KOTA – For the past 67 years, a quiet woman has been gently leading the charge to carve a mountain in the Black Hills. Ruth Ziolkowski continued the work of her husband Korczak Ziolkowski – the man who started the Crazy Horse monument – after his death in 1982.
Rapid City residents Barb and Chuck Lien have been friends with the Ziolkowski's for more than 60 years. The Ziolkowski's had 10 children, the Liens had nine.
"Ruth and Korczak came to use when they [the kids] were little, and asked if something happened to them both, would we be able to take their kids," Chuck Lien said. "We said yes."
He admits it was a crazy idea.
"Nineteen kids! But I did take them to DQ and the guy who waited on us wanted to know if they were all mine," Lien said. "I said yes, all towheaded, but Korczak and Ruth loved them, raised them and it just cost us a promise."
The Liens watched as Korczak and Ruth built their dream of a monument to the Lakota people together. In the early years, the Liens watched the Ziolkowski's live in a tent, carry water, and educate their children in a one-room school house.
The Liens also watched Ruth take over when Korczak died.
"She has been such an incredible business woman," Barb Lien said. "She had no training. She was just a teenager when she came here, but it seems to come second nature to her."
Monsignor William O'Connell is also a friend of Ruth's. He has known the Ziolkowski family since the 1970s and he is also fighting cancer. O'Connell also serves on the board of directors at Crazy Horse.
"She gave up her family back east to be here," O'Connell said. "We say in the marriage vows, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health. She went through all of that."
In addition to the gigantic sculpture, the largest in the world, Ruth's dream is for an entire community built around Native Americans. The North American Indian College is already seeing success.
The mountain gets a blast every year on Ruth's birthday, and those blasts will go on without her, as her dream of finishing the sculpture will live on.
Ruth is 87 and she is staying at Custer Hospital near her family.