Frank Shankwitz, who served as the foundation's first president, died last month at his Arizona home

Frank Shankwitz
Frank Shankwitz
| Credit: Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Frank Shankwitz, one of the co-founders of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, has died. He was 77.

Shankwitz, a former Arizona Highway Patrol officer, died on Jan. 24 at his home in Prescott, Arizona, according to The New York Times. His wife, Kitty Shankwitz, told the newspaper that his cause of death was esophageal cancer.

"Make-A-Wish is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Frank Shankwitz. Frank was one of six individuals who helped grant Chris Greicius' wish and thereafter became one of the co-founders of Make-A-Wish," the foundation wrote in a statement last month. 

"Thanks to all of our generous founders, more than 500,000 children with critical illnesses worldwide have had the chance to experience the long-lasting, life-changing benefits of a wish," the statement read. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Shankwitz family."

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"The Arizona Department of Public Safety mourns the loss of retired Officer Frank Shankwitz. He was dedicated to AZDPS as well as Arizona families and children," read a statement posted by the department last month.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Frank's family, as well as the families of all those who have lost loved ones in what has proven to be a difficult twelve months for many," the department added. 

The idea to start the Make-a-Wish foundation originated in 1980, when the Arizona Highway Patrol learned about a local 7-year-old boy named Chris Greicius, who had leukemia, and dreamed of joining the force when he grew up. 

The department arranged for the boy to become an honorary officer, and Shankwitz went the extra mile, making a special badge for Chris and contacted the actors of CHiPs, the boy's favorite stars, to autograph a picture for him, according to the Times. Shortly after taking the gifts to Chris, and making his wish come true, the boy died. 

The experience had a lasting impact on Shankwitz, who went on to help create the impactful foundation. 

Shankwitz became the Make-a-Wish's first president and stepped down in 1984.

"I wake up every day with a passion to make a difference in their lives," he wrote in Wise Man, his 2018 memoir, according to the Times. "It was once enough for me to be a dad, a cowboy and a highway patrol officer. But my destination changed."

Shankwitz is survived by wife Kitty, two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.