Ruth Ziolkowski, long-time inspirational leader of Crazy Horse Memorial, died late Wednesday night with members of her family at her side.
Ruth Ross was born June 26, 1926 in Hartford, Conn. She first met Korczak Ziolkowski at 13 when she and a girlfriend mustered the courage to call at the sculptor's home in West Hartford, seeking the autograph of a well-known movie star who was visiting at the time. Two years later, Ruth met Korczak again when she was among a group of volunteers helping to raise money for the statue of Noah Webster which the sculptor was carving as a gift to West Hartford.
Korczak came to the Black Hills on May 3, 1947. Ruth followed a short time later, working as a volunteer to help create a memorial honoring the North American Indian. She helped Korczak prepare the logs for the log studio home, as well as construct the 741-step wooden staircase to the top of the mountain.
Ruth and Korczak were married at Crazy Horse on Thanksgiving Day, 1950. Together, they shared the hard work and the joys of undertaking such a massive project. While Korczak worked on the mountain, Ruth managed the visitor complex. She also helped run the large dairy farm and lumber mill which was started to help sustain Crazy Horse through the difficult early years.
Together, Ruth and Korczak had 10 children, five boys and five girls, all of whom were born at home. Crazy Horse became very much a family project with John, Dawn, Adam, Jadwiga, Casimir, Anne, Mark, Joel, Monique and Marinka all growing up helping with what had become a family project. At the time of her passing, Ruth’s family had grown to include 23 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Realizing that Ruth might one day inherit the responsibility of carrying on the Crazy Horse dream, Korczak prepared three books of comprehensive plans for the continuation of the mountain carving. That day arrived in 1982 when Korczak passed away at the age of 74. Ruth served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation ever since, staying actively involved right up until the day she died. Ruth was preceded in death by her husband, Korczak, and their daughter Anne.
Ruth was the inspirational leader of the Crazy Horse project and provided a steady guiding hand. Under her leadership, uninterrupted progress continued on the massive mountain sculpture, the Indian Museum of North America was expanded significantly. The Indian University of North America became reality and the Foundation’s Scholarship Program grew to exceed $2 million in cumulative financial assistance awarded to Native American students.
Affectionately known as “Mrs. Z," Ruth loved her work. To her, it was simply a way of life and she lived each day with a sense of purpose and a strong spirit. Ruth possessed the inner strength and iron-will needed to persevere through difficult and challenging times and she faced adversity with courage and conviction. Ruth’s legacy is one defined by faith and fortitude that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard enough and never give up.
A celebration of Ruth’s life and legacy will be held at Crazy Horse Memorial at a date and time to be announced. A memorial fund has been established in Ruth’s name to the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.