Don’t you wish those unfortunate children suffering from life-threatening illnesses had a chance to have their one wish come true? In this imperfect world, somebody gladly took that responsibility to himself – The Wish Man, Frank Shankwitz. An Air Force veteran, retired law enforcer, and recipient of several awards, you wouldn’t think of Frank as a once-abandoned kid who did the dishes in rural Arizona. Frank was the creator and the first President and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a global charity that now grants a wish to a child somewhere in the world every 23 minutes. And it all started out with one child’s wish. Find out how he found his exits in his colorful life as he relates his story to Michelle Seiler Tucker.
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Touching Lives One Wish At A Time With The Wish Man, Frank Shankwitz
I am excited to have one of my good friends, Frank Shankwitz, joining us. His bio is long. He is quite accomplished. He is the Creator and Cofounder and the first President and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This is an amazing charity that grants the wishes to children with life-threatening diseases, illnesses. From the humble beginnings, Make-A-Wish Foundation is now a global organization that grants a child’s wish worldwide on an average of 28 minutes. He is a US Air Force veteran and has a long-distinguished career in law enforcement. He began as Arizona Highway Patrol motorcycle officer and retired as a homicide detective with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, with over 42 years of service.
Frank has been featured in numerous publications and television programs, including Inside Edition, The Doctors, Hallmark Home & Family, Fox News and CBS. Frank has received several awards, including the White House Call to Service Award from both President George Bush and President Donald Trump, and the Making a Difference In the World Award from the US Military Academy at West Point in 2015. In 2015, Frank joined six US Presidents as well as Nobel Prize winners and industry leaders as a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
In December 2015, Frank was presented with an Honorary Doctorate Degree, Doctor of Public Service, from The Ohio State University. In 2015, he was identified as 1 of the 10 Most Amazing Arizonians. In January 2016, he was identified in Forbes Magazine article as Forbes Top 10 Keynote Speakers. Frank’s book, Wish Man, was released in September 2018. In May 2019, he was presented with the Honorary Doctorate Degree Doctor of Law. In 2019, he received his star on the Las Vegas Walk of Fame. In October 2019, he received a Lifetime Service Award from Women of Global Change.
In November of 2019, Frank received his star on the Coronado Island Walk of Stars. In November 2019, he received the 2019 Arizona Ambassador of the Year Award. In January 2020, he was appointed as an Honorary Commander of the US Air Force, 161st Air Refueling Wing based in Phoenix, Arizona. His life story, Wish Man, one of my favorite movies, a feature Motion Picture was released in June 2019 and has won several awards, including being qualified for an Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar and is streaming on Netflix. Frank is a board member on several nonprofits and we are fortunate to have him with us here. Frank, welcome to the show.
Michelle, thank you for inviting me. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. I’m glad we’re doing this.
I consider you a great friend and I’m starting a nonprofit called Tucker Teens & Tots. I know you’ve agreed to sit on the board on Tucker Teens & Tots as well. Frank, you have lived quite the life. All the readers out there, if you have not watched Wish Man, you need to watch it. It’s on Netflix. I was fortunate enough to go to the Red Carpet Premiere with you and Kitty, all of our friends, and sit right next to you in a movie theater. Since then, I’ve probably watched the movie five times after that.
Thank you for that. It keeps the ratings going.
Frank, tell us a little bit about yourself and why did you decide to go into the military and become a police officer and law enforcement for over 40 plus years?
It all begins that we highlight this in the movie. The Wish Man movie is based on a true story, we’ve got to remember that. Probably we like to embellish, but it’s a period of my life from 1950 to 1981, we created the Make-A-Foundation. The biggest thing in the movie highlights some of my difficulties in childhood about my mother divorcing my father and abandoning me when I was eleven years old, leaving me on my own. About the people that influenced me in my young childhood and my early teen years. The biggest thing is integrity, character, work ethic, but how to give back when you can. I’ve been raised poor. I started working full-time at ten years old as a dishwasher. A gentleman that became my father figure Juan Delgadillo, who in fact, I featured in the movie. We made sure that he was featured to pay back to him, even though he passed away but we were still in contact with his family.
He said, “Frank, you can give back.” I said, “Juan, the poor people are helping me. They’re bringing me beans and tortillas. How can I payback? How can I help them?” He said, “You don’t have to have money to give back. You can give back your time.” He said, “Look at the widow Sanchez. She’s always trying to help you out. Look at her front yard, it’s full of weeds. Look at her porch. You can do that.” I’ll always remember that.
