Homage paid to ‘Mrs. Z’
Published: Thursday, June 5th, 2014
Even at her memorial service Tuesday, May 27, Ruth Ziolkowski was still in charge.
She died Wednesday, May 21, at the age of 87, after a short battle with cancer. Her Crazy Horse Memorial sculptor husband, Korczak, proceeded her in death in 1982.
“I want it to be upbeat,” repeated Crazy Horse Foundation board member Sid Goss of her instructions. “She had suggestions on where to borrow more chairs and who could be called upon to help with parking, someone like the Rapid City Diplomats,” Goss said.
Lastly, Goss repeated her final instructions concerning the memorial service: “And whatever you do, don’t run out of food!”
Ruth said people should not be afraid to applaud the speakers and singers during the service and the estimated crowd of nearly 1,000 seated on the floor of the massive visitor center did not disappoint her.
Lulu Red Cloud, great-great-granddaughter of legendary Chief Red Cloud, gave a message in Lakota and sang a song to Ruth in the same native language.
John Rozell, chairman of the board, read a speech crafted by board member Al Cornella, who had a medical issue and could not attend.
“She came alive on this mountain,” Cornella wrote. “She said she was the luckiest person alive. ‘I get up every morning and love what I do,’” Ruth said.
“When she came here there were gravel roads,” Cornella wrote, and named all of the improvements to the memorial grounds that stand today because of her efforts, including the massive visitor center where the service was being held, and the Indian University.
“She was at ease with presidents and celebrities, but she always had time to pose for photos with guests and visitors and listened to what they had to say.
“Ruth was comfortable in her own skin and made us (board members) comfortable in ours,” Cornella wrote.
Long-time family friend and former U.S. Representative and former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, said it was Ruth’s power and vision that made Crazy Horse great. He was elected to the House in 1978 and first met Ruth when he was running for re-election in 1982.
“Ruth was one of the most decent people that anyone could ever meet,” Daschle said. One of the first things she told him was that the monument was going to be built with no federal funding. He was not used to hearing things like that.
“We talked about our lives, our families and how she loved mystery novels,” Daschle said.
The former legislator described the many hats worn by the sculptor’s widow.
“There was Ruth, the matriarch of the family. Ruth the CEO of the mountain. Ruth the generous, with a scholarship fund now at $2 million annually. Ruth the charming. President Clinton planned just a short stop at the mountain and spent over two hours with Ruth. There was Ruth, who answered to Mrs. Z. Selfless, kind, that was Ruth in her many dimensions,” Daschle said.
“Even in her final days, she maintained that strong spirit. We take heart in that the sun will rise tomorrow, but the world is a better place because she was in it so long,” Daschle said.
Long-time friend Freda Goodsell, who attended the first blast on the mountain in 1948 and worked there in various capacities over the years, said a prayer for Ruth in Lakota.
Blase Cupich, Bishop of Spokane, former board member, called Ruth “the Iron Lady of the Mountain.” Referencing Cal Ripkin’s record 2,632 consecutive baseball games played in, Cupich said Ruth had that record beaten by at least 10-fold.
“She didn’t even like going to Rapid City because she had to leave the mountain. Ruth was sent to South Dakota. She didn’t just come,” he said.
Monsignior Bill O’Connell who officiated at Korczak’s services in 1982, recalled a perilous trip he took with Korczak in a jeep to the top of the mountain one day. He mimicked the sculptor’s gravelly voice to the delight of the audience. “If this project is to succeed, that little woman down there will make it happen!” O’Connell said.
“She was a warm, inviting friend, whether in the restaurant or at a board meeting,” he said.
“We have to look in our hearts and see what fuels our lives. God has given us talents and he expects us to use them to the benefit of others. That’s what Ruth did,” he said.
“It’s a remarkable fortune that Ruth caught the dream. She not only captured the dream, but believed in its purpose. She did not wear her faith on her sleeve, but lived it in her heart,” O’Donnell said.
Fred Tully, who met Ruth 35 years ago at the memorial, said Ruth asked him to speak about Korczak instead of her. The former board member and long-time S.D. Children's Home Society president, said she and the sculptor worked side-by-side with Ruth even helping him build 741 steps to the top of the mountain.
“As long as she had him, she was fine. She didn’t need things like fancy clothes. She ran the sawmill and people say she was one hell of a businesswoman,” Tully said.
When former Custer State Park superintendent Rollie Noem left his position after 19 years in the park, Ruth talked him into coming to work on the memorial as chief operating officer. “She talked me into staying for 10 years instead of the seven we had agreed on,” Noem said. He is in the last year of that commitment.
“I learned from Ruth every day of that 10-year commitment. She was a strong leader, astute businesswoman and a public relations genius. She performed numerous acts of charity,” he said.
“For Ruth, true friends were one of life’s treasures. She was a true optimist who believed that if you never gave up, you could accomplish anything,” Noem said.
He described his office with two easy chairs. Ruth procured a world globe that opened at the top where it had a bottle of refreshment in it.
“At the end of the day, she sometimes came in with a bucket of ice and we would take a trip around the world,” he said. “Her legacy will continue to inspire us.”
Margaret Tretheway of Custer sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” accompanied by her husband, Bill on the guitar. Tretheway and Anne Van Dis, also of Custer, teamed up to sing “Amazing Grace.” Van Dis later sang the “Lord’s Prayer.”
The service was concluded with a memorial song by the Porcupine Singers.
Members of the mountain crew slipped out of the service a little early to prepare a working blast that removed 930 tons of granite. Those on the viewing deck reacted with shouts and applause, again at the request of Ruth.
Dignitaries attending the service included U.S. Senators John Thune and Tim Johnson, Linda Daugaard, wife of Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills.
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