R.I.P. Ruth Ross Ziolkowski

The spiritual and business leader of the Crazy Horse Memorial passed away on May 21, 2014.

Melanie and I felt honored to meet this humble woman on a visit to Crazy Horse:

From the left: Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren Harming

From the left: Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren Harming

Ruth has joined Korczak in eternity. When I think of them I am reminded of the quote from Arthur Schopenhauer:

The kings left their crowns and scepters behind here, and the heroes their weapons. Yet the great spirits among them all, whose splendor flowed out of themselves, who did not receive it from outward things, they take their greatness across with them.

The Crazy Horse Memorial

(Click to enlarge)






The Story:

A year after the Battle of Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse’s vanquished followers relocated to the reservation. He alone remained free. Crazy Horse met a white trader who mocked him.

“Where are your lands now, Crazy Horse? Your people are captured and put on reservations. Where are your lands you fought for?”

Crazy Horse sat on his pony and said nothing for a long time. He just stared at the white trader. He raised his arm slowly and pointed out over his horse’s head to the east and said proudly, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

That same day Crazy Horse went to Fort Robinson in Nebraska under a flag of truce. He was stabbed in the back by a white soldier and died the next day, September 6, 1877. He was 35 years old.

Crazy Horse was indeed “crazy;” mad for the love of his people, whom he never let down. He defended them and their way of life in the only way he knew, and only after he witnessed grave injustices toward them.

1n 1939, Lakota Indian Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and asked him to carve Crazy Horse in the Mountains of the Black Hills. Lakota elders wanted to show the white man that Indians had their great heroes also.

In 1947, at age 38, after he served in World War II, and turned down a government commission to create war memorials in Europe, the self-taught “storyteller in stone” arrived in the Black Hills to carve a 100-foot likeness of Crazy Horse.

During his early months in the Black Hills, Korczak sat and looked at the mountain for five days and five nights. We can only imagine what he thought. At the end of the five days he decided to carve the entire mountain not just the top 100 feet. The vision had grown. After all, he said, “I had nowhere to go.”

Crazy Horse would be a symbol: a tribute to all North American Indians. The vision now included a memorial in the round — the largest sculpture ever undertaken, a Native American medical center, a university, and museum. Korczak’s purpose was to give the Native Americans “a little bit of pride and to try to right a little bit of the wrong … [the white people] did to [them].”

Korczak spent the next 35 years carving his dream. Life was hard. When he began the project he had only $174 and many local residents mocked him. They were skeptical of his motives, and racism reared its ugly head. The first several months he lived in a tent as he built a studio-home. In 1948-9 he built a 741-step staircase to the top of the mountain. He had no roads, water, or electricity for two years. He began carving the mountain with a hammer and chisel.

Korczak’s early years prepared him to cope with difficulty. He was an orphan at age 1. Raised in several foster homes and treated poorly, he left home at 16 to fend for himself. He never had a single lesson in art, engineering, or sculpture.

Korczak’s vision gave him strength: “I chose to do it the hard way.” His purpose was to “right a wrong the little I can. I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life,” he said.

Ruth Ross met Korczak Ziolkowski in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she and some other teenaged friends asked for an autograph. At age 20 (in June 1947), Ruth and her friends traveled to South Dakota to volunteer on the Crazy Horse project. Her friends returned to Connecticut but Ruth stayed. She and Korczak were married on Thanksgiving Day, 1950.

“No one thought it would be easy,” said Ruth.

Ruth gave birth to 10 children — all born at home and one delivered by Korczak. The older five children received their early education in a one-room schoolhouse at Crazy Horse.

Korczak knew he would not live long enough to finish the massive project. So, he and Ruth spent three years detailing three books of plans for the Memorial.

Korczak died in 1982, at age 74. He had blasted 7.4 million tons of granite from the mountain. His last words were to “go slow so you do it right.” The Storyteller in Stone rests in a tomb near the mountain with a door-knocker on the outside and a rotary telephone on the inside. People eulogized him as a man of “legends, dreams, visions, and greatness.”

Ruth then led Crazy Horse until her death on May 21, 2014. Seven of her 10 children, each of whom left the Memorial to do other things and returned because it was “where they belonged,” keep the dream alive and progress continues. Ruth says it is “not important when it’s finished; the important thing is that work never stops.”

