frank Shankwitz. Frank, he’s amazing. Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Mark and Yolanda. I appreciate you inviting me for the show. I’m sure glad we could squeeze it into schedule. Following Larry Wilcox, that’s going to be hard to do.
It’s not going to be hard at all. Larry, he’s a nutcase. I’m glad that we have the opportunity. I remember calling Greg and I said, “Has Frank ever met Larry or Eric?” He goes, “No.” I said, “I’m friends with Larry. Can I bring him down? Would that be alright?” He goes, “Bring him down.” He set it all up and it’s cool to see that happen. If it wasn’t for the TV show, it wouldn’t happen. Everything came together for a reason. God didn’t want to take you right away. You had too much work down here. Thank you for your time and coming on here. We’re excited about it. People are going to do watch parties. We encourage it. We want to make a difference in Make–A–Wish Foundation like you have. That movie was moving. I have friends that I would call and say, “You’ve got to see this movie, Wish Man.” “I already did.” A lot of people already saw it. I’m thinking, “I know that guy.” They know, “Okay.” Nobody believes me. I’m like, “Maybe he doesn’t know me, but I met him a couple of times.”
What we’re talking about here is Wish Man, which is on Netflix. In fact, it’s been extended on Netflix because of the popularity. Also, when we were in theatrical releases in 2019, and this is amazing for the cast, crew, the producers and everything else, we became qualified for Academy Award nomination for best picture. We knew we weren’t going to do that. To be included with the big boys was such an honor for the cast, crew, and the production company, a low budget and independent movie to all of a sudden get qualified for best picture.
It is a Hollywood quality picture, there’s no question about it, the acting in it, the storyline. I hope it wins. It should win. Every kid in school should watch the movie and make it mandatory. You realize we all have challenges in life that we go through, Frank. Life isn’t perfect. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be perfect because who would you have become if it was perfect for you? You get to have the perfect life. Millions of children and families were influenced because of the pain you had to endure and the things you had to go through. I don’t want to give away the movie. If you see the movie, you’re going to like, “This isn’t a guy that was saying, ‘Here’s a couple of $1 million, why don’t you start a foundation?’” It wasn’t like that at all.
It’s funny, you mentioned the movie and children watching it. We found out the demographic for the audience that is watching this movie, it’s from seven years old and up. We never pictured the youngsters in this because there are a couple of swear words in the movie. I bet the mom and dad wouldn’t let them watch it. I’m boasting here a little bit but also flattered. I received probably 10 to 15 messages every day from all over the world, especially from children. What’s so much fun is I got one from a young lady, I can’t remember the name, nine years old in Ireland and she said, “I have long hair. I cut my hair and sold it and donated the money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation chapter of Ireland.” The message of the movie is everyone can help somebody out and give back when you can. Here’s a nine–year–old, but that’s one little sample, that’s giving back to the community even at that young age.
You think about it, it’s because of you and the things you’ve gone through. You’re who you are. You’ve never changed. You’re still a grateful human being and you say hi to everybody. You give everybody the time they need. It’s not like you’re, “You don’t know who I am.” I’ve never seen that and I’ve never heard anybody talk about that with you. You were put here to do something. You got it done and it became bigger than life.
I was taught to be humble. It started as a young boy. I appreciate it, especially in this speaking career. People may know that I’m a retired homicide detective, 42 years with Arizona State Police, and I have this whole new career. I’m fortunate to have this new career. I’m boasting again a little bit. I ended up in the 2016 Forbes number one keynote speaker. When people pay or use their time to come and see me, how flattering is that? The meet and greets afterward. I don’t want to be the guy, “Hi. Thank you. Goodbye.” They’re taking the time to come and see me. I want to take the time to talk to them, especially when they come up, “Can I get your picture?” “Of course. First of all, what’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” We got that connection going. They’re trying to make me feel special, I want to make them feel special in return.
You definitely made us feel right at home. You’re Uncle Frank to us. It’s like, “It’s not important. It’s Uncle Frank.”
I’m also Grandpa Frank.
If I didn’t have this beard, I could be like, “It’s Grandpa Frank.” You were in law enforcement. Without giving the movie away, you didn’t grow up to be a person that wanted to start a foundation or anything like that. You grew up in the police department, being a police officer. You didn’t have the easiest childhood. People say, “I’m this way because my parents were this way.” They have a negative attitude in life. The fact is, you turned your whole life around and made something that was hard to be influential and grateful in this world. Talking about a hero, you need to be honored as a number one hero in this country. You would say, “That’s okay. There’s somebody else.” That’s who you are. Frank, take the hero thing already. You’re a hero.
I was fortunate. I was raised in a different era in the late ‘40s, early ‘50s. In that period of my life, many mentors have developed. I was born in Chicago. At two years old, my mother divorced my father. From age two, she would leave and we never knew where. Ages 2 to 6, fun years, living with my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and Saturday night dinners, going out to picnics, the movies, and everything else. It’s fun years and great memories.
