2011 Letz Award: Jeff Cook

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after Mike because of his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today raising over $140,000 since its inception. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one started in St. Louis.

The criteria for recipients include:
Responsible for significant fundraising results
Participates in year-round support
Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run
Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes

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Jeff Cook, second from right, receives the 2011 Letz Unsung Hero Award

In 2011, Special Olympics Missouri honored Jeff Cook of the O’Fallon Police Dept. for the following reasons:

 Involved in the Torch Run for 9 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for 7 years directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts, and organizing events like Raffle sales, and Tip a Cop.
 The first year he took over his agency fundraising totals increased 10 % and have continue increasing every year of the last 6 years
 Whether it’s a high profile event like the Polar Plunge or a more relaxed effort like hosting Cops on Top, selling shirts, or raffle tickets within the agency – he is the one who gets things done.
 Has championed the agencies Polar Plunge participation growing their team’s fundraising total each year – raising $88K in the last 2 years.
 Coordinated a portion of the local route of the Torch Run running the torch personally and ensuring the event runs flawlessly
 Their fundraising has grown as a result – during his 7 year tenure as Agency Coordinator, this agency has raised over $338,942!
 Served for two years helping coordinate the law enforcement participating for the State Basketball Championship
 Attends State Summer Games each year participating in Opening Ceremonies and staying for the opportunity to present medals.
 As a member of the State LETR Committee, this officer impacts decisions at every turn.
 According to his nominator: “This person brings great credit to himself, his family, the Police Department, the regional efforts of the LETR and to SOMO.
 There is something deep inside this man that is touched by Special Olympics. He can’t help himself; his enthusiasm is evident in the personal pride he takes in conducting himself and his events with the utmost professionalism while serving the athletes with dignity and respect.
 It is my honor to present this award to a person who makes a big difference to his agency, to the LETR and to SOMO athletes in the St. Louis Metro Area
 While one legacy may be the orange visors – there are many and none more evident by the way in which he treats his “water crew” assignment at the State Summer Games.
 The 2011 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Officer Jeff Cook – O’Fallon Police Dept.

2010 Letz Award: Capt. Joe Chapman

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.

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Capt. Joe Chapman (right) receives the 2010 Letz Award from 2009 winner Lt. Jim McNeill

In 2010, we acknowledged Capt. Joe Chapman of the Kansas City Police Department for a number of reasons, which include but are not limited to:
 Involved in the Torch Run for 15 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for 6 years directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts, and directing his agencies fundraising efforts
 The first year he took over his agency fundraising totals increased 175%
 Whether it’s a high profile event like the Polar Plunge or the more subdued effort of selling raffle tickets within the agency – he is the one who gets things done.
 He also volunteers at area events especially to present medals
 According to his nominator who has heard him say: “My main motivation to being involved in Special Olympics is first the athletes and then to educate and donate.”
 His agency credits him for the significant growth in getting additional officers involved with LETR by strategically identifying new leaders.
 Their fundraising has grown as a result – during his 6 year tenure as Agency Coordinator, this agency has raised over $328,666 – that’s an average of $100K per year!
 Another legacy is that he has already identified his replacement upon his retirement later this year
 It is my honor to present this award to a person who makes a big difference to his agency, to the LETR and to SOMO athletes in the KC Metro Area
 The 2010 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Capt. Joe Chapman – Kansas City Police Dept.

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Capt. Joe Chapman addressing the crowd after receiving the Letz Award.

Tim Shriver and Roy Blunt Visit SO Missouri

For some at the John Cary Early Childhood Center in St. Louis, it was just another day to play. The children at Special Olympics Missouri’s Young Athletes Program™ the afternoon of Halloween 2016 (curiously without costumes) were enthralled with the colorful silk scarves flying through the air or the daunting obstacle course set up in the hallway.