The big thing also, especially when my mother left me and I was like, “What am I going to do?” He said, “Learn how to turn those negatives to positives.” This is the 1950s, Michelle. This is a popular term these days, but in 1950, it wasn’t. I said, “What do you mean? My mother left me,” but he sets an example, as a dishwasher, you make $26 a week, which every penny I would make went to my mother. He said, “I have arranged for the widow Sanchez that you’re going to live with her and she’s going to charge you $20 a week room and board. For the first time in your life, you’re going to have $6 of your own,” which in the 1950s was a lot of money for a kid. That’s negative to positive?
“Also, the first time in your life, you’re going to have your own room.” I’ve never had my room. I’ve never lived in a house with indoor plumbing. All of a sudden, “You’re going to have your own room. You don’t have to go to the Santa Fe locker rooms to shower anymore and clean up.” That’s another positive. He kept influencing that to me and the same with the coaches through high school, which then led to going into the Air Force. In the Air Force, mentors from my sergeants and my supervisors.
This show is all about Find Your Exit and an exit can be a lot of things. It can be a finding your exit from a business, a job, your childhood and a mother that did not take care of you and you found one. You were fortunate to find Juan and take that negative and turn it into all those positives and be able to give back and help everybody else.
It goes another way. In Seligman, Arizona where I was in grade school, 500 people up on Route 66 in Northern Arizona. You’ve heard the term, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That was exactly that little town of 500 people. Everybody is helping out and I still go up there. I still have friends up there. In fact, Juan owns a restaurant and Juan Delgadillo’s famous Snowcap is still there. The sons run it. I go there twice a month to visit because it’s fun memories. It’s not bad memories at that time.
I think I met the family at your Red Carpet Premiere.
You did. Yes, the son, his family, and his daughters. It was such an honor for me to invite them to be from this little town of Seligman. They’d love it. To be featured and introduced at the Q&A following the presentation.
You went into the military and then you were a motorcycle cop back in the famous day of CHiPS.
I took a little break between the military. I was stationed in England, Vietnam era, but I was not a combat veteran. Motorola was looking for a Vietnam-era veterans that had Top Secret clearances. This was during the Atlas Missile Program. This was humorous, I didn’t have a college degree, but they were going to send us to the college using our GI Bill because the graduates could not pass background tests for Top Secret clearance. The majority of college graduates had used drugs, marijuana, and so on. Motorola was looking for so I decided, “Let’s try this.” I ended up there for seven years. Motorola was good for me. I ended up of all things that statistical engineering determining the failure rate of several proponents for the Atlas Missiles Program.
I have more money I ever made my life. I made excellent advancements, but I was bored. I don’t like living in a big city. I’m a small-town guy and some of my friends had joined the highway patrol following high school, their college. “Frank, with your background in engineering and especially in the Air Force, you’d be a perfect fit.” I said, “I’m making one week, what you make it a month. I’m not going to give that up.” I started thinking about it. I was an adrenaline junkie. I thought, “This might be a good adventure.” Out of a whim, I put an application. Out of 1,000 applicants, they chose 50. I was selected. Am I going to do it? Yes. It was the best career choice I ever made. Forty-two years later, I finally retired.
You take a huge cut in pay to leave Motorola and go work for the police department.
A big cut in pay.
That’s another exit you made. You exited Motorola and took to law enforcement.
Everybody has this career path. Apparently, mine was in service and helping people to help others. The biggest thing was my first duty station down in Yuma, Arizona on California, Mexican border as I continued taking college classes. The football coach came up one day and he said, “I know you’re a high school football coach, and you were involved with all the sports. Have you ever heard of Special Olympics?” I said, “Coach, no, I haven’t. What is that?” He explained the program to me and asks if I would be a coach in my off time to help these kids, especially with the football throw, a baseball throw, and basketball hoop. I love that.
I had so much fun working with these kids and it was the first time that Juan that he always told me when I was youngster, “Franklin, you can give back.” I started thinking, “All of a sudden, I’m giving back.” It felt good working with these children. In 1973, the Arizona highway patrol decided they’re going to go back to a motorcycle program. It’s going to be a ten-man tax property to work the whole State of Arizona. Two weeks in one town, two weeks from another town, and asked if I would apply for motor school. I thought, “This is going to be fun,” which I did pass and got on that squad. It’s a great decision because I stayed on that for almost eleven years. You’ve mentioned CHiPS.
That was a famous show.
In the mid-’70s the TV show CHiPs became popular. For people that don’t remember, it was the adventures of two California Highway Patrol, motorcycle officers Ponch and Jon, Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada. They’re popular with the kids. The demographic of that show was seven years old on up for the boys and for the girls seven years old to about 50 for the ladies because of Ponch, that smile, and everything else. All of a sudden, because of the popularity of the towns, we would ride into town with a two-man team and the kids are like, “Hey Ponch, Jon, CHiPs.”