At six years old, I’m in a kindergarten playground, a lady grabbed me and she says, “I’m your mother.” I had no idea who she was. She started dragging me off the playground. I was kicking and screaming. She threw me in the car. This changed my whole life at that point because she wanted to take me away from my father who had custody. We ended up in Northern Michigan. She said, “This is where we’re going to live until we get the money to go to Arizona.” Living in Northern Michigan, the first summer was living in a tent. She’s poor. All of a sudden, for me, this started a survival. I existed as a city boy and all of a sudden thrown in the country, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. I had to take care of myself because she was gone all the time.
The next five years were difficult. When the winter came, we’re living in a car, living in flophouses, it was nasty and hungry all the time. Developing that self–survival type thing that you either give up or you do that. At age ten, my father found us. He went to get the authorities to arrest her, as we start in the movie at this point. She threw everything we had and said, “We’re going to Arizona in an old Jeep.” It took six weeks to go to Arizona. From Michigan to Arizona, she didn’t have the money. We’d drive half a day and we’d stop at a little town. She got a job in a restaurant just enough for tip money. There I’m thinking we’re going to stay for a while, but enough for gas and off we go again to the next town until we ran out of money for gas. We were sleeping in the car the whole way.
We ended up in Seligman, Arizona up in Route 66. It was the first time I had ever seen her cry. We were outside this little town. She said, “We have no money. No gas. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” A rancher stopped by and said, “What’s going on?” She told him the story. He said, “Stay here. I’ll bring some gas. Follow me back to the ranch house.” He said, “You can stay with us until you get settled in this little town.” Think about this, total strangers that he took in. For six weeks our bedroom was on the kitchen floor and a couple of bed rolls, but we had shelter. We weren’t in a leaky tent. We weren’t sleeping in the car. His wife filled me biscuits and gravy every morning. It’s the first time I was having breakfast. It’s still my favorite food. I could never get enough.
That’s you, you like biscuits and gravy.Everyone can help somebody out. Give back when you can. Click To Tweet
I do. That’s why I go to Arizona, I’m taking my biscuits and gravy.
My mother got a job. She was a maid. There are only three little motels in town, all over 66. This is early ‘50s. I got a job at ten years old as a dishwasher, washing dishes full–time, 38 hours, that’s all they would allow. I started watching a Mexican gentleman across the street and he’s building something. I went over there and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “My name is Frank.” He said, “From now on, you’re Pancho,” meaning Frank Spanish. He said, “My name is Juan but the people in town here call me Juan.” I can see the smile and he said, “Grab a hammer, kid.”
I had never had this father figure. I said, “I don’t know what to do.” He said, “I want you to help me build this.” It turns out to be the iconic Snow Cap on Route 66, which is like a Dairy Queen. Because of the Corona, 11 or 12 tour buses go to Snow Cap. He became my father figure. He became my mentor. He taught me many things. I had never played sports. He got me involved with sports. He got me involved with music. The first time I had school, he was going to it all the time. Predominantly he said, “Mexican and Indian, I’m the novelty with the freckles and red hair.” That didn’t make any difference in those days because everybody was kids. Everybody was poor.
The biggest thing he said to me, “Frank, when you can, give back.” This is the mid–50s. “What do you mean you want to give back? We don’t have a thing. The poor people are helping us.” He said, “Exactly. Look at the widow Sanchez. When she can, she’s bringing you and your mom beans and tortillas. Look at her front porch, it needs to be sanded and painted. Look at the yard, it’s full of weeds. You’re big enough. You can do that. You don’t have to have money to give back. You can give back your time.” What a lesson. That’s stuck with me my whole life.
When I started seventh grade, me and my mother, we got an old travel trailer that we were living in. I came home one day and it’s been hooked up to a pickup, I said, “What’s going on?” She’s Iike, “I can’t afford it anymore. We’re moving.” All of a sudden, my trailer goes down the road. I go to Juan and I’m upset, “What do I do?” He said, “I knew what was going on.” He said, “Remember this the rest of your life. I want you to learn how to turn those negatives into positive.” “Juan, what do you mean? My house left.” He said, “I’ve arranged for you to live with the widow Sanchez. She’s going to charge you $20 a week, room and board. You make $26 a week as a dishwasher.”
Every money I make always went to my mother. I don’t have my own money. He said, “The first time in your life you’re going to have $6.” That’s a lot of money to a kid. If food and housing and everything is provided at that time, that’s a positive. He said, “For the first time in your life, as a real little kid, you’re going to have your own bedroom. You’re going to have indoor plumbing and showers. No more going to the Santa Fe locker room to shower and everything.” That’s a positive. She’s the best cook in town. There was no thought on that. She got the first television set in Seligman, Arizona. It had one channel but it had the Mickey Mouse Club. I remembered that my whole life.
When I started high school, my mother called me and she said, “I need you to move to Prescott, the town I live in Northern Arizona. I need help financially.” Juan told me, “I know you don’t have a good relationship with your mother but remember she’s your mother and you will respect her.” I remember that and I said, “I’ll move and help you.” I got a job right away. It’s interesting, people are helping out again. I had practiced football in Seligman. They didn’t have Pop Warner or anything, but I practiced soccer in seventh grade with the high school team. I wanted to learn the sport. I couldn’t play but I practiced.
