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T. Denny Sanford pledges $10M to Crazy Horse carving

South Dakota philanthropist T. Denny Sanford announced Thursday that he has pledged a $10 million matching grant to speed work on the mammoth Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving, shown in August 2010, near Custer. Work on the carving has been going on since 1948. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers)

By Dirk Lammers

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — South Dakota philanthropist T. Denny Sanford has pledged a $10 million matching gift to accelerate work on the mammoth Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving in South Dakota's Black Hills, the memorial announced Thursday.

Sanford's gift follows a $10 million matching pledge he made in 2007 that drew a $5 million donation from Paul and Donna "Muffy" Christen of Huron and helped raise another $5 million in donations for the ongoing project.

Ruth Ziolkowski, the memorial's president and chief executive, said Sanford's first gift has helped speed progress on the rough shaping of the Oglala Lakota leader's horse head through better carving equipment and detailed engineering studies of the rock.

"It's made all the difference in the world," said Ziolkowski, the widow of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

Inspired by Gutzon Borglum's nearby Mount Rushmore carving, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear proposed a memorial to Native American heroes with a granite carving near Custer. Crazy Horse played a key role in the 1876 defeat of the U.S. 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. He died a year later after being stabbed in Nebraska.

When completed, the carving of his image on a bluff about 10 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. The horse's head will be the memorial's largest artistic detail at 219 feet high.

Korczak Ziolkowski was the longtime leader of the project and his widow and children have followed his admonition to rely only on private enterprise.

Sanford, a former Sioux Falls businessman and banker who made much of his fortune in the credit card industry, said his gifts stem from a deep admiration he has for what the Ziolkowskis have accomplished through determination and perseverance.

"My desire is to see the horse's head finished and I am pleased with the progress being made toward achieving that goal," he said in a statement.

Work on the carving has been going on since 1948. While Crazy Horse's face had been peering across the southern Black Hills since 1998, crews have been blocking 11 stair-stepped tiers that will soon reach under the horse's nose, 360 feet from the top. Work also is progressing to finishing work on the pointing finger of Crazy Horse's outstretched arm, which sits atop the horse's mane.

Ziolkowski said once that final tier is blocked out, crews will shift to finishing work.

"The big thing has always been, you have to be able to get to where you want to work," she said.