We trained initially with the California Highway Patrol, our equipment was identical. Our uniforms are identical except ours said Arizona. As far as the kids were looking, they were looking at CHiPs riding into town. I started talking to our commanders and I said, “We have a little bit off time in these towns, can we go to grade schools and start talking about bicycle safety.” They said, “That would be great PR.” We’d love to do it. The kids would love doing it. They could care less about bicycle safety. They love getting all over motorcycles but it’s a great PR tool to boost up the image of the police.
That was in the ’70s right, Frank?
Yes. In 1978, our whole ten-man team was assigned to an area called Parker’s right on the Colorado River. The little town of Parker from 2,000 people grew to 85,000 people because of spring break. All these college kids going over, sex, drugs, rock and roll. We have more fatal accidents, homicides, and rapes and everything you could think of. I’m in a high-speed chase, 85 miles an hour in a 25 zone with a drunk driver when another drunk driver pulled right in front of me. I couldn’t do it. We call our break an escaped maneuver in Broadside in 80. I was told the crash was spectacular and was pronounced dead at the scene. The rest of the story because you and I are talking, my partner tried to revive me. He couldn’t do it. He called in a code 963 officer killed in the line of duty.
Every police officer I’ve ever worked with, Michelle, believes in some type of higher being, whatever religion or faith that might be. We say a prayer every day we’re going to work, “Please allow me to come home.” We get home at night we say a little prayer, “Thank you for allowing me to come home.” I believe in guardian angels not the ones with the wings and everything, but God will send somebody, something to help you out. In this case, he sent an off-duty emergency room nurse out of California. She stopped at the scene, identified herself to my partner, said, “Please let me try and revive him.” He said, “We’ve got no pulse, he’s dead.” She didn’t listen and for the next four minutes performed CPR because of that, you and I are talking.
I remember you telling the story that you woke up, go ahead and finish the story when the time you opened your eyes.
Being a police officer, you have to have a little bit of humor in life. I had to go to counseling and I had a severe injury. I had a massive brain injury, skull fracture, and a lot of broken bones. During the counseling, the council said to me, “Do you remember anything? Do you remember their senses?” I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, doc.” He mentioned the tunnel and he described it as people in emergency room. As your life goes away, you see the light at the end of a tunnel, all of a sudden the light goes out and you’re dead. As I bring you back to life and your senses come back that tunnel, that little light starts coming back and your senses come back. He said, “Do you recall it?” I said, “I do recall a sense.” He said, “What?” I said, “I recall a sense of hearing. I’m hearing sirens in the background. I’m hearing people, ‘She brought him back.’ I don’t know what they’re talking about.” I recall the sense of smell, something pleasant like a perfume. I recall the sense of touch, something is tickling my face. Something is on my lips. The sense of sight I opened my eyes. I saw this beautiful blonde with a lip lock on me. I thought, “If this is heaven, I’m okay. We’re happy here.” As I said, we have to have a little bit of humor.
It was good it was her and not your partner.
It was that time that I’d gone to counseling making sure my head was right to go back to work. The part of the thing that the doctor said to me is, “You died that night and God spared you for a reason and now it’s up to you to find that reason.” It was years later in 1980 when I found that reason.
That reason was Michael.
His movie name is Michael and his real name is Chris.
Is it Michael in the movie?
Yes. I was working up again in Northern Arizona, about two and a half hours away from Phoenix. I got a call from the dispatcher, check out a telephone. I remember 1980 there are no cell phones. Those are no internet or anything like that.
Those were the good old days where people talk to people.
The closes payphone is 40 miles away. I call and she says, “We’ve been informed about a seven-year-old boy named Chris. A customs agent that’s a friend of the family named Tom Austin has called and said, “Chris’ heroes are Ponch and Jon from the show CHiPS.” He tells the mother, “When I grow up, I want to be a Highway Patrol motorcycle officer just like Ponch and Jon.” He said, “Unfortunately, Chris has terminal leukemia and only had a couple of weeks to live. Is there any way that the Highway Patrol can set up to meet one of the motorcycle officers to hang out for a day and make this boy’s wish per se come true?”
The commanders have chosen me because of my work with the kids all around the state years prior to getting down to Phoenix. It was over a two-hour ride to get back down to the Phoenix area. It was neat, Michelle, that with the permission of his mother and doctor, our state police helicopter picked him up at his hospital to fly him to our headquarters building in Phoenix. They timed it with radio communication just so as the helicopter was approaching, I was approaching the landing zone. I had never met this little boy. I had no idea what to expect. I know our paramedics are with him. As the helicopter is coming in, all see is his face plastered against the window with a big smile.
