Personal Struggles, Charity Endeavors
Killebrew struggled financially when a golf-course investment in the 1980s soured. According to The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, Killebrew and former Idaho congressman Ralph Harding were among those defrauded in the "RM-Eighteen" golf course and condominium project near Rancho Mirage, California. News accounts portrayed Killebrew sympathetically. Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who had loaned Killebrew money, was said to have relaxed repayment terms.
Killebrew was hospitalized for thirteen weeks in the early 1990s and nearly died of complications from medicine administered to benefit knee pain. It "caused a lot of damage to my insides," he said years later. Over several years, Killebrew battled ulcers, a perforated stomach, a collapsed lung and "a tumor the size of a small football located behind his lung," according to the San Angelo Standard-Times. At one point his doctor sent him home, essentially to die in comfort, in the care of his wife, Nita, and a home-health nurse. "When I went back to see the doctor, he said, 'I didn't expect to see you in here,'" Killebrew said.
Following his near-death experience, Harmon Killebrew, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife, Nita, has since become a national spokesman for the VistaCare Hospice Foundation, which the Arizona Republic described as "sort of the adult version of the Make-a-Wish Foundation."
Said Killebrew during a Thanksgiving Day visit to a terminally ill patient in November, 2002: "If you haven't been touched by hospice care yet, you will be. Every family will be." He recalled an admonition from his mother, Katie: "We're here to help each other. What other reason could there be? So get with it, son."
Killebrew also visits his former Minnesota Twins team, helping during spring training, visiting their minor-league affiliates and making promotional appearances. He spoke to the Minnesota crowd on Opening Day in 2002 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. Killebrew Drive was named in his honor near the site of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, now the Mall of America shopping and entertainment complex.
Touched by the leukemia death of teammate Danny Thompson at age 29 in 1976, Killebrew a year later helped found the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in Sun Valley, Idaho, to raise money for leukemia research. In 1996, he started the Harmon Killebrew Signature Classic Golf Tournament to benefit the American Red Cross and two years later established, with his wife, the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, a fund-raising charity.