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SOMO honors law enforcement excellence and reveals 2023 Drive it Home Raffle winner at LETR luncheon

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JEFFERSON CITY – Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) celebrated another successful year of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) with a celebration luncheon at the Training for Life Campus on Friday, Dec. 1.

This event celebrated dozens of law enforcement agencies in nine regions across the state for their incredible fundraising and volunteer efforts in 2023.

The highlight of the afternoon was the surprise announcement of the 2023 John Michael Letz Award. This award is the highest honor given within the LETR for SOMO. It is our unsung hero award.

This year’s winner was Sergeant Tony Lauth from the Rolla Police Department. With an impressive 11-year tenure in the Torch Run, Sergeant Lauth’s dedication has been unwavering. His commitment has extended beyond the call of duty, as evidenced by his voluntary efforts in distributing medals at both local and statewide events. In addition to his active participation in various local and statewide fundraisers, Sergeant Lauth has played a pivotal role in the expansion of school-based Polar Plunges within the Rolla community. His impactful contributions continue to leave an indelible mark on the community, reflecting his exceptional commitment to both law enforcement and community enrichment.

“This is an honor, truly,” Sergeant Lauth said. “We do this for our athletes, but they give back more to me than I could ever give to them.”

The first-ever recipient of John Michael Letz Award was Ralph Biele, who was instrumental in starting the LETR for SOMO more than 30 years ago.

“SOMO’s invaluable partnership with law enforcement across the state is a testament to the extraordinary commitment we share,” said Crystal Schuster, Sr. Director of Community Development at SOMO. “Throughout the year, these dedicated officers tirelessly champion awareness and fundraising efforts for SOMO athletes. Taking a moment to acknowledge and extend our heartfelt gratitude is not just appropriate but essential for recognizing their unwavering dedication.”

This past October, a group of 30 LETR for SOMO members traveled to Chicago for the International LETR Conference. They were awarded the Diamond Award for raising nearly $1.2 million in 2022! In 2023, the LETR for SOMO has already raised $1.5 million with a month left to go.

During the International LETR Conference, Special Olympics Inc. announced a significant fundraising milestone of raising more than $1 billion for the Special Olympics movement worldwide since its inception in 1981. Missouri’s LETR started back in 1986. Since then, it has raised more than $40.5 million for SOMO.

Friday’s celebration kicked off at 9 a.m. with law enforcement officers engaging in LETR training. There was also a Missouri Police Chiefs Association meeting, adding depth and significance to the event.

The event kicked into high gear at 11 a.m. with the eagerly anticipated Drive it Home Raffle drawing. Six area finalists had the chance to take home the grand prize, a 2023 Ford Explorer XLT 4WD. This year’s winner was Karen Kelly from the Kansas City Metro Area. She was unable to attend, so Capt. Josh Heinen with the Kansas City Police Department represented her in her place. He was shocked when he found out Karen won!

“It was a surprise at first,” Heinen said. “I didn’t think it actually worked, and then it did. I am very happy for Karen.”

This year’s Drive it Home Raffle, which began in June, raised more than $110,000. The annual raffle is powered by the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association and LETR for SOMO. Since the raffle began, law enforcement agencies across the state have helped sell raffle tickets.

Heinen added, “I would like to see people continue to buy these tickets next year because it’s absolutely a real thing. The car is actually here, and somebody gets to drive it home.”

Here are all six area finalists:

Southwest Area: Janet Jansen – Purchased her ticket at a Knights of Columbus event.

Kansas City Metro Area: Karen Kelly – Purchased her ticket from the Kansas City Police Department.

St. Louis Metro Area: Terry Wright – Purchased his ticket from the Webster Groves Police Department.

North Area: Stephanie Brockman – Purchased her ticket from SOMO athlete Pete Moore.

Central Area: Andrea Young – Purchased her ticket from her cousin, SOMO athlete Shirlene Treadwell.

Southeast Area: Marc Stout – Purchased his ticket from his cousin, SOMO athlete Lisa Berryhill.

After the drawing, SOMO held its awards banquet for roughly 200 members of law enforcement from all across the state.

“Bringing together our exceptional law enforcement partners, alongside SOMO staff, board members, and our inspiring athletes, the awards banquet serves as the ideal platform,” Schuster said. “We’re eagerly anticipating the moment to celebrate and honor them, recognizing the culmination of their dedicated efforts and outstanding achievements throughout the year.”

During the banquet, attendees heard from several distinguished speakers, including SOMO President and CEO Larry Linthacum. Longtime board member Jeanie Byland and her daughter, SOMO athlete Sarah Byland, also gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of supporting SOMO. The banquet culminated with SOMO awarding Sergeant Lauth with the John Michael Letz Award.

Thank you to our great sponsors for this event: Lighting Associates, Terry’s Towing, LETR for SOMO and the Missouri Police Chiefs Association