RAPID CITY, S.D., May 23 (UPI) -- Ruth Ziolkowski, who devoted her life to her husband's still-unfinished monument to the Lakota chief Crazy Horse in South Dakota, has died at 87.
Ziolkowski, who married sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski at the memorial site in 1950, supervised work on the monument after his death in 1982. She died Wednesday night of cancer at a hospice in Rapid City, S.D.
Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota who won a gold medal in track at the 1964 Olympics, called Ziolkowski "one of our true elders."
"Once in a great while an individual's achievements based upon the virtues and values by which they live their lives shines through," Mills said. "This allows us to be inspired by their strength, learn from their wisdom, be touched by their humility, and to be blessed by their sacredness. It has been said, 'These rare individuals become our true elders, a status they achieve based upon how they live their lives.' Ruth was among those few."
Ziolkowski, who first met her husband when she was a 13-year-old in West Hartford, Conn., came to South Dakota to work on the memorial in 1948, soon after Korczak started it. After their marriage, she raised 10 children while operating a lumber mill and dairy.
When her husband died, Ziolkowski used his scale models and planning books as a guide. Seven of their children also worked on the monument.
Phil Lampert, a former Rapid City police officer and Custer State Park concessionaire, remembered responding to a call from a tavern while Korczak was still alive.
"Korczak kept me and my partner entertained for the better part of an hour," Lampert told the Rapid City Journal. "He was a bigger-than-life character with a booming voice, and he kept saying 'Well boys.' We called and Ruth and this little lady came and picked him up."
The monument on Thunderhead Mountain, 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, celebrates the Oglala Lakota chief who was killed by a U.S. military guard in 1877, a year after he helped win the Battle of Little Big Horn against Gen. George Custer. It was first proposed in 1947 by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder.
Crazy Horse's head on the monument is 87 feet high, overtopping the heads of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore by 27 feet.
The chief's face was finished and dedicated in 1998, but Ziolkowski never set a date for the completion of the entire monument. Five years ago, she was asked that question by a member of a group of visiting travel writers and photographers.
"I think on a Tuesday," she said after contemplating the question for about 30 seconds.