When finished, the Memorial will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. It will be taller than the Washington Monument and larger than the biggest pyramid. The four heads of nearby Mount Rushmore will fit inside of Crazy Horse’s head.

Public donations and admissions fund this humanitarian project. Korczak, who left a life of assured fame and fortune, never took a salary. He twice turned down $10 million in government grants and asked: “Why should a memorial to the American Indian be financed by the very government that broke its treaties with the Indians and turned its back on all its promises?”

Melanie told me after our visit: “I knew you were a believer. After seeing this Memorial in person, I am now a believer too.”


Bad Guys Win

I recently finished season 1 of The Wire. 

What struck me the most was the human corruption:

Crooked politicians, office politics driven cops, layer upon layer of lawbreakers with each layer having less of a soul to lose.

The crooks with a chance to live a decent life got killed.

The crooks who did the least lawbreaking got the longest sentences.

The crooks who did the worst got off or got the lightest sentences.

The bad cops and politicians got promoted or elected.

The good cops had to fight to do good, honest work.

The good cops got badgered, threatened, demeaned, and intimidated–by their bosses.

The good cops got marginalized in the hinterlands of the police department.

In the end, mediocrity and disillusionment prevailed.

The shadow side of humanity cuts across all organizations and communities. The details are unique in each system but the deeper dark patterns are the same.

Yet brave souls continue to live authentic and value-driven lives always striving for excellence because they feel alive when they do so. They are the models who go first and show us the way.

Whining About the Minimum Wage

I was listening to a bunch of babies cry about the increase in the minimum wage in Minnesota recently. Oh, how awful this little increase is for business owners, blah, blah, blah.

I am happy to pay a tiny bit more for my meal or whatever I buy to pay for the increase. I think the increase in the minimum wages is how all of us who spend money at places that have minimum wage employees help give those employees a little pay raise that people deserve and is sorely needed.

And to the restaurant owner who blasted the increase he had to give to his employees: How do you think those employees feel about you? Do you think they will go the extra mile for you? I don’t think so; I think the next time they see a problem they will look the other way because you insulted their dignity.

If I had a restaurant, I’d pay my employees more than the minimum wage and proclaim that fact to my customers and tell that I do it because I have great employees. And my employees would be great because I would be a good manager. Do you think those workers would go the extra mile for me? I think so and the added motivation they would feel would return more to me than the cost of the pay raise.

I’d like those cry babies to quit being stupid. Use your brain and think a little bit. It is wrong to take advantage of powerless people. Be a creative and value-driven leader and owner. Quit whining and move on. The sky is not falling. If you can’t figure out how to adapt, then you won’t be in business long anyway–minimum wage increase or not.

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe used to be the punter for the Minnesota Viking.

Kluwe–intelligent, authentic, somewhat eccentric–openly and loudly advocated for gay marriage.

He was cut from the team. Was it because of his football performance or his outspokenness in the conformity driven NFL?

Kluwe accused an assistant coach of anti-gay slurs. The coach denied it. The team investigated. The coach admitted the slur when another player said he heard the words. The Vikings suspended the coach for three games.

Kluwe threatened to sue. The team agreed to contribute to gay rights groups over several years and all Vikings employees would get sensitivity training.

The lawsuit was dropped.

Kluwe had plenty of critics–in the media and in the masses.

It isn’t easy being a truth-teller who goes against the powerful organization and the entire NFL. Kluwe was verbally attacked. People questioned his motives. Critics used Kluwe’s own human mistakes against him to diminish his credibility. He won’t play again in the NFL.

Erase all the garbage and one fact remains: Chris Kluwe changed the world with his courage.

That’s more than his attackers can say.

Centralize or Decentralize Education Reform?

I read an essay that argued for decentralization of school transformation. Then I read another essay that said the first opinion piece had it all wrong: school reform had to be centralized.

What is needed to reinvent education in America?

A massive number of mature, visionary, enlightened, and tough-love leaders at all levels who can face-down and then engage with politicians, school boards, parent groups, bureaucracies,  powerful unions, ingrained cultures,  along with city, state, and national institutions without losing their vision, values, compassion, and a warrior’s dose of ruthlessness.

Anything less than that will fail to transform anything: efforts will simply recreate the school systems “leaders” say they want to change.

Get the leaders you need and the appropriate ways to organize will emerge.

Good luck with that: abandonment of the old models would be easier.