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May 26, 2014 09:00 PM

Busy Day At Crazy Horse Honors Ruth Ziolkowski

Custer, SD

Thousands of people came to Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer Tuesday, not just to see the famous mountain carving, but also to say goodbye.

Memorial CEO Ruth Ziolkowski died of cancer last week, and visitors and friends began a two-day honoring of her life with a public viewing.

It was a busy day at Crazy Horse, just the way the woman known affectionately by many as Mrs. Z would have wanted it.

Thousands gazed up at the mountain carving begun by her sculptor husband Korczak in 1948 - a dream she shared, carried on and expanded after his death.

And she did it despite some skeptics.

Harry Burk of Hermosa, who wife, Lula, is a direct descendent from the Lakota Chief Red Cloud, said some who watched the memorial project in its early days doubted that it would continue after Korczak died in 1982.

"They said that they wouldn't bet you a plug nickel after he died that this monument would exist," Burk said.  "Well, Ruth picked up the ball and ran with it, and through her dynamic personality and ability I think is what made this mountain grew so much."

After her husband died, Ruth Ziolkowski not only continues work on the sculpture. She expanded the memorial’s reach and facilities, and in particular enlarged its outreach to Native Americans. That outreach has included scholarships for Native students, educational and training programs, job opportunities and direct donations to the reservation.

Tribal people returned the favor Tuesday with traditional honoring ceremonies. Ben Good Buffalo, a spiritual leader from the Pine Ridge Reservation, said Ruth earned the ceremonial goodbye by her work to benefit Native people

"I'm here at Crazy Horse celebrating, honoring Ruth on her leaving for the spirit world," Good Buffalo said.

Good Buffalo said Ruth will be honored again later when family members go to the Pine Ridge Reservation for a wiping of the tears ceremony, which is a great honor.

Many Native Americans were at the public viewing, filing slowly past a wooden casket built by one of Ruth's children and draped with a star quilt. It was the kind of simple understated ceremony that Ruth Ziolkowski would have loved, on a day to make a dream shine more brightly than ever.

Monday's public viewing was just the start of honoring services for Ruth Ziolkowski. There will be a celebration of her life at the memorial at 10 a.m. today.  Services are open to friends and the public and admission fees will be waived from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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