Crazy Horse raising last million of matching funds

By Dirk Lammers
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) January 2011

A philanthropist’s 2007 offer to match $5 million in donations to speed progress on the mammoth Crazy Horse mountain carving in South Dakota’s Black Hills if the money could be raised in four years dumbfounded Crazy Horse president and chief executive Ruth Ziolkowski.

Work on the project had been going on since 1948, and while Crazy Horse’s face had been peering across southern Black Hills since 1998, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford wanted to see work on the horse’s head – which will be the largest artistic detail at 219 feet high – completed in his lifetime.

But supporters hit the $4 million mark just before Christmas, and $100,000 has come in since then.

“People were very generous this year at Christmas,” Ruth Ziolkowski said.

Inspired by Gutzon Borglum’s carving of nearby Mount Rushmore, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear proposed a memorial to Native American heroes with a granite carving near Custer. Ziolkowski’s late husband, the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, was the longtime leader of the project and his survivors kicked their fundraising efforts into high gear once they received Sanford’s offer.

“The first million was the easiest to raise because it was new, we have a lot of wonderful friends and it just seemed to come,” Ruth Ziolkowski said. “And then after that, we didn’t have a real plan.

“Korczak always said, `First you make a friend, then you make a dollar.’ We’ve been for 63 years trying our best to make friends, and I think that has helped us with this campaign more than anything else.”

Crazy Horse was a famed Oglala Lakota warrior and leader who played a key role in the 1876 defeat of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. He died a year later after being stabbed in Nebraska.

When completed, the carving of his image on a bluff about 10 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high.

A welcome center and museum have opened on the property, but completion of the carving, expansion of a university and construction of a medical training center for Native American students are still years away.

Ziolkowski has taken great faith in the growth of a related scholarship program, which began in 1978 with $250. By the end of last year, the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Scholarship Fund had given nearly $1.5 million to help mostly Native Americans attending schools in South Dakota.

“Korczak always said that you could do anything in this world you want to do if you’re willing to work hard enough and stick with it no matter what,” she said. “That scholarship fund is proof of that.”

She took over the project after her husband’s death in 1982 and shifted the focus to the carving of Crazy Horse’s face, which was dedicated in 1998 at the 50th anniversary and has helped draw more attention to the project.

Seven of the Ziolkowski’s 10 children and several grandchildren work at the memorial, which drew 1.2 million visitors to the southern Black Hills in 2010. It brings in millions of dollars every year, mainly through admission fees. The family has followed Korczak Ziolkowski’s admonition to refuse government help and rely on private enterprise.

Sanford’s donation allowed the memorial to hire a team of rock mechanics engineers from Vancouver-based Golder Associates and a laser scanning expert from Real Earth Models of Dallas to look at stability and composition of the rock.

Monique Ziolkowski, the memorial’s artistic and technical adviser, said the work will help reveal possible conflicts between planned carving designs and the mountain’s rock seams, allowing for planning and making necessary adjustments.

The assessment is being done as crews work on the ninth of 11 stair-stepped tiers that will soon reach under the horse’s nose, 360 feet from the top.