How old was Chris?
He’s seven years old. The helicopter lands and I expected the paramedics to help him out. This little boy came off by beats. The door opens up, a little red pair of sneakers jumps out, runs with the motorcycle, “I’m Chris, can I get on your motorcycle?” I’m like, “Of course, you can, Chris.” This little boy watch CHiPS so much and our equipment was identical. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. “That’s the siren, can I turn it on? That’s the red light. That’s the flasher. What’s in your saddleback is the same with what Ponch has on his.” He is laughing and giggling.
“We all have our hiccups in life. It’s what you do with those that matter.”
I’m looking at his mother and she’s crying. Why is she crying? It dawned on me. She has a seven-year-old back. He’s running around like a typical kid having a great time instead of being in a hospital bed with IVs. Chris went on that day, I’m going to condense this a little bit that becomes the first and only honorary. I was shown a motorcycle officer that day complete with a custom uniform we had made for him, his own badge, which is still assigned to him now. The most important to him was his motorcycle wings making him at a full police officer.
I remember the lengths that you have to go through to get the uniform, badge and wings because you talked about that in a movie Wish Man.
It took a couple of days to do that. In fact, a couple of days after all of this happened for Chris, I got a call. He is back in the hospital and you’re authorized to go there. He’s in a coma. He’s probably not going to survive the day and his uniform is hanging right by his bed. When we went in there, I picked up the uniform and I’m looking at it. I’m looking at the motorcycle wings and he comes out of the coma. He looks at me and he says, “Frankie.” He called me Officer Frank. Am I a motorcycle officer now?” “Yes, you are Chris.” He asked for his uniform, he’s rubbing the wings. He’s showing his mother. He died a couple of hours later. I always liked to think maybe those wings help train him to heaven.
They did. God has a plan for all of us.
Our commanders learned that Chris was going to be buried in a little town called Kewanee, Illinois about 180 miles Southwest of Chicago and told me, “We have lost a fellow officer,” because Chris was sworn in as a full honorary police officer. He said, “I would like you and your partner to go back to Illinois and give Chris a full police funeral,” which we did. This is the day before the internet, but the press picked this up. Not only the press but the TV stations. We were met at O’Hare Airport in Chicago by the major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS, “What are you doing? Why are you escorting this little boy? Why are you burying him?” We told the story.
They’ve sent the word to the little Des Moines affiliate, close to Kewanee, and were met by the press there. The press also notified Illinois State Police, the city police, the County police, unknown to us who all met us at the burial site to give this boy a full police funeral. Chris was buried in uniform. His grave marker reads, “Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper.” Flying home, Michelle, I started thinking, “Here’s a little boy who had a wish and we made it happen. Why can’t we do that for other children?” That’s when the idea to Make-A-Wish Foundation was born maybe 35,000 feet over Kansas or somewhere.
Here you were a little boy that was abandoned, how old were you when you were abandoned?
I was 11 or 12.
Here’s a little boy that as abandoned at 11 or 12 and was raised by this family in such a small town in Arizona and by Juan and his family. Here you are getting in this huge, tragic accident and you’re revived by this beautiful nurse. This little boy Chris comes along and it has this beautiful dream. Because of you and because of Chris and several other people involved, Make-A-Wish Foundation is one of the largest foundations in the world granting a wish every 28 minutes.
You said the keyword, “A lot of people,” I had an idea to make it work. I was the first President and CEO, but it takes thousands of people around the world.
It takes a large village.
Because of Chris, years later we have 62 chapters in the United States, and 45 international chapters on five continents. We’re well over 500,000 wishes have been granted. Like you said, one in every 28 minutes on an average, all because of a seven-year-old boy.
All because of you and Juan who said “Pay it back, help somebody else. Pay it forward.” It’s all because of that nurse, Chris, and all of you angels.
The teachers, coaches, military, my commanders in the patrol, sergeant, supervisor, and everybody. Everything is not puppies and rainbows. We all have our hiccups in life, but it’s what you do with those.
What did you do? You turn your lemons and made lemonade out of it. You had some great mentors along the way. You had some great support systems. Unfortunately, there are so many children out there that don’t have that support system. That’s why I’m starting Tucker Teens & Tots is to be able to provide that mentorship because not all children are fortunate. You also took that hand that was held out to you because a lot of children don’t always take that hand. They don’t always take that help and what’s in front of them to better their life and you did.
I was always appreciative because before I had a lot of luck, we live in such bad conditions. We lived in a tent, in a car, an old flophouse and food was always an issue. Anytime that I could get something, I was appreciative. The biggest thing, there were seldom handouts. Those were the days if you’re hungry you work to eat. As simple as that. That’s why at ten years old, I started a full-time job.
