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Crazy Horse sculptor's widow dies, project is still ongoing

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota--Ruth Ziolkowski, who carried on her late husband's dream of honoring Native Americans by carving the massive likeness of the legendary warrior Crazy Horse into the Black Hills in South Dakota, has died. She was 87.

Mike Morgan, a spokesman for the memorial, said Ziolkowski died Wednesday night in Rapid City, South Dakota. Ziolkowski, a soft-spoken visionary, oversaw the ongoing project until she entered hospice care in April, a month after her cancer diagnosis.

Crazy Horse was an Oglala Lakota warrior who helped lead the 1876 attack against Gen. George Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. A soldier's bayonet killed him the following year in Nebraska.

“Ruth Ziolkowski, the remarkable matriarch of Crazy Horse Memorial, was loved and admired by millions who were inspired by her example to 'never forget your dreams,'” said Jack Marsh, a member of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Then Ruth Carolyn Ross, she came to South Dakota's Black Hills from Connecticut in 1948, with other young people who volunteered to help sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski begin the carving that year. The two were married in 1950 at the site. He was 42 and she was 24.

The sculptor took on the project at the invitation of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who, referring to nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial, wrote a letter to him saying, “We would like the white man to know the red men have great heroes also.” The likenesses of four former presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, are carved into Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Korczak Ziolkowski, who helped sculptor Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore in 1939, contemplated the offer before accepting. “He decided it would be well worth his life carving a mountain, not just as a memorial to the Indian people,” Ruth Ziolkowski told The Associated Press in 2006.

Ziolkowski took over the project upon Korczak Ziolkowski's 1982 death and tried to heed his last words: “Crazy Horse must be finished. You must work on the mountain — but slowly, so you do it right.”

She helped lead the effort to shift the focus from the horse to carving the warrior's 90-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) face, a move credited with an infusion of donations and worldwide interest in the project. It was dedicated in 1998 at the 50th anniversary ceremony.

Although the carving remains slow-going, the site now includes a welcome center, Native American museum, educational and training area, restaurant, gift shop and the Indian University of North America.

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In this Aug. 21, 2010 file photo, Ruth Ziolkowski, president and chief executive of the Crazy Horse Memorial, stands in front of a plaster rendering of Crazy Horse with what will be the world's largest mountain carving in the background, near Custer, South Dakota.

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