When I went to Prescott, I tried out for the freshman team. The coach said, “I don’t know where you learned this, but you’re going to make first string immediately.” I had to take aptitude tests, especially mathematics, changing schools and I failed. The coach came up and he said, “They’re going to put you back in eighth grade.” That’s the first time I was devastated. I couldn’t find positives there. The coach says, “I’m going to tutor you all summer. Before school starts, we’re going to test you again,” which he did, which they did, which I passed. Here’s somebody helping me out and I want to make sure I did everything I could, the best player I could, whatever I could for that coach. We still remain friends. We’re talking back in the mid–‘50s.
Following high school, I went into the Air Force. This is the Vietnam era. I’m not a combat veteran. In fact, I was stationed in England as Air Police as they called it then. My superiors saw something special and asked me to apply for the base Honor Guard on our base in England, which I did. I passed everything and was assigned to the Honor Guard. During high school, I was a big fan of World War II history, both the Europe and Pacific theatres and studied Winston Churchill. I admired that man. One of my paybacks as the Honor Guard was when Sir Winston Churchill died. I was assigned to his Honor guard. What a thrill as this young boy to be on this. This is because people saw something. I always gave the 100% that I could to make sure I would give back what they were giving me.
Following the Air Force, I went and worked for Motorola for seven years. They were looking for people, especially Vietnam era veterans that had top secret clearance which I had. I was assigned to the Atlas missile program. They sent me to school, I had a GI Bill. My math teachers that I mentioned got kicked out of this. I ended up in statistical engineering, determining the probability of failure rate of certain components for that missile program. Motorola was good. I made so much money advancement going to school, getting the house, getting a new car but I wasn’t happy there. I didn’t like living in Phoenix. I have nothing against Phoenix.
Several of my friends have joined the Arizona Highway Patrol. They kept saying, “Frank, with your air police background, with your engineering background, you’d be a perfect fit.” I said, “I make in one week what you make in a month. I’m not going to give that up. I’ve got the best lifestyle ever I’ve had my life.” I started thinking about it on a whim. I put in an application. There were 1,000 people that applied. They chose 50. I was one that they chose. “Will you accept the position?” “Yes, I will.” The smartest move I ever made is going into the academy because 42 years later, I finally retired.
That again leads to one done a good deal. My first assignment was down in Yuma, Arizona as a car officer. That’s right on the Mexican border and California border. I continued taking college classes. The college football coach introduced himself and he said, “I know your coaches from Prescott.” He said, “Have you ever heard of Special Olympics?” “No, coach. I haven’t. What is that?” He explained to me the program and he said, “I like you and when you are off duty you could start working with these kids in football, basketball, and baseball.” “Coach, I’d like to do that.” I never had fun working with these kids. As I’m doing this, I started thinking because I’m busy up into this point, “Juan, I’m finally starting to give back. It took me a lot of years, but I’m starting to give back.”
In mid–‘70s, the Arizona Highway Patrol decided they’re going to start a motorcycle program again. It was going to be a ten-man motorcycle tactical squad that worked the whole state of Arizona. They asked me to apply and go through training. Here’s what’s interesting, talking about Larry Wilcox, we did our initial training with California Highway Patrol at their motorcycle school. Our equipment was identical. Our uniforms are identical, except ours said, “Arizona.” We started that ten-men unit. We usually work with two–man teams, driving all through Arizona in little towns and so on. A couple of weeks in one town and a couple of weeks in another. During this time, the mid–‘70s, the TV show CHiPs became popular, especially for younger kids. The demographic was seven years old and up for the boys and seven for the girls, seven years old up to about 60 for the ladies because of Panch and his smile.
My little brother’s favorite TV show is CHiPs.
We started going to these little towns, riding in two–man teams. All of a sudden, these young kids, “Ponch, Jon, Chips.” They’re waving at us instead of, “Here’s the police,” afraid. I asked our commanders, “Can we circle into this grade school at some off-duty times and talk about bicycle safeties?” They said, “Sure, it might be great PR.” The kids could care less about bicycle safety. They wanted to crawl on a motorcycle. It was great PR. We had fun with the kids. In 1978, I’m in Parker. Our whole ten-man teams are working in Parker, Arizona. Parker, Arizona is right on the California border and separated by the Colorado River. It’s the party place during Easter break.
The little town of Parker of 2,000 goes to 85,000 up and down. Fatal accidents, rapes, homicides, drug overdoses, you name it, it’s going on constantly. I was involved with a high-speed chase with a drunk driver, 85 miles on a 25 zone, when another drunk driver pulled directly in front of me. I couldn’t do what we call a braking escape move. I hit him broadside at 85. I was told the crash was spectacular. I was pronounced dead at the scene. You and I are talking so there’s always another story. My partner tried to revive me. He couldn’t do it. He called the code 9638, “Officer killed in the line of duty.”
Every officer I’ve ever worked with, including myself, we believe in a higher being. No matter what your faith might be, going to work and say a little prayer, “Please, allow me to come home.” When we get home at night, “Thank you for allowing me to come home.” I believe in guardian angels, not the winged side thing. God sends down somebody to help you. In this case, God sent down an off–duty emergency room nurse from California. She told my partner, “I’m going to bring him back.” He said, “He’s dead. We have nothing.” She didn’t listen. In four minutes, she performed a CPR and heart massage and brought me back to life. It was a traumatic thing. The crash injuries resulted in a traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, a lot of broken bones, and missing skin. I had to do a lot of therapy afterwards, both physically and mentally.
