Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Ralph Harding, driving force of the Thompson, dies at 77

Idaho Congressman played big role here

Express Staff Writer

Ralph Harding at the 1982 Danny Thompson Memorial cocktail party in Sun Valley.

Ralph Harding of Blackfoot, the behind-the-scenes driving force in the early days of the Danny Thompson Memorial golf tournament held in Sun Valley, died Thursday, Oct. 26 at the age of 77 at Bingham Memorial Hospital, Blackfoot.

Harding and baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew co-founded the fund-raising golf tournament for cancer and leukemia research in 1977. It was one year after the death of Killebrew's baseball teammate Thompson. He died of leukemia at the age of 29, in 1976.

The Thompson golf tournament started out as a small, late-August gathering on the Sun Valley and Elkhorn golf courses, where it has been played ever since. Harding was active as the tournament organizer/director from 1977-93.

In 30 years, the Thompson has raised $8,687,500 for cancer research, split between University of Minnesota Leukemia Research Foundation and Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) of Boise. This year's tournament receipts hit an all-time record $760,000.

Current tournament director Georgie Fenton of Ketchum said, "When the Danny Thompson Memorial began, the chances of recovery from leukemia were low. Today the recovery rate is almost 70% with greater hopes for the future."

Harding, born in 1929 at Malad City, was educated at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Idaho State University. He served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War and was a commissioned lieutenant at the time of his discharge. Married for 52 years, he was father of five children.

First elected to the Idaho House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1955, at age 26, Harding was also elected to the U.S. Congress where he was the youngest member of Congress serving during the administration of John F. Kennedy.

He sponsored legislation establishing the Peace Corps, was a sponsor and great supporter of civil rights legislation, worked for equal pay for women and served on the Agricultural Committee where he sponsored legislation supporting farmers and building dams.

An avid golfer and sports fan, Harding was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At the time of his death he was an ordinance worker in the Idaho Falls Temple and a diligent home teacher. He had a remarkable talent for remembering names and made friends all over the world. Harding's funeral service was Monday in Blackfoot, followed by burial at the Malad City Cemetery.

The Idaho Mountain Express wrote a feature article about Harding's genius at organizing the Thompson golf tournament. It was first published in 1984 and is reproduced on today's Express Web site. The Harding article will also be re-printed in the Nov. 15 edition of Express Local Life.

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