Prior to a basketball game a week before his death, 41-year-old Bennie "Pacer" Harjo told Nate Hill about an incident at a local gasoline station. For Hill, the story summed up Harjo's way of life.
"He was getting gas and realized there were a couple guys stealing cigarettes from the store," said Hill, a friend of Harjo's. "He ran up to the guys and told them he was an undercover cop. (Then) he ran to his car like he was calling his partner. He was always trying to do the right thing."
Harjo died Thursday, Dec. 7, 2000, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
His devotion to athletics and his long-running battles with a congenital heart problem and a pacemaker had inspired his friends.
"He'd been an athlete all his life, despite the fact he had an enlarged heart and a pacemaker. It didn't slow him down at all," Marilyn Ruggles said. "He was running five miles a day still, and his goal was to go back to the Sunflower State Games."
At the 1997 games, Harjo won two silver medals and a bronze. He also taught boxing and worked at the Lawrence Athletic Club.
That's where Hill and Harjo met about five years ago.
"I met him playing pick-up basketball. We'd go down and play five-on-five and stuff like that," Hill said. "I ran track at KU, and he was a runner. We always talked about how I was going to help him train and get the starting blocks out and work on his start."
Earlier in his life, Harjo boxed professionally for four years. At 24, however, he had his first pacemaker installed. In 1988, he moved to Lawrence. He got his second pacemaker in 1997.
"He said if you have a pacemaker, people think you have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel," Hill said. "The fact is people with pacemakers live longer than people without. If anyone was invincible, it would have been Pacer."
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Simons Robert Funeral Home Colonial Chapel in Henryetta, Okla. Burial will be in Okemah, Okla.
Survivors include a daughter, Kelsey Nicole Harjo, Wichita; his mother, Margarette Mauldin, Okemah, Okla.; three sisters, Kay Moore, Blanchard, Okla.; Gloria McCarty, Norman, Okla.; and Deanna Mauldin, Okemah, Okla.; and his grandmother, Lucy McKane, Okemah, Okla.