One of the things that therapists asked me, the psychologist, “Do you remember going through the tunnel?” I didn’t even think about that. He said, “When a lot of people die, they go through the tunnel. As your life goes away, the light closes especially in emergency room situations. As your life comes back, this little light starts opening up and you can see that tunnel opens up.” I said, “I recall that.” He said, “Do you remember anything about your senses?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Your senses are coming back as you’re coming back to life.”
Every police officer, we got to have a little bit of humor in this job. We can’t do that thing every day that we see and do. I said, “Doc, I do. The first thing I remember is the sense of hearing. I’m hearing sirens in the background. I’m hearing somebody saying, ‘She’s brought him back.’ I don’t know what they’re talking about. The sense of touch, something was on my lips. Something is tickling my face. The sense of smell, some pleasant type of odor. The sense of sight, I opened my eyes and here’s this beautiful blonde with lips locked on me. If this is heaven, I’m happy with this.” I learned later that my partner also was doing CPR. He’s a big and ugly guy. His mustache was full of bugs. If I would’ve woke up to him, it would have been traumatic.
At the end of the counseling session, the counselor said to me, “You know you died that night.” I was like, “Okay.” He said, “God spared you for a reason. Now it’s up to you to find that reason.” It was two years later that I found that reason. I went up in the mountains in Northern Arizona, patrolling on a motorcycle. This is before the days of internet or cell phones. You’ve got to remember this is 1980. I get a call from the dispatcher, “Check out at the nearest payphone. We have emergency traffic. It does not involve your family.” It’s 45 miles to the nearest payphone and I call in. She said, “A US Customs agent named Tom Austin has befriended a little boy named Chris. Chris is seven years old and has terminal leukemia. Chris’s heroes are Ponch and Jon from the television show CHiPs.” He told his mother, “When I grow up, I wish I could be a motorcycle officer like Ponch and Jon.” Agent Austin called the highway patrol and I said, “Is there any way that maybe he could meet one of the motorcycle officers?” Maybe he’s working with the kid years before, they chose me to be that officer that he was going to meet.
Chris is at a hospital bed in Phoenix on IVs. With permission from his mother and his doctor, they allowed our state police helicopter to pick him up and fly him to our headquarters building. They timed that work because it was 100 and some miles to get down Phoenix. We timed it via radio call. As the helicopter is approaching the landing zone, I was pulling into the landing zone. I didn’t know what to expect. This little boy is on IVs. All I can see, as I was approaching, is his face with a big grin against the helicopter glass. The helicopter lands. I expected the paramedics to help him out. This is a little boy that’s sick. He puts on red sneakers, jumps out of that helicopter, and runs on my side and he’s like, “I’m Chris. Can I get on?” “Of course, you can, Chris.” He is laughing and grinning.
He watched CHiPs so much. Remember I said our equipment is identical to California Highway Patrol. “This red light is going to turn. This is a siren. These are the flashes. What’s in your saddlebag? Is it the same as Ponch?” He is having a ball. I’m looking at his mother and she’s crying. “Why is she crying?” It dawns on me. She has her seven–year–old back. He’s not laying in a hospital bed dying literally. He’s out there and having a good time. Chris went on that day to become the first and only honorable highway patrol officer in the history of the highway patrol. Printed his own badge, it’s still assigned to him. He has his smokey hat and the certificate to make him an honorary officer. He got to go home that night. The doctor said, “I don’t understand what’s going on but his vitals are good. Take him to his comfort zone.”
We felt good about what we did. One of the officers said, “Highway patrol officer needs a uniform. In those days, they were custom made. We go to the uniform shop as its closing, “We’ve got this little boy named Chris. He’s seven years old. He’s about this wide and this height. Will you make one for Chris?” Two ladies spent all night making this uniform for Chris. I got permission the next day to lead several motorcycles and several squad cars to Chris’s house. There were red lights and siren at 8:00 in the morning. You can imagine the neighbors, they are nice. They were all, “What the heck is going on here?” Chris comes running out with a big smile. We hand him his uniform. He’s a quick-change artist. He runs in the house and runs out. He comes up strutting and beaming. He comes over to me and he says, “Can I get on your motorcycle?” “Of course, you can, Chris.”
He’s looking at me and he starts touching the wings on my uniform, the motorcycle wings motorcycle offices wear. This is the first time I heard this word from him and he says, “I wish I could be a motorcycle officer.” I said, “Chris, I’m going to tell you the training we go through.” I explained the training. I said, “It’s a shame you don’t have a motorcycle. We would train you right here. We will put traffic cones and we’ll train you right now.” This kid is a step ahead of me. He runs in the house. He comes riding out on a little battery–operated motorcycle that his mother got him in place for a wheelchair. He’s got on the motorcycle helmet. Where he got the aviator glasses is beyond me.