Sure, there may have been a few more people there than normal. The cameras and the reporters? Maybe they were new, here to capture the program on film or see the adorableness for themselves. Two men in suits, with groups of people following them and hanging on their every word? Seems awfully warm to wear a jacket in here, but maybe they’re here to play too.img_4616

The young athletes, ages three through seven, did not let any extra commotion get in the way. Maybe they did not realize that the men in suits were the Chairman of Special Olympics Dr. Tim Shriver, and a United States Senator, Missouri’s own Sen. Roy Blunt, who were visiting the program as the last stop of Shriver’s global inclusion tour. Or maybe they were too focused on throwing their beanbag into the hula-hoop.photo-oct-31-10-29-03

Shriver visited this particular program as part of his aforementioned tour of seeing how Special Olympics impacts the world, ranging from the Vatican, to Austria, to Montreal and, finally, Kansas City and St. Louis. He wanted to visit Missouri to focus on examples of Healthy Athletes®, which provides people with intellectual disabilities free health screenings, and Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, which uses sports, youth leadership and engagement to create inclusive school environments.

Missouri was chosen mainly because of the partnerships in health and education that have allowed SOMO’s Healthy Athletes® program to blossom, as well as collaborations with schools throughout the state and a 25 year partnership with the Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC).

photo-oct-31-08-48-08-1Shriver started the day with Sen.Blunt, a supporter of Special Olympics programming during his time in Congress, in Kansas City to speak with a panel about inclusion and youth engagement. The panel featured representatives from MASC, school teachers, SOMO athletes, coaches, unified partners and SOMO Board of Directors Chair and Superintendent of School in Carl Junction Dr. Phil Cook. The panel was highlighted by a story from Spencer Cantrell, a golfer for SOMO and student at Park Hill South High School, who shared that when he’s golfing, it’s more important to think about the next shot than worry about the previous shot.

After the morning in Kansas City, Blunt and Shriver were in St. Louis by lunchtime to visit the Young Athletes Program™. Since 2007, Special Olympics Missouri has taught children with intellectual disabilities that are too young for participation in the official program, but still focus on basic skills essential to cognitive development. These include physical activities that improve motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and how to apply these skills through sports programs.img_4610

Shriver and Blunt got to see the application of this program first hand, with 18 young athletes working in groups with 25 volunteers from Mehlville High School. The groups moved through five stations that allowed the young athletes to build their motor skills by tossing a beanbag into a hoop, catching a scarf on different parts of their body, playing “Red Light, Green Light”, conquering an obstacle course and bowling down the hallway.

It didn’t take long for the Special Olympics Chairman and U.S. Senator to drop their
formal titles and embrace their inner young athlete. The athletes’ infectious joy spread to Shriver and Blunt, who cheered them on as they made their way through the obstacle course and tried to keep up in intense rounds of Zombie Red Light Green Light. They shared in struggles, discovering how difficult it is to toss a scarf in the air and catch it on your stomach.
img_4629In 30 minutes that felt like five, everyone moved through the stations, each one more fun than the last. After it was all over, the group marched out of the room with Shriver gleefully bringing up the rear of the line, where he presented Blunt with a gold, silver and bronze medal from the 2015 World Games, and thanked everyone for a wonderful day in Missouri.

Having Shriver and Blunt spending their day visiting SOMO programs was a great honor, and extremely exciting for everyone involved. It was amazing to share the joy that our athletes provide on a daily basis to visitors and see them buy into the program almost immediately was an awesome sight.

In what should go down as an important day for Special Olympics Missouri, the most important part is that everyone got to play. photo-oct-31-14-57-50

-Harrison McLean

Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Part 3

Law enforcement officers serve selflessly every day to keep our communities safe places to live, work, and play. This year, we are celebrating a wonderful 30-year partnership with law enforcement in Missouri. How can you sum up 30 years? It’s not possible, but we can take a look back and try. What drives these officers? The constant light that Special Olympics athletes give through their inner and outer strength. Thank you to all of our law enforcement officers for your bravery every day in protecting us, and thank you for all your efforts to support our athletes.

30 years – one decade at a time

The final of a three–part series
Written by: Crystal Schuster – SOMO/LETR Development Manager

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

2006 – 2016: Many Milestones Hit and Many memories created
officers_timAlthough 2006 saw a hit, along with the rest of the word’s economy, officers still hit the pavement running. LETR funds raised dipped just under the $1million mark, but our officers never gave up. They sold over 21,000 t-shirts and added two new Polar Plunges to the mix – Branson and Kirksville. There was a photographer, in Jefferson City, that stepped forward and offered to do some photos for SOMO, and from that photo, a LETR poster was created that represented all agencies involved (PD’s, Sheriff’s Dept., MSHP, Corrections, Military Police) and showed them with their inspiration – a SOMO athlete.

