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Spokesman: Ruth Ziolkowski, who helped make Crazy Horse Memorial a US national draw has died

FILE - In this June 13, 2006 file photo, Ruth Ziolkowski, widow of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who began carving the likeness of Sioux warrior Crazy Horse into a granite mountain in 1948, discusses the ongoing project at Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills near Custer, S.D. Ruth, who took over the dream of her husband, upon his death in 1982 and turned it into a multimillion-dollar operation that draws more than a million visitors a year, died Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at age 87. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

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FILE - In this June 13, 2006 file photo, Ruth Ziolkowski, widow of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who began carving the likeness of Sioux warrior Crazy Horse into a granite mountain in 1948, discusses the ongoing project at Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills near Custer, S.D. Ruth, who took over the dream of her husband, upon his death in 1982 and turned it into a multimillion-dollar operation that draws more than a million visitors a year, died Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at age 87. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Ruth Ziolkowski, who carried on her late husband's dream of honouring Native Americans by carving the massive likeness of the legendary warrior Crazy Horse into the Black Hills in South Dakota, has died. She was 87.

Mike Morgan, a spokesman for the memorial, said Ziolkowski died Wednesday night in Rapid City, South Dakota. Ziolkowski, a soft-spoken visionary, oversaw the ongoing project until she entered hospice care in April, a month after her cancer diagnosis.

Crazy Horse was an Oglala Lakota warrior who helped lead the 1876 attack against Gen. George Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. A soldier's bayonet killed him the following year in Nebraska.

"Ruth Ziolkowski, the remarkable matriarch of Crazy Horse Memorial, was loved and admired by millions who were inspired by her example to 'never forget your dreams,'" said Jack Marsh, a member of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Then Ruth Carolyn Ross, she came to South Dakota's Black Hills from Connecticut in 1948, with other young people who volunteered to help sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski begin the carving that year. The two were married in 1950 at the site. He was 42 and she was 24.

The sculptor took on the project at the invitation of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who, referring to nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial, wrote a letter to him saying, "We would like the white man to know the red men have great heroes also." The likenesses of four former presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, are carved into Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Korczak Ziolkowski, who helped sculptor Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore in 1939, contemplated the offer before accepting. "He decided it would be well worth his life carving a mountain, not just as a memorial to the Indian people," Ruth Ziolkowski told The Associated Press in 2006.

Ziolkowski took over the project upon Korczak Ziolkowski's 1982 death and tried to heed his last words: "Crazy Horse must be finished. You must work on the mountain — but slowly, so you do it right."

She helped lead the effort to shift the focus from the horse to carving the warrior's 90-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) face, a move credited with an infusion of donations and worldwide interest in the project. It was dedicated in 1998 at the 50th anniversary ceremony.

Although the carving remains slow-going, the site now includes a welcome centre, Native American museum, educational and training area, restaurant, gift shop and the Indian University of North America.

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Follow Carson Walker at https://twitter.com/carsonjw .

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