What cracked me up is the motorcycle officers wore the high–top leather boots and he had what we call on a ranch, the high–top rubber mucking boots. Where did he get those? Who knows. “I’m ready for my test.” He goes through the cones. He came back, “Did I pass?” “Yes, you did.” “When do I get my wings?” “Chris, those are special order. They’re not off the shelf. A jeweler makes those for us.” I said, “I promise you, I will get you your wings.” We did this little scene in the movie called the cowboys’ binding contract. We shake hands and I said, “I promise, I will give it to you.” That’s where that came from the scene in the movie.
A couple of days later, I picked up the wings. The dispatcher tells me to call again. I called in, “Chris is in the hospital in a coma. He’s not going to survive the day. You have permission to go to the hospital.” I go to the hospital. He’s in a coma. His uniform is hanging right by his bed. As I pin on the wings, he comes out of that coma. He looks at me with his weak grin and a weak voice, “Am I a motorcycle officer now?” “Yes, you are, Chris.” His wish had become true. I handed him his uniform. He rubs his wings and he showed it to her mother. A little smile, a little giggle, and a weak, “Thank you.” A couple of hours later he passed away. I was like, “Maybe those wings helped trail him to heaven.”
My commander contacted me a couple of days later and said, “We have lost the fellow officer. We learned that Chris is going to be buried in a little town called Kewanee, Illinois about 180 miles Southwest of Chicago. I want you and your partner to go back and give him a full police funeral,” which we did. Before the days of internet, the media is picking up what we’re doing. We landed in O’Hare and we’re met by all the major networks, CBS, ABC, and NBC, interviewing us at the airport about our mission.
What they didn’t tell us as we arrived to this little town of Kewanee that we’re met by Illinois State Police, city police and county police to help bury this little troop. Chris was buried in uniform. His grave marker reads, “Chris Greicius, Arizona trooper.” While flying home back to Arizona, I started thinking, “This little boy had a wish and we made it happen. Why can’t we do that for other children?” The ending of this long story is that’s where the idea came about. Maybe 35,000 feet over Kansas or somewhere. Let a child make a wish and we’ll make it happen. That’s how we started the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
How many people showed up at the funeral for that little boy?
We had approximately twelve police officers. Kewanee is a little community, maybe 1,000 people, in the middle of nowhere.
Is that where you got back with your dad, in that town?
No. Remember, Wish Man is based on a true story. Hollywood likes to embellish a lot of things, which is why it took 2.5 years for the writer and director. Theo Davies did a fantastic job to write this because I had script approval. I’ve worked with Hollywood before. I know how they embellish. It was a give and take throughout the whole writing and screenplay.
I’d like to see you in the movie as one of the actors. They wouldn’t know who it was. That would’ve been cool. Maybe one of the police officers or something. Larry got a little cameo. It was cool. You don’t ever see that.
It was fun with Larry Wilcox. We met Larry and we’re getting a screenplay. For the cast, I called Larry, “Will you do a cameo on this?” “I will.” Especially Robert Pine, if anyone remembers CHiPs. Robert Pine played Sgt. Getraer in CHiPs. In CHiPs, he had an identical personality of my real motor sergeant. I call her and I said, “I want to talk to Robert and see if he’d be interested in part.” I talked to Robert and he auditioned for it. He liked it. Thank God he came on here because he brought maturity to the set for these younger actors in there. You mentioned if I had a cameo, I do have a cameo in the movie. The director said my face wasn’t that good for the camera. You get to see my backside riding a motorcycle into the sunset. He figured that my best profile shot was my backside.
You made it in your own movie. That’s good. It’s amazing where our life takes us and all that. Based on a true story, it’s one of those powerful stories we’ve seen. It gives us an opportunity to say, “When we think our life is bad, go to a children’s hospital and watch the children be grateful to be alive.” We won’t worry if we have enough mayonnaise on our sandwich or they burnt your chicken or the internet is slow. It woke Yolanda and I to be grateful for every little thing. Even during our live events, we have a charity that we always give to. We do lunch contribution because we want to make sure we’re always giving. One of the inspirations was because of the movie and because of you. It’s a great feeling to be able to do that. Do you do a lot of appearances?
Yeah. It’s because of Corona, we’re shut down. I’m on an airplane usually every week and every other week somewhere. I tracked me for the 2018 Google Track, which I didn’t know I had. I was around the world three times. I was out promoting the movie and speaking engagements. It also gave me a platform. I set on several nonprofits around the nation. It’s given me a little credibility and so on that I can help develop and promote these nonprofits. This is the whole thing about giving back when you can. It doesn’t take money to give back. You could give back your time.
There’s one that we were doing some stuff. He lived in Scottsdale and his neighbor was with Make–A–Wish Foundation, either she was high in the board and I was like, “You know somebody that’s right there.” She was one of the first ones that I don’t remember. You didn’t live in Scottsdale, did you, Frank?
No. For a while I did live in the Phoenix area in Arizona before they transferred me back up North.
It’s a lot hotter in Phoenix than it is in Prescott.
We’re almost at 6,000 feet. We’re having a heatwave. It’s going to be about 92. Compared to Phoenix at 116 and 118.
