Statistically, discovering someone you love has cancer is an experience almost everyone will go through. I was starting week two of a new job as arts editor of the Idaho Mountain Express when I got the news. My father, who was more than 5,000 miles away in my home country of England, had acute myeloid leukemia. For Harmon Killebrew, one of the most prolific power hitters in major league baseball history, discovering that his Minnesota Twins teammate had leukemia ignited a philanthropic urge in the man who hit 573 home-runs in his career.
During that career, baseball journalists lamented Killebrew’s understated personality. “Killebrew is so quiet that sportswriters have given up trying to jazz up his image,” said Time magazine in 1964. “He didn’t go out, he didn’t go ballistic, he didn’t go anything but bald,” wrote Steve Rushin in this Sports Illustrated article following the Hall of Famer’s death in 2011. But this baseball-star-turned-Boise-insurance-salesman had a more permanent legacy ahead of him: funding research into a cure for cancer.
While my father won his battle with the disease, Danny Thompson lost his, passing away in 1976 at the age of 29. The tragedy of such a young life and great talent being cut so short inspired Killebrew and his friend Idaho congressman Ralph Harding to start an annual event to raise money for research into the disease. Debuting in the summer of 1977 as a celebrity clambake, the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament has generated over $12 million for the battle against leukemia.
A Payette boy, Killebrew chose to host the event at Sun Valley Resort, on whose magnificent courses the four-person two-best ball tournament has been played ever since. Drawing stars from the world of baseball and Hollywood, such as Joe Washington, Jack Morris, Don Felder and Kevin Sorbo, the tournament’s high profile has helped generate substantial donations to the University of Minnesota Cancer Research Center in Minneapolis and St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise. “Due to the participation and support of nationally known celebrities and sponsors, the tournament has not only raised in excess of $11 million that has gone directly to leukemia and cancer research, but over the years these funds have been used in various matching grant programs leveraged to the million dollar level annually,” Tournament Director Georgie Fenton said in an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express in 2011.
Killebrew lost his own battle with cancer in 2011, and last year the tournament was renamed in its founder’s honor. The first Killebrew-Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament raised $700,000, bringing the grand total collected over 36 years to $12.5 million. Not bad for a round of golf in an idyllic setting.
This year’s tournament runs from Wednesday, August 21 through Saturday, August 24. Registration for the 2013 tournament is now closed, but tickets are still available for the benefit concert on August 21 at 8 p.m. featuring Huey Lewis and The News. Purchase tickets from $54 to $255 here, or opt for a $159 hotel package of one night’s lodging and two show tickets by calling 800-786-8259 or clicking here.