You didn’t have a handout. You had a hand up and that’s a big difference. A hand up versus a handout. I know Juan helped you. Juan took you out of that restaurant you were working on and then it gave you another job.
He let me work part-time with him also. Remember the movie is based on a true story, but I wanted to do a lot of things. I was going to be a rodeo bull rider in the junior rodeo. The entry fee was $3 back in those days. All the money I ever made when I was still with my mother went to her. Juan would let me work at his little place mopping, cleaning, anything I could do to earn that $3 for that entry fee.
You had to pay your living expenses at the age of 11 or 12 of $20 a week?
You were not given a handout, you were given a hand up.
The handout also came from friends. Like I say, “Frank, we’ve got some extra beans and tortillas, we’re going to give them to you.”
Did you ever get sick of eating beans and tortillas?
No, I love them until now.
You started Make-A-Wish Foundation with one little boy named Chris, then it grew exponentially. At what point did you exit Make-A-Wish Foundation and turn it over to everyone else?
I’m a full-time police officer. I’m trying to run this foundation. What was nice was my Commander Director on Highway Patrol, Ralph Milstead at the time called me in. When the director calls and you think, “I’m in trouble.” He said, “Frank, I know what you’re doing. I’m going to endorse it 100%. In fact, I’m going to give you one of our Highway Patrol offices to use as your office for Make-A-Wish. Remember the old WATS lines before the days, “I’m going to authorize you to use a WATS cell phone line. I’m going to let you use typewriters.” There were no computers.
I don’t remember the WATS line, but I do remember the typewriters.
He said, “I know you’re going to have to do a lot of this in a daytime.” I’m not boasting, but I was one of the top guys, felony arrests, DUIs, citations as the motorcycle officer. He said, “I want you to keep your stats off and if it takes you 15 or 18 hours a day to do it, that’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to give me eight hours of work.” I love that man for that. I did that. I would work usually eighteen hours a day trying to run them. After a couple of years, I couldn’t do this anymore. Plus, our board made a smart decision. Do you remember in college when you learn or even in business to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you?
I never took a salary. We said, “We need to hire somebody from the nonprofit world that has the business background in the nonprofit.” It’s the greatest decision we ever made. After a couple of years, that’s what we did. We turned it over to them to run which there have been ten CEOs I believe, that has made it grow to what it is now. That was the best decision. Surround yourself with people smarter than you and you hire people smarter than you.
I say that all the time and some of the biggest leaders in the world say that they surround themselves with people who are smarter than them, who have the core competencies that they don’t possess. That’s what makes great leaders. Leaders recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They recognize what their core competencies are and what they need assistance in.
Make-A-Wish kept me on for a long time as Wish Ambassador.
A Wish Ambassador, what a great title that is. That sounds like a lot of fun.
That was for meet and greets all over, for keynote speaking in Galas on that and did that up until we started production on the movie and then it was a conflict of interest. If you may make any type of money from a project related to Make-A-Wish, even though the movie is not about the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I always thought of integrity and resigned everything because in case anything did come back, any negative press about it, it would be well-covered.
It’s important to point out that the entire time you were with Make-A-Wish Foundation, you never took a penny from the organization.
No, not at all. Even on travel as far away as Guam, Tinian, and Saipan, Airlines would donate the flights. Hotels would donate rooms. I would cover my own expenses on meals. Other Make-A-Wish employees had travel expenses, meal expenses, but I don’t want to do that. I don’t need a lot. In a lot of the Galas, they feed you. I wanted that money to stay for the children.
That’s inspirational and that’s unique because many leaders of nonprofits load their pockets up. A big percentage goes into their pockets. It goes into other CEO’s pockets to run the organization. That’s a huge tribute to you that you never took a penny from the foundation. Your entire passion, mission, and goals were to take care of the children and make their wishes come true. That’s amazing and you know that.
It was not integrity, but even at the beginning, as a police officer, unfortunately, we can work a lot of off duty jobs, especially a personal escort duty for celebrities and so on pays well. I would use that money to put the seed money into the foundation because we didn’t have the donations coming in initially. We needed to cover a lot of expenses, getting equipment, etc.
You’ve traveled all around the world granting wishes as a Wish Ambassador?
Not so much granting wishes, but promoting the foundation. We’ve got two chapters around the world.
Tell us a story about Disney and how you were able to get Disney on board because I love this story.