I love Prescott. We used to go up there all the time. My mom wanted to live up there. It’s beautiful. She moved to Payson instead of Prescott. I love Prescott. I remember the little town there, the little square and everything else. I used to go down there all the time for lunch or something like that.
The famous Palace Bar and Restaurant. It’s dated back from the old wilder days. There are still boulder holes in the ceiling.
You’ve been home for quite a while with the COVID going on then, longer than you’ve ever been home.
Our last trip was at the end of March and then everything shut down since then. I’m fortunate like yourself. You’re inviting me to do these webinars, these shows and so on. We get the word out there. Everything has been canceled. It’s already starting to be rescheduled towards the end of September, October, and already rebooked into 2021. Hopefully, this would be all over.
You never took any money from Make–A–Wish Foundation as a personal salary, have you?
No. I was the first president and CEO. I wanted a basis to this whole foundation on character, on integrity and especially accountability. I never took a salary. People said, “That was noble of you.” I had a job. Why would I when I have a job? It was also the integrity part, “What is this cop up to? Is he trying to make some money and stick it in his pocket?” That’s why accountability transparency. The folks, the press, the books are open at any time. You come in here and see where the money is going. You know the term, “Surround yourself with people smarter than you.” I did it, especially when I married. After a little while with Make-A-Wish, at the beginning, I had to make a career choice. I couldn’t do both. I was an excellent cop. I got the awards. I didn’t know that much about the nonprofit. Our board made a wise decision, “Let’s start hiring somebody in the nonprofit world to make this grow,” which it has. There have been ten CEOs over the years, which has made it grow to this worldwide foundation that it is.
It’s not just in the US, it’s worldwide?
We have 62 chapters in the United States, 45 international chapters on five continents. We make over 500,000 wishes granted worldwide all because of one little boy that wanted to be a motorcycle officer.
It’s one man that got good guidance from the man that needed to come into your life.
If I hadn’t had my mentor, Juan, my coaches, my teachers, and my supervisors in the Air Force with the highway patrol. It’s not all puppies and lollipops. Everybody’s got a hiccup in their life. It’s what you do with it and that’s what those mentors taught me. You’ve got bad times but it’s what you do with those bad times to turn those negatives into positives.
I love it every time I see and hear you speaking, it’s an inspiration. I don’t think there’s a bigger organization out there that one man like yourself ever created that got the massive attention and the global and international recognition to give back so much as Make–A–Wish Foundation. If you think about that, it’s almost overwhelming for you and not real in a way. Isn’t it?
It is overwhelming a lot of times. Remember, it’s a team thing. I had an idea and made it work, but it takes thousands of people around the world to make it work. The new figure is every 28 minutes, somewhere in the world, a wish is granted. For me, it’s still hard to comprehend. We’re going to talk for maybe an hour so a wish and a half or maybe even two wishes have been granted somewhere in the world during this interview.
Two wishes from our conversation. When you go to bed at night and you wake up, sixteen wishes were granted.
For people to know, when we started this, it was for children with terminal illnesses. In the early–‘80s, leukemia, children survived. Through the grace of God and modern medicine, the mission was changed years ago. The children with life–threatening illnesses, more and more children are surviving. That’s great. Our original charter is still there. Someday we hope to grow our business. There might be a child with cancer.
What’s the youngest child that you granted a wish to?
The age ranges from 2.5 to 18. The reason we chose 2.5, this is from learning in forensic and especially in homicide and so on, a child can comprehend at 2.5 years old. If you ask them, “What’s your favorite toy? Where would you like to go?” They already know about Disneyland. “I want something. I want a Barbie,” whatever it might be at that young age.
What was the craziest wish that somebody wanted?It's not all puppies and lollipops. Everybody’s got a hiccup in their life. Click To Tweet
Is this an R–rated show? Down in the Phoenix area, there’s a farm that raises chickens and supplies eggs to this whole Arizona and even on California, New Mexico and so on. The chicken ranch is what it’s called. A sixteen-year–old boy said, “I want to visit the chicken ranch.” We know what we’re talking about already, right?
They live in Vegas.
We know what you’re talking about.
The two ladies that were wish granters said, “We’re going to do that.” Somehow, I got involved with that. They said, “We’re going to grant your wish.” You can imagine this sixteen-year–old, he’s ecstatic, “I’m going to visit the chicken ranch.” Up in the Reno area, it’s a house that was repute. When the lady told him what he was looking for, he was embarrassed. He got to go to Disney World instead. It’s quite a difference.
The kid knew what he wanted.
You said any wish. You weren’t specific.
No bounds in wishing.
Any wish that’s requested, we do our best to request it. A few were turned down. Back in the days of the PETA, everyone said, there were a lot of hunting wishes and fishing wishes we did. They came down hard that they made threats against staff members. We had one that wanted to do a bear hunt and a moose hunt. The family, that’s what they did. We finally got out of that. We’re not doing that anymore. The foundation is not doing that anymore. There are organizations that will grant that. We turn the family over that will grant those types of wishes.
They still get to do what they want to do and not judged on what they wished for. That’s good. You do a lot of celebrity things. Who was the biggest celebrity that somebody wished they could meet and they came too?
