By Helene Duhamel
For the past 67 years, a petite, quiet woman has gently been leading the charge to carve a mountain in the Black Hills to honor the great Lakota Chief Crazy Horse.
Ruth Ziolkowski is now dying from cancer. Doctors say she doesn't have long to live. Barb and Chuck Lien have been friends with the Ziolkowskis for more than 60 years. The Ziolkowskis had 10 children, the Liens had nine. " Ruth and Korczak came to us when they were little and asked if something happened to both of them, would we be able to take their kids. We said yes," said Chuck Lien.
He admits it was a crazy thought. "19 kids! But I did take them to DQ and the guy who waited on us wanted to know if they were all mine. I said yes, all towheaded, but Korczak and Ruth loved them, raised them and it just cost us a promise," said Chuck Lien.
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 Ziolkowskis 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 in 1982. "She has been such an incredible business woman. She had no training," said Barb Lien. "She was just a teenager when she came here, but it seems to come second nature to her. She still greets everyone."
Monsignor William O'Connell is also a dear friend of Ruth's. He has known the Ziolkowski family since the 1970s and he is also fighting cancer. Additionally, O'Connell serves on the board of directors at Crazy Horse. "She was someone early in life, grabbed the dream of Korczak. She gave up her family back east to be here," said O'Connell. "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.
While the mountain used to get a blast every year on Ruth's birthday, 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ruth and her loved ones in these final days.