“You’ve got to learn to turn the negative into the positive.”
I believe in serendipity or destiny or providence. I call it the Power of the Universe. In my post A Year of Easy Expansion for Happy Living, I shared how this Power seemed to have a hand in my meeting Frank Shankwitz.
In preparing for this interview I read Wishman, the life story of the man who created the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s Frank’s story, and wow, what an inspiring life he has led! Throughout a very difficult childhood and while overcoming tremendous hardships as an adult, Frank was often lifted by the kindness and generosity of others. At every turn, when he needed it the most, help seemed to come from someone and from somewhere unexpected.
But it was the compassion and generosity he’d witnessed when strangers joined together to make a difference in another little boy’s life that made Frank’s destiny clear to him. Shortly following that boy’s death, Frank knew deep in his soul why he was here. “I listened to my soul,” says Frank, “which continually led me right back to my heart, where the answer had always been.” In that moment, Frank began a 36-year journey granting the wishes of more than 350,000 kids with life-threatening medical conditions… and counting!
I am so grateful that my life path crossed with Frank’s, so I can share with you an amazing, inspiring and uplifting story about the man who was destined to become the Wishman.
Hi Frank, please tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today.
Boy, that’s going be a long answer. I was born in Chicago and unfortunately my mother divorced my father when I was two years old. She had custody but decided she didn’t want me and left me on his doorstep one day. Between the ages of two and five I lived with my grandparents. I remember it as a very loving and fun time. Then, one day in Kindergarten, a lady came up and grabbed me and said, “I’m your mother, and you’re going with me.” Although I had no idea who this lady was, off we went to Michigan. My father searched for me and eventually got me back about two years later. My mom took me off a playground once again soon after. Those were very rough years. When I was with my mom, we lived in a tent, the back of a car, and some real flop houses because she was on the move all the time since my father was looking for me. At age ten, my father found me again and while he was getting the Sheriff involved my mom packed up everything we had and off we went to Arizona. It took us six months to get there. My mom kept running out of money so we’d have to stop while she got a job as a waitress in some town. The biggest thing I remember from that time is always wondering what we were going to eat.
During my middle years, in a little town called Seligman, Arizona, was the first time I felt a bit of permanency in my life. We still didn’t have much but I found joy in school, sports, music, work and some incredible mentors. One especially, named Juan Delgadillo, became my father figure. He taught me many things, but one particular lesson from him changed my life. He said, “Frank, so many people in this town are helping you. Whenever you can, give back!” He taught me that even when we hardly had anything, I could always find something to give to others. By the seventh grade, my mother told me she could no longer afford me, and she was moving to another town, and she said you’re on your own…
Perhaps I should save the rest of my long story for your readers to discover in the book 😀.
How has significance played a role in your journey? (My philosophy on significance has two components: Doing something you love and creating something of value to others.)
Well, by chance I guess. As I look back, it seems as if my crazy life conspired to help me help others by starting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I think it probably began with Juan mentoring me and teaching me the importance of giving back. The next thing was my motorcycle accident as a highway patrol officer. I was actually pronounced dead at the scene but somehow survived. It made me wonder: Why did God spare me? I started asking, “Is there something I am supposed to do? What is my purpose?” And then I met Chris, a very sick little seven-year-old boy with terminal leukemia, and I finally knew my answer. I’m real lucky because being a police officer and being so involved in the Foundation are both things I love and that create value for others. For me, I especially love doing things that help children… and my roles in the police department and as the Wish Ambassador have allowed me to do that.
Was there a specific moment or situation when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
Yes. Thirty-six years ago when I met Chris. When he said, “Officer Frank, I wish I could be a motorcycle officer,” the seed for Make-A-Wish was planted. Shortly after I met him he passed away. He was buried in uniform with a full police funeral. On the flight home after the service, I just started thinking, “Here’s this 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 of the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born, maybe over Kansas at 36,000 feet. That’s when I knew I had found my purpose: It was the entire experience we had with Chris, and watching how everyone around him responded and helped too. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers in supporting this little boy. Helping his wish come true created the model for Make-A-Wish that still exists today… with over 350,000 wishes granted to children all over the world. All because of one little boy 😀.
