In the summer of 1982, the youngest son of Patrol Officer John Thomas was confined in the Cleveland Clinic. During that time, PO Thomas met families from all over the USA and the world. Although his family was also facing a serious medical emergency, he imagined how much more stressful it must be for the families of seriously ill children to have to leave their homes and travel to Cleveland to obtain the best possible care at the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospital’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Many were staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Thomas decided to do something to help reduce some of the stress for the families and let them know that they were part of a bigger family.
While off duty on November 10, 1982 several officers from the 2nd District who served in U.S. Marine Corps were saluting its birthday. During the celebration, Thomas spoke about his experience at the Cleveland Clinic. It was decided that the group would hold a Christmas party for the families staying at Ronald McDonald House and visit the children in the pediatric units at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital.
That decision led to a great district-wide team building effort. POs Rich Auner and Jeff Stanczyk helped with organizing things; every officer in the district donated $20 to the cause, gifts were purchased and officers and family members helped wrap them.
The inaugural “Christmas Party” in December 1982 was a grand affair. Police officers in uniform and others dressed as elves, along with a church choir singing Christmas carols joined John Thomas dressed as Santa Claus in delivering gifts, food and treats donated by area businesses, and good cheer to families staying at Ronald McDonald House and the children confined in the hospitals.
In 1983 the group repeated the events. Dale Solly, a TV8 news reporter did a story on the effort that year titled “Cops, Kids, & Christmas,” and the name stuck. Due to its success, in 1984 it was decided that the Division of Police would adopt the idea and conduct it annually city-wide, visiting every hospital in the city as well as day care centers, domestic violence shelters, and families-in-need, with the original cast from the 2nd District visiting Ronald McDonald House.
The “troupe,” led by John Thomas, Rich Auner & Jeff Stanczyk and cast of supporting officers and family members continued their annual visits to Ronald McDonald House and has done so for the past 34 years. Even after retirement the trio continues to lead younger officers in carrying-on the tradition, and is planning a return engagement this December.
In recognition of their on-going commitment to the community and efforts above and beyond the call of duty, we are honored to bestow upon the Cops, Kids, & Christmas “Family” the 2017 Thomas D. Ganley Memorial Community Service Award.