Wheelock Whitney dies at 89

Wheelock Whitney
This 1982 photo shows Wheelock Whitney, Jr., speaking to a crowd in New Ulm, Minn. The Minnesota businessman and former Vikings co-owner has died. His son, Ben Whitney, says Wheelock Whitney died Friday at his home in Independence, Minn., of natural causes.
Neil McGahee | Star Tribune file via AP

Updated: 7:30 p.m. | Posted: 3:47 p.m.

Wheelock Whitney, a Twin Cities businessman, philanthropist and pro sports backer, has died. He was 89.

Ben Whitney said his father died Friday at his home in Independence of natural causes.

Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson says Whitney was a key player in making Minnesota what it is today.

"He was the one who was really persuasive in companies moving to Minnesota, forming their own headquarters in Minnesota," Carlson said. "He was just involved in everything, whether the arts or education. Any form of philanthropy and building, he was involved with. He was one of the greatest builders Minnesota ever had."

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A St. Cloud native, Whitney helped bring the Twins to Minnesota. He was also part of the group that formed the North Stars hockey team and at one point was part owner and president of the Minnesota Vikings.

Whitney also is credited with building and promoting treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction. He helped found the Johnson Institute, which became part of Hazelden several years ago.

Former Minnesota Congressman Jim Ramstad says Whitney was a big help to him personally.

"When I had my problem with alcoholism and needed help and cried out for help, Wheelock was the first person I called," Ramstad said. "He guided me to the former St. Mary's rehabilitation center, so Wheelock's been there for me in good times and bad times."

The former Wayzata mayor and moderate Republican was heavily involved in politics, running unsuccessfully for governor in 1982 and the U.S. Senate in 1964.

In 2011, Whitney said he was donating $10,000 to defeating the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"There's nothing, absolutely nothing in my Republican value system that supports marriage bans in our constitution," he said at the time. "So, I strongly oppose this amendment as a lifelong Republican."

Whitney is survived by his wife, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, and his children, Wheelock Whitney III, Pennell Whitney, Joseph Whitney and Ben Whitney.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.