What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit of significance? How did you overcome them?
Well, I hope this doesn’t sound too corny, but I am alive. Having had a real death experience and then somehow surviving is something I recognize and appreciate all the time. So when I face difficult obstacles, and we all do, I go back to the fact that I’m alive, I remind myself of why I am here, and I go to my happy place, which is snow skiing… and riding motorcycles… and fishing… So whenever I got stressed out, Matt, I’d just go and find my happy place. And I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to do that. And of course, the lesson I learned from my old friend Juan when I was about ten years old has helped me deal with obstacles too. I just try to turn the negatives into positives.
What is one thing you wish you had known 10 years ago?
Well I knew that I wanted to do something when I retired from the state police after forty-two years of service. I remember looking at the classified ads for any position for a retired homicide detective. I wish that I had known then that, after retirement, another stranger would come into my life to help me. This one introduced me to an exciting career that I never could have dreamed of… at age sixty-eight no less. It happened five years ago when Greg Reid saw me speak at a Make-A-Wish event and said, “We need to do this on a professional basis”. So he started mentoring me, and arranging some speaking engagements for me. Through his guidance and leadership, last year I was named one of the Forbes Top Ten Speakers in the United States. [Editor’s note: By the way, he’s listed as number one!] My speaking then led to a publishing company contacting me saying we need to write a book about my life. That took a couple years and finally Wishman was published in October 2016. Then Hollywood contacted me saying, “We want to do a feature motion picture about your life.” I said, “No you don’t”, and they said, “Yes we do.” So for the past two and a half years we’ve been working on the screenplay. We go to set design in March. Filming starts in April. Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d meet a stranger who would mentor me, make me part of his speaking tour, then introduce me to a publisher and movie people to tell the story of my life. Greg is just such a great person. It’s almost like I was sixty-eight years old and I met Juan again.
What is one hope you have for the next 10 years?
Stay alive. I just feel so fortunate to have an exciting new career. I never dreamed that one day I would work as a professional motivational speaker. And I’m reaching so many people. My mission is “Everybody can be a hero. Give back!” I’m getting more and more requests – in fact, I seem to be on a plane two or three times every month now. I’m meeting a lot of great people and spreading the word.
My hope is to inspire others to give back in some way to their community. Let’s start helping other people. Everyone can find some way to give back.
Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?
I’ve just finished reading Stickability by my mentor, Greg Reid. It’s a story about people who refuse to give up on their mission, and how they turn the negatives into the positives.
Another is from a very close friend named Tanya Brown. You may not know her name but you probably recognize her sister’s, Nicole Brown Simpson. She recently wrote Finding Peace Amidst the Chaos. Again, it’s all about how she turned all those negative factors in her life into positives, and how to escape from depression and thoughts of suicide.
I have another close friend named David Stanley. You may have heard of his brother, Elvis Presley. His latest book is My Brother Elvis: The Final Years. In the book, David explores Elvis’ depression, caused by medication, how it ultimately took his brother’s life, and how David eventually managed to overcome all that.
In fact, David, Tanya and I have started a speaking tour to discuss the issue of dealing with depression caused by medication.
Thank you Frank for sharing your very inspiring story… and thank you for all you have done for so many children all around the world!!!
If you like this post, you’ll love the entire, and very inspiring, audio interview (Pt 1|Pt 2), and Frank’s book, too. You can also sign up here to receive updates on his movie, which will be released later this year.
It’s my wish that you’ll give what you can, when you can, to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Every little bit matters in the life of a Wish Kid… Please donate to our Make-A-Wish fundraiser. Thank you!
 When I immerse myself in the work I love (reading, learning, experimenting and writing about things to improve the health and wellbeing of the world, one person at a time), it seems the Universe conspires to help me, too.
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