Disney doesn’t like this story, but Disney is protective of its brand. I told this, in fact, I had a big meeting with Disney, and they finally said, “You can tell the story.” Our first official wish was in 1981, a little Mexican boy named Frank “Bopsy” Salazar. He is nicknamed Bopsy. That’s all he knew by. Unfortunately, again, he has terminal leukemia. When we started this foundation, Michelle, it was for children with terminal illnesses. None of the children survived back in those days. Fortunately, we were able to change it several years ago to children with life-threatening illnesses, because children of that are surviving. I like to say it’s the grace of God and modern medicine now.
“In the nonprofit world, it’s all about the mission, not you.”
I was Bopsy’s wish granter. I went out to interview him. A child gets to wish. You want to have CB, goal, or whatever it might be. Those four categories. It was a poor neighborhood outside of Phoenix. They still have dirt floors, and I borrowed a patrol car to go out instead of the motorcycle. The mother was a single, divorced mom. She was embarrassed for me to come to the house. I said to Bopsy we’ll get in the patrol car. Bopsy at seven years old was going through rites of passage through the Catholic church of his parish. He couldn’t show emotion. He had to be stoic supposedly and put him in a patrol car and explained to him what we were doing and if there’s anything he’d like to have, see, be, or do?
He started thinking about it and he said, “I want to be a fireman.” I said, “You’re sitting in a Highway Patrol car and you wanted to be a fireman?” I got a little smile out of him. I thought, “That’s easy. My girlfriend, Kitty, my wife now, her brother’s a Phoenix fireman. I’m sure we can pull that off.” “No, I want to ride in a hot air balloon.” I thought, “That’s easy. I know people up in Prescott that are great. They have a hot air balloon.” “No, I want to go to Disneyland.” We hadn’t thought about travel wish out of state. I said, “Let me go talk to our board and see what we can do.” I went back to the board. A child only gets one wish. I said, “I’m going to break this charter. I want to grant all three wishes because we’re going to get so much press out of this. It’s going to be unbelievable. It’s going to put us on the map nationwide.”
The Phoenix Fire thing was great. The Phoenix Fire Department made a little turnout suit for him sliding down the pole. They went off of this little boy. He had such a great time. With the hot air balloon, there were so many people. The press was covering it. We’re getting so much coverage. Our secretary kept calling Disney for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “We have this little boy what we would like was free admittance into the park. If he can get in front of the lines because he’s in a wheelchair and very ill.” Disney kept hanging up. We learned that Disney gets all these bogus requests all the time.
I would imagine.
She said, “I don’t know what to do. They won’t even talk to me.” I said, “Give me the name. Let me call.” She gave me the name of the secretary for the Director of Public Relations. I called and instead of saying, “This is Frank Shankwitz, President CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.” I said, “This is Frank Shankwitz of Arizona Highway Patrol.” You could also imagine the secretary setting up a little straighter. She said, “Yes, sir. What can I help you with?” I said, “I need to talk to the Director of Public Relations.” “Why?” I said, “I have a warrant for one of your people.”
A little kidding white lie.
Just so I’ve got to talk to, but the minute I got the gentleman on the phone, I said, “I lied to you. Here’s my name. Here’s my badge number. Here are my supervisor’s name and phone number. All you have to do is call them right now. I will be terminated immediately, but will you please listen to my story.” He did listen to my story. Now, Disney is one of the biggest sponsors of all the years for Make-A-Wish, millions of millions of dollars, thousands of children in Disney things. Sometimes you got to lie a little bit but qualify your lie right away.
What an amazing story that is. I love that story. Frank, you’ve spent years and decades helping others. I know at one point someone asked you, “Frank, what’s your wish?”
I was at Greg Reid’s Secret Knock Event and I had spoken there several times before. In fact, he was filming a documentary called Stickability at the time. I was going to be one of the people in the documentary speaking on stage and I did speak and we got the standing ovation and so on. He surprised me by coming up on stage because that wasn’t part of our script. He said, “Frank, what’s your wish?” I said, “What?” He said, “The foundation has granted thousands of wishes. What’s your wish?” I said, “I never thought about it.” He said, “Do you need a new pickup? Do you need more horses? What do you need at the ranch?” I said, “It’s not about me, but I liked that my story told so that my grandkids think, ‘Grandpa did something cool in his life.’” That was it.
After we finished the documentary, Theo Davies who is the director of the documentary came backstage and introduced himself. I had met him but he said, “Let’s talk. I’ve never seen an audience reaction to your story and I want to make a movie about your story.” I thought he meant a documentary, but anyhow, I said, “No, we don’t want to do that.” He said, “Yes, we do. We want to make a feature film.” I thought, “Wow.” I was flabbergasted and honored. What an honor to even think about that. I’ve worked with Hollywood before on different projects. I said, “Theo, let’s do this, but I have complete script approval.” Like we say, based on a true story, that’s why it took Theo two and a half years to write that screenplay because he keeps sending me the rough draft. I said, “This is great. We’re not going to do that.” There were a lot of compromises also that we finally got and what a terrific screenplay this man wrote. Just wow to him.