In 2007, our LETR started seeing some new growth again by adding two more plunges – Cape Girardeau and St. Joseph – and they once again raised $1 million. This is also the year that Susan Stegeman, SOMO’s VP, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame!

red-w-banner2008-2009 saw growth yet again and our officers felt that there were more locations that could benefit from hosting a Polar Plunge. In these two years we added Polar Plunges in Louisiana (later moving to Hannibal), Columbia, Joplin, Mexico, and Maryland Heights. The Super Plunge was first introduced in 2008 as well. This event takes the Polar Plunge to new extremes by having Polar Bears Plunge 24 times in 24 hours! This event is held at Lake of the Ozarks and Kansas City. Officers increased their fundraising efforts tremendously in 2009 when they raised over $1.5 million. Part of this growth was due to a new, extreme event the officers decided to try in order to take their fundraising efforts to a whole new height – Over the Edge. This event still takes place in two markets today, St. Louis and Jefferson City, where “Edgers” rappel from the Jefferson Building and the Hyatt in downtown St. Louis. Also in 2009, LETR officers were honored to have Attorney General Chris Koster run with them in the final leg, in Springfield, although he felt that it was his honor to run amongst our LETR officers.

psa-taping-with-gov2010 was a memorable year, as officers celebrated the 25th annual Torch Run. Governor Nixon filmed a PSA in support of Missouri’s LETR and he welcomed runners back to the Capitol for a fun ceremony, after they recreated and ran the original torch run route. T-shirt sales went up in 2010, as it was a special shirt that represented every shirt that the officers had sold over the years.

In 2011-2014, new milestones were reached as officers pulled together like never before and raised over $2 million dollars consistently during these years. Events like Tip-a-Cops started expanding (and have continued to grow tremendously) and the Special Olympics message was being shared more and more. As the message spread, and athletes continued to inspire, our runner numbers grew – which meant we were consistently welcoming new officers into the LETR family. SOMO lost a great friend in 2011, SOMO athlete/hall of fame member, Gordon Barnes. Gordon spent a lot of time with his local LETR family in Jefferson City, and he never missed a Torch Run. Due to his contributions and support of his LETR family, the Jefferson City Torch Run route was officially named the “Gordon Barnes Memorial Route” in 2012. To this day, Gordon’s mom, Sarah, still comes to the run and supports her LETR family. She also volunteers to help at events whenever she can.

In 2015, LETR members in MO reached an all-time high for funds raised for Special Olympics MO – $2.5 million! Officers were commended for their efforts and were awarded with the Platinum award at the International Conference. During this same conference (which took place in Sept. of 2016), Chief Randy Boehm, Columbia PD, retired, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame.

Shop ‘n Save has remained an incredible partner through the years, and not a day goes by that we don’t appreciate all of their support. From Trivia Nights to Golf Tournaments and raising money through their “Round-up” promotions, they do whatever they can to support our officers and athletes.

Through these years, many deserving men and women received the highest award given in MO’s LETR – The Letz Award:
2006 – Sgt. Randy Werner, Jefferson City PD
2007 – Sgt. Rick Hayes, St. Louis Co PD
2008 – Capt. Don Spears, Belton PD
2009 – Lt. Jim McNiell, MHSP Troop E
2010 – Capt. Joseph Chapman, Kansas City PD
2011 – Officer Jeff Cook, O’Fallon PD
2012 – Sgt. Mark Koeller, St. Louis Co PD
2013 – Mark Wiesemann, Lee’s Summit PD
2014 – Sgt. Jeff Fugett, MSHP Troop D
2015 – Lt. Steve Davis – MSHP Troop I

As we end this 3rd decade of Missouri’s LETR, words simply cannot express our gratitude for all that Law Enforcement does. Through 2015, they have raised over $26.5 million dollars for the SOMO athletes. They don’t do it for the recognition or any glory they might receive. They do it because they see the impact that SOMO has on its athletes and the bond that they have with our athletes is truly inspiring. Law Enforcement officers go above and beyond for their communities every single day – but what they do for Special Olympics MO is indescribable. Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough, but on behalf of all 15,000 Special Olympics MO athletes, THANK YOU for being our HEROES!