John Cena, the wrestler. Him and Dwayne Johnson are almost tie-to-tie for granting wishes. John is not too tough. I’ve got a picture of me with him and I got him in a headlock. He’s tapping me to let go. Thanks, John, for letting me do that. With many celebrities, it’s not, “Get a picture. Get the autograph and spend ten minutes.” They spend a full day or half day hanging out with these kids. Think of how much that means to them.
They truly did get to die in peace knowing that’s 100% love and it means so much.
They get to live with that memory if they get well. That’s also a good inspiration for them to keep fighting.
I do want to say, we call that the power of a wish. There are many, what we call, a rush wish. A doctor will notify the family and the wish granters, “If we’re going to do this wish, we need to do it within the next six months or a year. This child is not going to survive.” If they’re well enough to the wish, let’s say it’s a travel wish, Disney is popular, they come back and they go in total remission. It was on a Sunday and its years ago but doctors can’t figure it out. I said, “It’s the power of a wish.” They go, “The heck with this illness. I’ve got so much I want to do.” There’s no medical term for it. We have many survivors like that.
At one of my speaking events, afterwards in the meet and greets, I get to meet aunts, uncles, brothers, fathers, and the mom and dad of a wish child. An adult will come up and introduce himself, “I’m a wish child.” To me, that is special. I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, excuse me a minute because I want to talk to this individual.” I will ask them, “What’s your wish?” I watch their eyes. I’m trained to read facial expressions. It could be years ago and they’re talking about it. I can see those eyes sparkle again, whatever the wish might have been.
That mind power when you determine, when your heart is lit up that much and you have that much love in your heart, it changes your chemistry physically. You want to fight for love and for life. That’s the power of the wish. Somebody stepped up, something stepped up into their heart that gave them the sense of, “Nothing is going to end what I want to continue.” How many Wish kids that are grown that are going to make a difference in somebody else’s life and this keeps on going and growing in ways that are amazing.
The Wish kid is growing up. There’s never a request for the family or the child to give back somehow to Make–A–Wish Foundation. It’s never even suggested. After they grow up or the child unfortunately may pass away, the family will come and say, “I want to volunteer. I want to help raise money. I want to fundraise whatever I can do to pay it back.” It’s never even suggested that they do that.
It’s one of the greatest charities ever created. It’s one of the top charities ever created because it’s all about love and giving, 100% about making a difference. I admire it. If you’ve not seen the movie, they have to see the movie.
It’s on Netflix.
Watch it on Netflix.
The best part is when you see Frank driving that motorcycle that is the cameo you want to look for.
See if you can recognize my backside. It’s Hollywood, riding into the sunset.
Do you have any other projects coming up as far as TV or movies?
I do. I’ve been contacted by a production group. We’re working on a deck. We’re looking for sponsors. It’s for a TV series called Wish Man Angel Patrol. First of all, if anybody remembers Charlie’s Angels back in the day. Also, A Homemaker Extreme Edition. They would go in and build homes for people and so on that needed it. The concept of this show is I will have six angels that are working for me that will go out throughout the United States looking at areas that have been devastated by floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, veterans that need help, individuals, and homeless that needs help. They come back and report to me. “I’m the Wish Man. Let’s see if we can get in that community and rebuild and help somebody out.” The networks have asked for this. We would finish the deck. We’re looking for potential sponsors to say, “I’m interested.” Hopefully, we can submit it to the networks.
It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a weekly series. It’s what we’re looking for.
You need a Hollywood star, Frank.
I’ve got one in Las Vegas on the Walk of Fame.
There’s one in Vegas.
Where’s your star in Vegas?
My star in Vegas is right at the Paris Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. It’s two stars down from Elvis Presley. Bobby Darin is right there too.
Two kings, side by side.
I’ve got a star on the Coronado Island Walk of Fame. How flattering is that? It’s fun. Me and my wife, we’re not going to Vegas because of what’s going on. She loves going to Vegas. I said, “We’ve been there.” She said, “Yeah, but we’ve got to go and clean your star.” That’s the excuse.
You tell her that Mark and Yolanda already claimed it.
You truly are an amazing human being and inspiration and all that. I want to say thank you for being here. I look forward to the movie and the show coming out with the six angels. If three were amazing, imagine what six will be like.
Where could people get a hold of you? If people want to touch base with you or read more about you or know more about you, where could they go?
Go to my website, which is www.WishMan1.com. You can also purchase merchandise, autographed copies of my movie, of my book. We’ve got some other stuff, shirts and so on coming on there soon. We call it Wish Man Brand. I’m on Facebook. Find me on Facebook. I do a little research before I accept your friendship. I’m making sure.
I don’t know if I’m your friends or not.
We are. Him and I are friends. I know that.
That’s the biggest contact. All I can say is I’m flattered. I get many messages every day from all over the world, even South Africa. It’s amazing.