Also, wow to the movie. The movie is incredible. I’m mad at myself for not flying to Prescott, Arizona, and participating because I know you invited me several times.
That’s another thing. When we got ready to film, Arizona doesn’t get tax credits for the movie industry anymore. For years, every Western movie almost made for years was in Arizona. I love it hard to get it filmed in Arizona because of look at what Hollywood brings into the local community as far as economics. I wanted to get back to this town in Prescott during high school that helped me out that I still know many people. They said, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it.” I said, “We need to a bar to film and we need this, we need that. We need a sound stage. I’m going to get all of that for you free because the local community is going to donate this to me.” We added it up and we’re going to save over $1 million in location costs. They said, “We’re going to film in Arizona.” I was happy about that. Prescott was thrilled during the filming.
I still have to make it out there maybe for the sequel. I know there’s so much more to your life story that it’s only a two-hour movie. Frank, with all of your experiences and all of your wisdom, I always say a nonprofit is like a business and you should run a nonprofit like a business. Most of our readers are entrepreneurs, what is your number one business tip or business advice you can give someone?
In the nonprofit world, especially make it about the mission and not you. I did a lot of counseling for starting nonprofits and when the people talk to me and they say, “What salary can I take,” which is their first comment, “Bye we’re not talking anymore,” because it’s about them. It’s not about the mission.
That brings me back to what I said in the conversation that you never took a penny from the foundation and many leaders of nonprofits do.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I get a lot of questions negative remarks about the CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which was making over $1 million a year. That is a lot of money, but that gentleman is running a worldwide group. Think if that was a for-profit, $1 million would be an embarrassment as his salary. He’s got thousands of employees around the world that he’s managing. Make-A-Wish as an example, Charity Navigator still gives a 3 or 4-star rating and that $0.70 of every $1 is still going to the mission, which is a high rating by the watchdog groups.
That’s a big thing right there. There might be these big salaries at the top, but what is the rating? What percentage of the dollar is going to help the mission and help the people in need? Give our readers some advice on how to write charities?
I mentioned briefly CharityNavigator.org is a watchdog for numerous charities in the United States. There are approximately 1.2 million nonprofits in the United States. They’ve got an A to Z listing, they don’t cover all of them, but what they do is they get the quarterly IRS reports that a nonprofit has to give the IRS and they look where the money is going. They develop pie charts and they rate a 1 to a 4-star rating. They show how much money is going to the mission. How much money is going to expenses, overhead, fundraising, etc.? Also it proses out the salaries of the CEOs so you can see exactly where your money is going. Red Cross, for example, has a bad rating, but yet there’s nothing like it. We’ll find out if whatever your nonprofit might be for children, for veterans, whatever, you can look on their thing and it will give you that rating and find out where your money is going.
That’s great to know for our readers. It’s admirable that you lived on a cop salary and did not take a penny from the foundation. You have huge integrity.
Thank you. It’s about the kids.
That’s why nonprofits should start. As you said, the number one thing should be the mission and who you’re trying to serve, not trying to serve yourself.
Michelle, because I’m settling on a cop’s salary now retirement, but because of my speaking engagements and all that, and you mentioned Forbes Number One Keynote Speaker in 2016. It’s allowing me to have this new career. I’m fortunate in the speaking career.
You must have read my mind because the next question was what’s next for you, Frank? What are you doing? Talk to us about your speaking.
The speaking career was going great. I was on an airplane every other week, somewhere as a keynote speaker, but the Corona thing shut everybody down. I’m also busy every day. Not only with the interviews promoting the movie. By the way, we didn’t say that Wish Man is on Netflix. Also, you can purchase an autograph copy, go to my website WishMan1.com. My book Wish Man, which is also on Amazon but an autograph copy on my website.
I have my autographed copy.
It also gives me the opportunity, Michelle. I’m on 7 and soon 8 nonprofit boards around the United States, helping to develop these boards, helping to get these boards more recognition by using little of my name recognition to help them go on. My new project we are working on a possible new TV show, which I’m excited about. It’s called Wish Man Angel Patrol. I don’t know if that even shows up. This is the concept. We’ve been contacted by our production team. I don’t know if everybody remembers the Extreme Home Makeover show where the team would go out and build these homes for certain people. Also back to the days of Charlie’s Angels. The concept of this show is like Extreme Home Makeover.
