“I was born in Chicago. My mother left me when I was very young, and my grandparents took me in. I remember those as very happy times. One day my mother kidnapped me off a playground and she told me we were heading back to Arizona, but we stopped in Michigan for five years. At age 10, we finally hit a tiny town in Arizona, on Route 66. We were broke. We had no gas, no food, no money, but a family took us in. We slept on their kitchen floor. It was the first time we’d ever been permanent somewhere, kitchen floor or not. A man named Juan became like a father-figure to me, and he introduced me to the idea of giving back. This was the 1950s – ‘give back’ was not a real popular term yet. But he taught me that you can always give back. It doesn’t have to be money – it can be your time or your talents.
“In 7th grade my mom informed me she couldn’t afford to keep me anymore; she was moving and I needed to find another place to live. Juan found me a place to stay in town with a widow, and it would cost me $24/week. I was making $30/week as a dishwasher, so all of a sudden I had an extra $6/week. Juan taught me how to turn a negative into a positive and that has been something I’ve carried with me through my entire career.
“I went to the Air Force after high school. It was the Vietnam era, but they decided I needed to protect England. I remember when we were informed we were not to wear our uniforms during traveling – they were afraid we’d offend the public. I’m so proud today to see our service members wearing their uniforms at airports. I love hearing people thanking them and clapping for them. You should never be embarrassed of the uniform. It’s so important that our military always be proud of their service.
“After the Air Force, I went to work for Motorola. I was somewhat of an adrenaline junkie and I was working in a job that was the same thing day-to-day. So when a friend of mine said to join the Arizona Highway Patrol, that was exactly what I did. I got involved in the Special Olympics in my off time. And I began to think about Juan, and how maybe I was starting to give back. I enjoyed that so much. At work, I was asked to join a motorcycle patrol that traveled. We started going to schools to teach bicycle safety and I started getting closer to giving back.
“In 1978 I was in a high speed chase with a drunk driver when another drunk driver broadsided me going 80mph. I was pronounced dead immediately, and they’d already radioed in ‘963, Officer killed in the line of duty.’ An emergency room nurse from California stopped at the scene and did CPR for four minutes, and brought me back to life. I love California! They said the crash was spectacular. I’d gone through the tunnel and I saw the light. And then I came back. I remember when my senses came back. The sense of smell was first. I smelled this very nice perfume. Then the sense of touch; something was tickling my face. Then the sense of hearing – sirens all around and someone saying, ‘we’ve lost him.’ Last was the sense of sight. And I saw that a beautiful blonde had her lips locked on me and I thought it was heaven! Later, I was told I was saved for a purpose, and that God believed I had more to do. I needed to find out what that purpose was.
“In 1980, on a brilliant cold morning that was great for riding a motorcycle, I received a radio call from our dispatcher saying she needed me to find the nearest telephone. It was 40 miles away. She put me through to a border patrol agent who had an assignment for me: ‘There’s a little boy named Chris. He’s 7 years old. He has leukemia, and he has 2 weeks to live. He likes to watch a show called CHiPs and he wants to be a motorcycle cop just like Ponch and Jon. We’re going to pick him up and have you standing by so he can meet a real motorcycle cop.’ I was in. I got on the bike and flew to the hospital.
“The helicopter landed, and I expected to see this really sick little kid. Instead, this tiny pair of red sneakers jumped out and came running over. He knew every button and switch on that motorcycle. I am watching him thinking, ‘He’s a typical 7 year old, and yet he’s going to die.’ Then I saw his mom, tears in her eyes, seeing her little boy again instead of just this sick patient. Chris became the first and only honorary officer of the Arizona Highway Patrol, and that was 36 years ago. We felt pretty good about what we’d done but we knew there was more for him.
“We went to the uniform store, and asked if they could make Chris his own uniform. Two women spent all night custom-making a uniform for him. The next morning, we took several motorcycles and cars, lights going, and brought the uniform to him and a smokey hat. He was ecstatic. He asked if he was an official motorcycle police officer, but we told him that he had to earn his wings. We set up traffic cones for him in his driveway and gave him a test, which of course he passed. He told me, ‘I’m so happy my wish is coming true.’ It was the first time I’d really heard that – ‘my wish.’ We went to get his wings custom-made and the jeweler spent all night working to get them done by the next morning. As I picked them up the next day, I got a radio call – Chris had been taken to the hospital and was in a coma. We took the wings to his room anyway, and just as I pinned his wings on the uniform, he came out of the coma. He started giggling. ‘Am I a motorcycle officer now?’ he asked. I told him yes. A few hours later he passed away. I like to believe those wings carried him to heaven.
“In Chris, we lost a fellow officer that day. We did a full police funeral. When we got to Illinois where he was going to be buried, we were pulled over by the Illinois State Police. When we told them what we were doing, they escorted us. We were met at the cemetery by Illinois Police, all in dress uniform. Like I said, we lost a fellow officer that day.
“Chris was buried in his uniform. His tombstone reads Chris Greicius, Arizona Trooper. It was a truly unbelievable sight. When we got home, we asked, ‘Why can’t we do this for other children?’ And Make-A-Wish was born. It started with $15 in a bank account. There are now 63 chapters in the United States, international chapters on 5 continents, and over 350,000 wishes have been granted. Every 26 to 28 minutes a child gets a wish, because of one little boy. Never underestimate the difference one person can have on the world.”
Frank Shankwitz is one of the founders of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His incredible story is captured in his book, Wishman, which can be pre-ordered on Amazon: https://amzn.com/1939078113