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® (LETR) for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.
The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after Michael 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 $150,000 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 27 years ago. Previous recipients are:
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 Don Spears
Jim McNiell Joseph Chapman
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. We don’t know them 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.
This year’s recipient was announced at the LETR Awards Brunch on Dec. 6 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. Sgt. Mark Koeller, of the St. Louis County Police Department, has been involved in the Torch Run for 12 years. He was recognized as the Region Unsung Hero after 6 years of Torch Run involvement. Sgt. Koeller has served as his agency’s co-coordinator, participating and recruiting in every event his agency is involved in. He volunteers to present medals at the State Summer Games as well as Area Spring Games. Sgt. Koeller has coordinated the law enforcement honor guard participation at the State Summer Games Opening Ceremonies for the past nine years.
What sets him apart is his contribution outside his agency’s involvement – hosting, organizing or recruiting other officers and agencies. Sgt. Koeller coordinated a regional truck convoy event with four agencies for five years that brought in sponsors, agencies, truckers and athletes and raised $22,429. He created a new route of the Torch Run in 2010, covering a new part of the region and recruiting 48 runners from 15 agencies. He helped start and still serves on the steering committee for SOMO’s first Over the Edge event, which has raised $511,000 in four years. Sgt. Koeller got his whole family involved and helped fundraise for his mom and wife so their experience going Over the Edge would be a life-changing one.
According to his nominator: “This person doesn’t wait to be asked, he is committed and dedicated to the cause. Whether he is protecting runners with his police car, carrying the torch, scaling a building, a cop on top, selling T-shirts, organizing/distributing/motivating for his agency, he gives his all with the mind-set of ‘whatever it takes.’”
He is a quiet leader who continues to challenge himself and others to work hard, be creative and dream of what is possible for Special Olympics. He is a valuable team member who makes those around him better.