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Crazy Horse Memorial Matriarch Set Course For Future

April 10, 2014, 7:08 PM by Kevin Woster

Crazy Horse Memorial Matriarch Set Course For Future

Well wishes come from all over the nation, and beyond.

Admirers of the Crazy Horse Memorial near Custer are sending words of encouragement to memorial CEO Ruth Ziolkowski as she battles cancer in a Black Hills hospital.

At the memorial, staff and family members go about the business of carving a mountain and operating an multi-layered enterprise that began in 1948 with sculptor Korczak's Ziolkowski's dream of carving a mountain into a tribute to legendary Lakota leader Crazy Horse.

But they also think about the woman lovingly known as Mrs. Z. She carried on her husband's dream after his death in 1982, and with six of her 10 children involved in the operation shaped a plan for a future beyond her own life, too.

So while there is sadness and dread over Ruth Ziolkowski's declining health, there also is a sense or purpose that she would demand, says Rollie Noem, a senior adviser for Ziolkowski and the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

"There's a very emotional sense of impending loss," Noem said. "But at the same time we know our task, our responsibility. And the best way we can honor Ruth and pay tribute to her is to carry on."

Before her illness, Ziolkowski made sure there was a long-range and a strategic team in place, Noem says.

"Ruth always shows her wisdom and foresight," Noem said. "Ruth has worked closely with the Crazy Horse Memorial Board of Director in setting up and establishing an executive leadership team that's prepared to carry on."

Members are Jadwiga Ziolkowski and and Monique Ziolkowski, daughters or Korczak and Ruth, and Laurie Becvar, president and chief operating officer of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Even from her sick bed, Ruth Ziolkowski carries on the business of the family dream. She stays in touch by phone to check on operations and assure that visiting reporters are accommodated. Staffers smile at that, through their sadness.

The work on the mountain continues, and the crews work on the next stage of the development - the shaping of parts of the hand of Crazy Horse and his horse. A recent $10 million challenge grant by Sioux Falls philanthropist T. Denny Sanford will is designed to help accelerate that work.

And in the gift shop and other businesses in the Crazy Horse Memorial complex down below the mountain, the flow of visitors is increasing toward another hectic tourist season to come .

Mrs. Z and her health are never far from people's minds, or their quiet bits of conversation. As dire as things might seem, they know enough about the 87-year-old woman with the tender heart and steel will to not count her out too soon.

"While there's a sense of impending loss when that day comes, we hope that's a long ways in the future, longer maybe than everybody's anticipating," Noem said. "Ruth has the spirit. She has the will. She wants to be here and we want to have her here just as long as she can be with us. And she'll be working away as productive, and a part of things for as long as she possible, and we look forward to that and we're grateful for that."


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