I will have a team of six angels that goes out throughout the United States to look at areas that are devastated by floods, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, veterans or homeless that needed help. Anybody that may need some help in a community. We’ll come back and report to me and we will go to those areas and we’ll get a team of big sponsors together, but also celebrities, whatever we can do to help that community and those individuals. We’ve finished the deck on this. We’re getting ready to send it to possible sponsors. Once we get some sponsors lined up, it goes to the TV executives, ABC, CBS, and NBC are looking at this. We’re excited. Hopefully, this happens.
Let’s make a wish. Your wish comes true. Frank, one last question. There’s a lot of debacle, fights, and arguments. All these issues with the police department, police reform, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, what advice do you have for all of us?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to give any advice. There are many opinions, but let me say as my career, as a police officer, especially in our homicide section, which I spent the majority of my career. We were not only to investigate homicides around the state but the smaller agencies didn’t have their own homicide unit. We would also involve anything with police shootings and possible brutality charges. We were the internal affairs for those small agencies. To start with the gentlemen in Minneapolis, that is not a police procedure that is taught kneeling on a neck. That’s totally wrong. The one also at Wendy’s. Our two-man team, it would take us up to a month to get all the facts of what happened.
If you look at the Wendy’s shooting, all of a sudden, the next day they had all the facts. It can’t happen but everybody is rushing to judgment. Let the police do their job. Let them find out the facts. I put a lot of police in jail. I also exonerate a lot of police because political leaders, “I don’t like this guy. It’s a bad image for us,” but the police officer was 100% correct in his actions. We have to judge everyone. If you don’t want it to be wrestle by a cop, number one, don’t do something wrong. If you don’t want to get shot, beat up or whatever the case may be, don’t resist arrest. You get a traffic ticket, are you got to start fighting right away or are you going to say, “I want to go to court?” It’s a big deal.
That’s a good perspective. I wanted to ask you that question because you’ve been in law enforcement for over 42 years. Who better to answer that question?
The biggest thing is with the politicians. I don’t know why “Defund the police.” In Seattle, “Defund the police. We don’t want the police.” All of a sudden, the Seattle Mayor’s house is starting to be surrounded and so on, “I need police out here right away.”
You cannot defund the police. Do you believe that police reform is as needed?
I don’t know about reforms as much as training. You know Randy Sutton, he’s a good friend of mine. Randy Sutton developed The Wounded Blue, a retired Las Vegas Metro Lieutenant. He is the most decorated officer in the Las Vegas Metro history. We talk about a lot of these police shootings where officers go into several warrants or domestic servants that are shot. To me, it’s poor police training. They’re not getting the training on how to handle a situation. Why would you go to domestic servants by yourself? It’s because your supervisor won’t allow another person to go. Why would you do a traffic approach in different areas where you know you’re stopping a known felon? Why do you do that by yourself?
Also, the fight thing like we saw at Wendy’s. In my opinion, a lot of them are not receiving the hands-on combat training, the fighting that we were taught back in my days. We had boxing classes. We had the self-defense classes. We knew the takedowns. Even back in my day, you could raise a fist to anybody in any type of action unless they hit you. If they raise a fist, “I’m going to hit you,” you couldn’t do anything. They had to strike you before you could do anything.
Things have changed dramatically from when you were in the field.
We were taught the defense tactics. We didn’t have the pepper spray. We had Mace. We didn’t have stun guns. We had our arms, our ability, our self-defense. We had some officers shot and killed. I went to too many police funerals in my old state and officers that I investigated their deaths.
You have seen a lot. You have lived a huge life and you continue to do so. You continue to give back to the community and you continue to help others. You continue to help promote the foundation and sit on many other boards. I hope that you get your wish.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
Thank you for giving me a great testimony on my book, Exit Rich. Are there any last famous words that you would like to leave with our readers, Frank?
Look at the movie, Wish Man, on Netflix.
“Everyone can be a hero.”
It is a wonderful movie. In fact, every time I watch it, I get teary-eyed. I watched it with my husband and I noticed on the corner of my eye, he was getting teary-eyed although, he didn’t want to show me. He didn’t want me to see that.
That’s a big, tough guy there.
There are a lot of moving parts in the movie that move you to tears and it’s a wonderful movie. I encourage everybody to watch Wish Man.
You said parting words and that’s the message of the movie is, “Everyone can be a hero.” If somebody needs help, do what you can to help them. Remember, it doesn’t take money to help out. You can maybe help out with your time.
I love that saying. This is another episode. Thank you, Frank Shankwitz for being such an amazing guest. Make sure that you follow Frank Shankwitz. Make sure you go to WishMan1.com. Follow us and you will see more information about Frank Shankwitz and how to contact him. Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here.
Thank you, Michelle.
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Wish Man
- Tucker Teens & Tots
- The Wounded Blue
- Exit Rich
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