Crazy Horse Memorial recipient of $5 million donation

David Melmer
12/31/07

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. - The generosity of South Dakota's most famous and most generous philanthropist will move the carving of Crazy Horse Mountain forward.

T. Denny Sanford, South Dakota native and banker who rose through the business ranks, recently presented Crazy Horse Memorial with $5 million as a challenge grant. This is the largest single donation received by Crazy Horse Memorial in the past 60 years of its existence.

Dick Tobias, president of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, said it was a significant day in the history of the memorial.

''Sixty years ago, when the memorial was formed, Korczak [Ziolkowski], because he believed in the generosity of individuals, laid down the principle that there would be no federal, state or local funds used on the carving of the mountain.

''There were many people who felt this was a mistake, that we probably would never achieve success. But time has proved them wrong and Korczak right,'' Tobias said.

In 1948, Korczak Ziolkowski began carving the mountain at the request of Lakota elders to honor Crazy Horse, a revered Lakota warrior, and all North American Indian people.

''I called Denny Sanford to say thank you. He said, 'I don't want words, you need to get to work on that mountain, you need to make it go faster,''' said Ruth Ziolkowski, CEO of Crazy Horse memorial.

''It's going to take a lot of help from a lot of people; and this generous gift gives us an amazing chance, it really does,'' she said with emotion.

''As we approach 60 years of carving the mountain, this is an absolutely wonderful way to celebrate and to help continue our progress.''

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, in a letter to Crazy Horse Memorial, said that it was very fitting that this gift be announced during the holiday season, a time of giving.

''This gift to the memorial and gift from all the millions of people who have brought the memorial to where it is today, is really a gift to the North American Indian people,'' Tobias said.

In addition to the announcement of the $5 million donation, an announcement was made that a $1 million match has already been acquired.

Sanford tried diligently to stay anonymous with this gift, but Crazy Horse officials convinced him that he should come forward.

The early days of Crazy Horse Mountain, and the work and life of Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski, in many ways parallel Sanford's life and work.

In the beginning, the Ziolkowskis cut their own wood to build a home and buildings, raised hogs, dairy cattle and chickens for survival, and sold eggs and milk. Today, the mountain carving is visited by millions of people each year and the complex continues to grow.

Sanford began his business career much the same way: hard work and determination. At age 8, he worked in his father's garment shop. He later studied psychology and earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Minnesota. He then bought his first business distributing chemicals. He eventually bought First Premiere Bank of Minnesota and moved it to South Dakota, his home state.

Sanford started Premiere Bankcard, one of the nation's largest bank card companies. He is currently chairman and CEO of United National Corp., the holding company of First Premiere Bank.

According to Forbes Magazine, Sanford said he wanted to ''die broke.'' He earned his fortune while in South Dakota and is giving back in a large way.

''South Dakota has been good to me and it's time to give back - and I'm doing that through Crazy Horse. I have long admired the years of dedication and hard, hard work by the family and their passion for Crazy Horse,'' Sanford said.

Forbes listed Sanford at No. 135 of the wealthiest people in the country in 2007.

Sanford's list of donations is vast, the largest being a $400 million donation to Sioux Valley Hospital system of Sioux Falls. The hospital is now called Sanford Health. He also donated to the Mayo Clinic, where a pediatric clinic now bears his name. A donation to the University Of South Dakota School of Medicine gave that school a new name: the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.

The $5 million Sanford Challenge Grant is designed to match, dollar-for-dollar, any donations given toward the completion of the mountain carving, but it also can be matched by in-kind donations, such as equipment and blasting materials, Crazy Horse officials said.

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