Originally Published: September 25, 2016 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT – He has the gait of a cowboy, the keen instincts of a long-time homicide detective, the patriotism of a veteran and the easy humor of a favorite uncle.
And his heart beats loudest for seriously ill children – he has built a four-decade reputation as the “Wish Man.”
“In this day and age, it is refreshing to see someone like Frank (Shankwitz) who has done just wonderful, wonderful deeds. Really heartwarming,” Yavapai County Supervisor Rowle Simmons said of the longtime Prescott resident.
“When I think of Frank I think of a true humanitarian,” declared Matthew Phillips, development and activities coordinator for U.S. VETS Initaitive in Prescott. “The essence of Frank is always looking to see how he can help whether it veterans, a neighbor next door or children through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The 73-year-old Air Force veteran and retired Arizona Department of Public Safety homicide detective, and one-time motorcycle officer, is the creator and a founder of the now international Make-A-Wish Foundation. Shankwitz’s autobiography, “Wishman,” a title rooted in a movie that will begin filming next spring about Shankwitz’ life and philanthropic endeavors, is now available for pre-order through Amazon.
Such accolades are not unfamiliar to Shankwitz, but they embolden his life motto to “produce miles of smiles.”
Shankwitz’ road to philanthropist was a circuitous one.
Born in Chicago, Shankwitz is the product of a hardscrabble life: he was abandoned by his mother in Seligman, Arizona, as a young teenager. His “father figure” was Juan Delgadillo, the patriarch of a family that built a historic restaurant and local tourist attraction.
From him, Shankwitz said he learned giving to others doesn’t depend on one’s bank account. It’s about simple deeds that make a difference; weeding a neighbor’s lawn or reading at the children’s library.
Shankwitz graduated from Prescott High School in 1961. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Four years later, he went to work for Motorola. In 1972, Shankwitz switched career directions.
On a friend’s advice, he applied, and was hired, for the Arizona Highway Patrol. He retired 42 years later.
It was, though, his 10 years as a motorcycle cop that set the course of Shankwitz’ life.
In 1978, Shankwitz was in a high speed chase with a drunken driver when he was hit by another driver. He was presumed dead.
“I had no heartbeat and no pulse,” Shankwitz said.
An off-duty emergency nurse from California intervened. Four minutes later, his heart was beating again.
“You were spared for a reason, and you need to find that reason,” Shankwitz said of his doctor’s words when he left the hospital six months after his crash.
In 1980, Shankwitz met 7-year-old, terminally ill Chris Greicius of Scottsdale.
The boy’s heroes were “Ponch” and “John” from the hit television series “CHIPS.”
Shankwitz said he will never forget the “little guy in red sneakers” who ran off of a DPS helicopter from his hospital bed in Scottsdale to check out the motorcycle fleet.
Shankwitz remembers with vivid clarity the moment at Chris’ hospital bedside when the boy awakened from a coma, delighted to see the specially-designed motorcycle officer wings pinned to his specially made trooper uniform.
“I like to think those wings helped carry him to heaven,” Shankwitz said.
In his book, Shankwitz shares the moment he was inspired to rally support to grant even more wishes to ill children: he was on a flight home from
“All because of one little boy,” Shankwitz said more than 350,000 wishes have been granted to children with life-threatening illnesses.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation today has 62 chapters nationwide and 36 international chapters on five continents. Shankwitz’ was its first volunteer president and chief executive officer.
In 1986, Shankwitz was named the foundation’s “wish ambassador.”
Beyond his book and movie, Shankwitz is particularly excited about his selection to be the keynote speaker at the 2017 Bagdad High School graduation. The request was made by former wish child Jazzlyn “Jazzy” Urenda.
Asked about his speaking fee, the nationally honored Shankwitz shook his head.
“I told her it was going to be expensive: lunch and $1,” he said.
For Shankwitz, monetary rewards are not what matters most.
It’s the gleam he sees in the eyes of a child granted a wish.
Back to his doctor’s words.
“I think I found my reason,” he declared.