Originally Published: December 15, 2015 6:02 a.m.
Esteemed Prescottonian Frank Shankwitz, co-founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, has been tapped to speak at Ohio State University's autumn 2015 commencement ceremony. The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, and will award approximately 3,000 degrees.
"That's quite a thrill for me," Shankwitz said, joking that he was surprised to be invited, being from Pac-12 country.
He plans to give graduates the message that everyone can be a hero by giving back to their community - when they can, however they can.
"One of the things I always tell people is to fill your own cup first," Shankwitz said.
Once grads take care of their basic needs, they can start helping others. Give money or time, volunteer with a children's group or veterans' organization, clean up a mile of highway.
"By doing that, you can become a hero," he said.
Shankwitz has family living in the Columbus, Ohio area, so he'll get to spend time with them while he's there. He plans to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his children and grandchildren in Ohio - something he hasn't done in about 20 years.
"That's another little perk of being invited out there," he said.
He recently received another honor, in some ways bigger: A former wish child asked him to speak at Bagdad High School's graduation ceremony. When they asked about his speaking fee, intending to raise money through bake sales and such, he told them he'd do it for $1 and lunch.
"That means more to me," Shankwitz said.
Shankwitz, who graduated from Prescott High School in 1961, was a motorcycle officer with Arizona Department of Public Safety in 1980 when he helped a 7-year-old boy named Chris realize his dream of becoming a motorcycle officer like "Ponch" and "John" on the TV show "CHiPS."
The department made the boy an honorary Highway Patrol officer - complete with a custom-made uniform, badge and motor officer wings.
Chris, who had leukemia, died a few days later. He was buried in Illinois with full police honors, with Shankwitz leading the police funeral procession.
On the way back home, Shankwitz started thinking about how happy Chris had been, running around like a typical 7-year-old: "He forgot he was sick."
He wondered why they couldn't do the same thing for other children - and the Make-a-Wish Foundation was born. Shankwitz was the founding member and its first president/CEO.
Since its establishment, Make-A-Wish has granted more than 350,000 wishes.
Shankwitz has received the President's Call To Service award from President George W. Bush, the Making a Difference in the World award from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the Making a World of Difference award from the Tempe Sister City Foundation. In May, he was one of 100 Americans selected to receive the 2015 Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO).
A major motion picture based on his life has been picked up by Universal Studios. Casting will begin next month, with filming on location in spring 2016 and a fall 2016 release date, in time for the Christmas season, he said.
Shankwitz had script approval, and the screenplay has been finished and approved, he said: "It's 'based on a true story.' That's a Hollywood term."
He and a partner in Seattle are also in negotiations with ABC on a TV series tentatively titled "The Extra Mile." Pitched as a summer 2016 replacement series, the concept centers on a celebrity riding with friends for a charity of their choice.
They should have a "yes" or "no" on the series by mid-January, he said.
Part of the money raised by the show will go into Shankwitz's new endeavor, the Ripple Effect Foundation. The nonprofit organization will benefit campaigns for all types of charities, disaster relief and individual causes. It recently received 501(c)3 status, and fundraising will kick off in 2016.
Shankwitz also has a book coming out in January, "Wish Man," published by California-based Sherpa Press.
"I'm so fortunate that all this has come about. It keeps you busy," he said.
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.