2009 Letz Award: Jim McNiell

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after an individual who deserves this distinction from his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today raising over $120,000 since its inception. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one started in St. Louis.

The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run 25 years ago. I was last year’s recipient. When I read previous recipients, I’d like them to stand to be recognized as a group:Ralph Biele, Rich Banahan, John Cira, Mary Branstetter, Randy Boehm, David Pudlowski, Janelle Waterman, Graham Burnley, Jim Moran, Jim McCart, Zim Schwartze, Tim Goebel, Randy Werner ,Rick Hayes.

The criteria for recipients include:
Responsible for significant fundraising results
Participates in year-round support
Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run
Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes
We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.

jim-mcniell-letz-awardAbout this year’s recipient:
 Involved in the Torch Run for 8 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for this same period directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts & hats & organizing their fundraising efforts – scheduling them for his days off most of the time. He even selects holidays to take advantage of prime sales opportunities.
 Has served to coordinate local routes in his region bringing new agencies into the Torch Run and keeping long time agencies connected to the Torch Run
 He and fellow agency members challenged themselves to do the plunge in their Area. They didn’t reach their challenge goal, but they raised new money and spread the word about the Plunge when it was still a new event.
 He thinks to recognize others for their support – whether it’s a personal phone call, a certificate or a request for a special letter of commendation.
 He has told his co-workers on numerous occasions that Special Olympics is one of the things in his career that has been the most rewarding.
 A huge testament to his support of SOMO can be seen in his decision to plan his retirement around Special Olympics so that he can participate one last time before retiring in 2009.
 He’s concerned enough about continued support that he has already selected his replacement for agency coordinator for LETR.
 It is my honor to recognize someone who makes a huge difference
 The 2009 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Lt. Jim McNiell with the Mo State Highway Patrol – Troop E.

State Bocce by Larry Stephens

SOMO athlete Larry Stephens told his story about playing bocce ball at our State Outdoor Games in Jefferson City Oct. 14-16. Stephens also is a member of the Charter Class for the Training for Life Campus, who got a chance to accompany the Law Enforcement Torch Run during the Opening Ceremony. If you want to tell your story like Stephens, visit http://somo.org/mystory.

Blog by Larry Stephens: State Bocce

We drove to Jefferson City for state bocce. I played bocce with Kendall. Our team name was Rolling Evil. We got gold.

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I played unified doubles with my dad. Our team name was Stephens Power.We got gold.

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We came home and ate pizza. We drove back to Jefferson City for opening ceremonies. I got to help ran the torch.
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I had a lot of fun.

Letz Award 2008: Don Spears

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after an individual who deserves this distinction from his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer in 1994. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today raising over $100,000 since its inception. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one started in St. Louis.

The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run 22 years ago. When I read previous recipients, I’d like them to stand to be recognized as a group: Ralph Biele, Rich Banahan, John Cira, Mary Branstetter, Randy Boehm, David Pudlowski, Janelle Waterman, Graham Burnley, Jim Moran, Jim McCart, Zim Schwartze, Tim Goebel, Randy Werner

The criteria for recipients include:
Responsible for significant fundraising results
Participates in year-round support
Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run
Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:
 Involved in the Torch Run for more than 15 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for this same period directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts & hats & organizing their fundraising efforts
 Has served as the Region Coordinator since this position was created in 1994
Serving on the State Torch Run Committee and coordinating other agencies involvement
 In 1996, he increased participation in his region by 133%
 He organizes his route of the Torch Run each year in May – making it seem effortless by handling every aspect of it from media, runner recruitment, food for runners, and escort vehicles,
 He recruited 5 agencies into the Torch Run family that continue strong today
 According to those who work close to him, “He is the face of LETR in our Area.
 He believed in the Plunge when very few people would. After 5 years his work has paid off – now there are several very active officers and agencies on the committee. This little project is now the signature fundraiser in our Area and one of the largest in Missouri.
 Whenever this person is needed, he is there or has someone there to fill the need.
 His style is to work hard, get the job done and step back so others see the spotlight.
 It is my honor to recognize a special man who makes a huge difference in our Torch Run family.
 The 2008 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Capt. Don Spears with the Belton Police Department.