I’m looking forward to seeing you again at Secret Knock. My niece, Valerie, has a CP, Cerebral Palsy. I tell her about it once in a while. Maybe I’ll bring her down and she can meet you or something like that. She lives in Phoenix. She’s an amazing woman. They did a story on her as well as far as Born Different. She’s inspiring others. She said, “We may be born different but it doesn’t mean we can be held back. We can still go forward and do things in life that other people can’t do because of their story. We have a story that says we’re born different for a reason to make a difference in somebody’s life.” She has a little tattoo on her arm that says, “Ability, not disability.” That’s inspirational for us. I would love to have you meet her one day.
I was taught as a young child that, “If you want something, you have to work for it. It’s not free.” If you want them, you have to work for it.
When you work for it, then you’ll see the results and the fulfillment. When it’s handed to you, there’s no appreciation.
There’s no gratitude when it’s handed to you.
Thank God you had to go through what you went through to become who you needed to become in this world to save all those children. That didn’t feel good though, did it?
Hopefully, the new TV show, Wish Man Angel Patrol, because they want me to be the host for it. That’s going to be fun.
Are they going to get your good side or the front?
They’ll get the front this time. They may even give me a new cowboy hat.
We appreciate you taking this time out for us and for being here. We enjoyed talking to you.
Two wishes were granted since we started talking.
Larry Wilcox, I don’t think I talked to you.
I’m sure you’re right there with us. Make sure you guys checked out www.WishMan1.com.
Make sure you check out the movie on Netflix. It’s going to be on Netflix for another year.
They extended it.
People will share this blog and we’ll get even more out there and then more donations coming into Make-A-Wish. There are more feathers on your wings when you depart this world.
Grab some popcorn and watch Wish Man on Netflix.
Were you at the Secret Knock when I hypnotized the main actor?
Yes. Andrew Williams Steele.
We should get him on one of these and tell us about that.
He’s in Australia because there’s no work in Hollywood. He’s back home in Australia. What a magnificent job he did on that movie. That man studied hard for that role. It wasn’t given to him. He worked and worked for it.
He was great. He played that role right on.
The only issue was when we were auditioning, he wasn’t quite as good looking as I was in the mid–‘30s. That was one of the setbacks.
That’s why they showed your back. If they showed your face, they would’ve canned him. They had to do the cameo that way. Once they see Frank’s face, the whole movie would be focused on Frank. “Where’s Frank?” We appreciate you, Frank, everything you’ve done. We’re going to have everybody that reads this share and comment on it. Watch the movie and let us know what your feelings are. Check it out, for sure. You’re an amazing man. I look forward to seeing you back at Secret Knock. Next time we get to Phoenix, Yolanda and I are taking you for biscuits and gravy up in Prescott.
There you go.
You have a good rest of the day. Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Uncle Frank.
Thank you for having me on.
That is the man from Make-A-Wish. You have to watch the movie to appreciate what he did, where he came from, and how hard he worked. Nothing was given to him, only the opportunity to say, “I’m going to make a difference in somebody else’s life because somebody made a difference on mine.” That’s your purpose. He’s there all about serving purpose.
Also, the meaning behind the Make-A-Wish and where the inspiration came from. It’s touched many kids’ lives and it still does. It’s still changing lives.
We’re going to continue the journey because it’s only going to get greater, bigger, better and all that. I didn’t even want to bring about the dog because I would have started crying.
Don’t talk about the dog. You have to watch the movie. If you’re a dog lover, you’re going to cry. You’re going to understand what we’re talking about when we say the dog scene.
It doesn’t hurt.
The dog doesn’t get hurt, nothing like that.
You’re going to see what Frank had to go through to become the man he is. Maybe in life, you have to go through some things to become the man or the woman you need to become as well. Stop giving up and start showing up. That’s what this movie is all about.
Remember, your story can change someone else’s life and touch somebody else’s life also. You can make a difference in somebody else’s life. I talked about not playing the victim, women playing the victim. It’s for everybody. It’s not just for women. We all have gone through struggles but our story can change, it can touch somebody’s life and it can make a difference in somebody’s life if we share it.
Wait until you see Wish Man. It will be crystal clear.
Like the video.
Like, share, and we’ll see you next time for a cooking show.
They ought to watch our video. We’re posting more videos. We are posting some fun videos so check it out.
If for some reason this one decides to go rent a Bobcat and go in the yard, we don’t have a cooking show. I will come and explain to you why we don’t have a cooking show.
I am going to do this. I’m going to continue to dye my hair.
You haven’t even started.
I dyed all this white.
That’s your natural color. You’re getting old. It’s white. Unlike mine that’s still beautiful and golden brown. Look at my hair compared to yours.
“I am beautiful and age can turn me down.”
You are an absolute mess.
I have to go do something.
He’s dying to get in the backyard, number one. Number two, he’s dying to buy a tractor. Number three, he wants to rent a Bobcat. If you don’t see us, you’ll probably see some crazy videos with him in a Bobcat or tractor in the backyard doing something. We’ll have Coach Michael Nitti. Stay tuned. Thanks for joining us.
I’m putting on my shades, now the future looks bright.
Share this blog and like it. Thank you very much. Let us know what you think about Wish Man. Comment and let us know what we can help you in any way we can. I’m Mark, this is Yolanda, we are together.
- Larry Wilcox – YouTube interview
- Secret Knock
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Frank Shankwitz
- Facebook – Frank Shankwitz
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