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Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Part 2

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
Second in a three–part series

Read the first post of the series here

March to the Million $ mark: 1996 – 2005
In 1995, the LETR efforts raised just over $200,000 gross. We sold over 10,000 LETR shirts in a year. The next decade was our largest growth.

1996: Polar Plunge introduction
While attending the International LETR Conference in Wisconsin, Missouri delegates heard about this amazing phenomenon called Polar Bear Plunge. They brought the idea back to Missouri and the SOMO liaison had the assignment of calling the Chief of Police in Osage Beach to see if he’d support such an idea.

Jamie Graham

Jamie Graham

Susan Stegeman recalls that phone call. “While on maternity leave with my first son, I planned the call. A lot of people were intimidated by Chief Troutman’s rough exterior, including me!” The Chief’s response was immediate and included “I think we could do that, and I’d love to see my community embrace this idea. If it’s for Special Olympics, of course.” Chief Troutman’s connection to SOMO began with his close relationship to athlete Jamie Graham. Jamie is a huge part of SOMO’s LETR in large part of the photos he draws and presents to the Missouri Police Chief Association President each year. The Polar Plunge debuted in 1996 at the Lake of the Ozarks and resulted in 54 plungers who raised $8,200. This was the only plunge in Missouri for 9 years. In 2005, we added St. Louis and Kansas City. In 2017, Missouri will have 13 different Plunge locations. (Registration will open soon!)

1999: hosted the LETR Conference in St. Louis with more than 800 attendees
Group w Jim RayMissouri was the first program to host “host night” off site. We transported attendees via school buses to the Arch. We were also the first program to utilize our athletes as presenters to introduce speakers and sessions. This really jump started our program because we were able to bring in more law enforcement attendees as conference volunteers/attendees and also incorporated the Department of Corrections and their vendor relationships. This conference was a first also in that it was the last event ever held at the Henry VIII Hotel prior to its demolition as part of the St. Louis Lambert Airport expansion project. Our officers were great hosts in planning everything from airport transfers, local transfers wherever attendees wanted/needed to go, and a hospitality room that is still revered. Due to great planning and support from local organizations and sponsors – we also generated revenue!

1999: Began region awards in four categories presented at the annual Missouri Police Chiefs Conference in December
Outstanding agency participations (chosen by each Region Coordinator)
Outstanding volunteer effort (chosen by each Region Coordinator)
Highest percentage increase in dollars raised
Greatest overall gross dollar increase

2000: Shirts sold at Shop ’n Save locations peak to 41,000 sold and sparked a great relationship that exists still today
The Shop ‘n Save T-shirt sales promotion began in 2000, but according to Dave Pudlowski, it was a dismal failure. What happened the next year resulted in $17,017 in sales of LETR shirts and hats at 14 Shop’n Save stores. St. Louis County PD coordinated the effort but connected the local municipalities to each store where a relationship began to form. From 2001, this event continued to grow year over year. Shop ’n Save employees became volunteers at Special Olympics events, they brought their families with them, and they started hosting their own events to support their charity of choice. Events like the I-55 Raceway and bowling tournament have gone by the wayside, but Trivia Night, Gateway Golf and Gala and Round Up remain as their fundraising events. Shop ’n Save is an awesome partner with law enforcement to support our favorite charity.

Jeff Ottenad, third from left

Jeff Ottenad, third from left

2001 – St Louis Route named Jeff Ottenad Route
In 2001, the St. Louis Region 8 Route was named after Jeff Ottenad, a SOMO athlete who always ran with the torch runners. After cancer took his leg, Jeff still participated but from his wheel chair.  After his death, the route was named in his honor. The Ottenad family continues to participate annually to continue the legacy of their brother and son.

2001 – First auto raffle
We partnered with the Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers and Shop’n Save to sell tickets statewide. The giveaway was hosted at the I-55 Raceway and more than $60,000 was raised in year one! This event is now called the Drive It Home Raffle.

2002 – Department of Corrections support took off and Corrections Officers raised over $98,000 from 23 institutions and Central Office.
The Department of Corrections began supporting Missouri’s LETR in 2002.  Corrections Officers and employees from their adult institutions and Central Office raise funds by hosting internal fundraisers like chili cook-offs, bake sales, and sell Torch Run shirts. They also participate in SOMO events like Over the Edge, Polar Plunge and selling Drive it Home Raffle tickets.

Rich Banahan, right

Rich Banahan, right

International recognition followed:
Rank in World – we were recognized among the top 10 programs at the Conference in Nashville – at #5!
2000 Dave Pudlowski was inducted into the Hall Of Fame
2001 Jim Moran, St. Louis Metro PD, won the John Carion Unsung Hero Award at the Conference in Wichita, KS, where the international LETR began.
2004 Rich Banahan, St. Louis Metro PD, was inducted into the Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame at the Conference in Virginia

Rays notesMarch to Million runners agencies gross
1996 349 116 $314,764
1997 706 172 $409,300
1998 900 176 $595,380
1999 806 188 $811,245
2000 803 181 $908,316
2001 711 170 $756,305
2002 975 165 $864,000
2003 963 167 $929,472
2004 931 173 $1,055,196
2005 887 172 $1,000,000

Created the Letz Award – Missouri highest LETR Award for Unsung Hero recognition: 

Ralph Biele, third from left

Ralph Biele, third from left

1994 – Ralph Biele, MO State Highway Patrol, and founder of Missouri’s LETR program
1995 – Major John Cira, Hazelwood PD
1996 – Sgt. Rich Banahan, St. Louis Metro PD
1997 – Chief Randy Boehm, Columbia PD
1998 – Mary Branstetter, St. Ann PD
1999 – Lt. Tim Goebel, Crossroads Correctional Center
2000 – Major David Pudlowski, St. Louis County PD
2001 – Janelle Waterman, MSHP Troop A
2002 – Capt. Graham Burnley, Chesterfield PD
2003 – Capt. Jim Moran, St. Louis Metro PD
2004 – Chief Jim McCart, Osage Beach DPS
2005 – Capt. Zim Schwartze, Columbia PD

Loretta Claiborne speaks at the LETR Kickoff

Loretta Claiborne speaks at the LETR Kickoff in 2005

2005 ended with a $1 million dollar LETR program with many funding projects poised to support SOMO and our athletes for years to come.