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.

Central Area Bocce by Larry Stephens

SOMO athlete Larry Stephens got a chance to tell his story about competing in the Central Area bocce tournament, as well as receiving his Charter Class letter jacket for raising over $5,000 for the Training for Life Campus. If you want to tell your story, visit www.somo.org/mystory

On October 10th, I got to the tournament and during opening ceremonies I got my letter jacket. My friend Shirlene got her class ring. I was surprised and had to be called a couple of time to play. Everyone wanted a picture with me.


I felt happy because I earned my jacket.
I played doubles with Kendall, our team is the Rolling Elvi. We lost our first game but won the second game. We earned a silver medal.

I ate lunch with the team.
My dad and I played unified doubles, our team name is Stephens Power. We lost the first game and won the second game. We tied for Gold.

When I got home pizza was for dinner since I had earned a gold medal.

2006 Letz Winner-Sgt. Randy Werner

Each week until the unveiling of this year’s winner, we will feature the past winners of the John Michael Letz Award for service, commitment and contributions to the Law Enforcement Torch Run. In 2006, Sgt. Randy Werner received this award for his continued efforts in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Polar Plunge and organizing a weekly pick up softball game with Special Olympic athletes. Below is the speech given prior to his accepting of this award.

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 serves 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 generating over $80,000 for SOMO. 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 20 years ago. When I read our other years’ recipients, I’d like them to stand: John Cira, Rich Banahan, Tim Goebel, Mary Branstetter, Randy Boehm, David Pudlowski, Janelle Waterman, Graham Burnley, Jim Moran, Jim McCart, Zim Schwartze.

The criteria for recipients includes:
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

About this year’s recipient:

There are many names involved in the Torch Run in the early years. Names like Ralph Biele, Red Lair, Ira Copeland, Carl Wolf, & Gary Kempker…to name a few. Since then there have been many who have joined the ranks of Torch Run enthusiasts most of whom we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the fame – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.

Let me tell you a little about this year’s recipient:
 Involved in the Torch Run for more than 10 years
 Directs his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts & hats, and hosting a successful Cops on Top event raising unprecedented publicity and funds
 Works with the local media to gain publicity for this event and the local run
 Has participated as a runner forever & coordinates a local leg
 Serves on the State Torch Run Committee serving as the Region Coordinator
 Was Missouri’s representative to the Final Leg
 Has plunged in all 11 Polar Bear Plunges at the Lake of the Ozarks
 About 3 years ago he organized officers from his agency to play a weekly pickup game of softball with local Special Olympics athletes, giving the athletes some extra play time and experience. What developed – was much more than sports skills – friendships were formed between police officers and athletes that continue off the playing field. Now 2 of the officers have become certified Special Olympics coaches for the group of local athletes. Our award recipient is one of those coaches.
 According to the nominator, “This person’s devotion to Special Olympics is something that just is. He quietly looks for ways to bring Special Olympics to the table. After presenting medals at the State Summer Games he said it was his favorite SO memory, because he presented a medal to an athlete who had no competition in his event. He realized that rising to the challenge and being recognized meant more than competing.
 He went on to say, my kids and I are constantly humbled and always inspired by being involved – directly with athletes. It keeps us clear and makes us feel that together, as a family, we’re making a difference in someone’s life.
 By now, some of you may know who I’m talking about. It is my honor to recognize a special man who makes a huge difference in our Torch Run family.
 The 2006 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Sgt. Randy Werner with the Jefferson City Police Department.

2005 Letz Winner-Capt. Zim Schwartze

Each week until the unveiling of this year’s winner, we will feature the past winners of the John Michael Letz Award for service, commitment and contributions to the Law Enforcement Torch Run. In 2005, Zim Schwartze received it for her devotion to the Torch Run and raising awareness and funds for the program. Below is the speech given prior to her receiving this honor.

zim_portrait1

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 serves 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 generating over $75,000 for SOMO. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now.

The first recipient of this award was Ralph Biele who was instrumental in starting Missouri’s Torch Run 20 years ago. When I read the previous years’ recipients, I’d like them to stand: John Cira, Rich Banahan Tim Goebel, Mary Branstetter, Randy Boehm David Pudlowski, Janelle Waterman, Graham Burnley, Jim Moran, Jim McCart

The criteria for recipients includes:

  • 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

About this year’s recipient:

There are many names involved in the Torch Run in the early years. Names like Ralph Biele, Red Lair, Ira Copeland, Carl Wolf, & Gary Kempker…to name a few. Since then there have been many who have joined the ranks of Torch Run enthusiasts most of whom we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the fame – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.

Let me tell you a little about this year’s recipient:

  • Involved in the Torch Run for more than 10 years
  • Co-directs the agencies’ fundraising committee
  • Sells t-shirts, raffle tickets and hosts various agency fundraisers – including trivia nights & tip-a-cop raising over $14,000 so far this year
  • Has participated as a runner for all 10 years
  • Serves on the State Torch Run Committee.
  • Coordinates the Run each year in May.
  • According to the nominator, “This person’s devotion to the mission of the Torch Run has resulted in continued significant fund raising both locally and statewide. She is an inspiration to other officers and she herself is clearly motivated by the elation and pride that she instills in the athletes and all those who benefit from participating in Special Olympics.”
  • By now, some of you know that I’m talking about Capt. Zim Schwartze. If you don’t know her by name, you’ll recognize her contagious smile.
  • Please welcome the winner of the 2005 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award- Capt. Zim Schwartze.