A Gonzo Memorial to Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse famously refused to be photographed, and after he died in U.S. Army custody in 1877, his burial place was kept secret. So what would he make of a 560-foot-tall memorial to him and his people?
For 65 years, Thunderbird Mountain in the Black Hills has been slowly transforming into an epic tribute to the Lakota fighting chief. Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who cut his teeth as an assistant on nearby Mount Rushmore, began blasting away sections of the mountain in 1948. Ziolkowski continued the work until his death in 1982; since then, his widow, Ruth, has directed the project with the help of seven of their ten children. In 1998, they completed Crazy Horse’s face. Since then they have been slowly excavating his horse’s head, one high-explosive gouge at a time. “Go slowly so you do it right,” was Korczak’s parting wisdom to Ruth.
The non-profit project—the world’s largest mountain carving—has been funded entirely by philanthropic gifts and admission fees. Ziolkowski turned down millions in government funds because of his commitment to “individual initiative and private enterprise,” according to the memorial’s foundation. It’s a good guess that Crazy Horse—also a skeptic of U.S. government involvement in people’s lives—would have approved. —Evan Sparks
An Illuminated Manuscript for the Internet Age
Elaborately illustrated handwritten Bibles used to be one of the foremost human art forms, but these manuscripts glittering in gilt and snaking vines and calligraphic curves disappeared with the invention of the printing press. Then some Minnesotans came along and revived the illuminated Bible for the modern age, in what Smithsonian magazine described as “one of the extraordinary artistic undertakings of our time.”
Powered by the private donations of about 1,500 individuals, foundations, and corporations, the Benedictine fathers of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, commissioned what is known as The Saint John’s Bible: a glorious seven-volume work, each volume stretching two feet tall by three feet wide when open and weighing 35 pounds apiece. The text and images were inked with hand-ground pigments and platinum- and gold-leaf on pages made of calf-skin vellum.
The abbey’s theologians decided which passages would be given large-scale illustration. Computers scaled images and plotted text breaks. All calligraphy and illumination was carried out by hand in a scriptorium. Goose, turkey, and swan quills were used for lettering. Mineral pigments were mixed with egg yolks and water to paint pages in vivid hues that will endure for centuries, just as in medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Production of this extraordinary new art Bible extended over two decades and cost $8 million. To bring the final creation to a wide audience, trade books reproducing the seven volumes in a smaller format are now being sold. And the original work is touring churches, museums, and libraries around the world for in-person viewing of what Pope Benedict XVI called “a great work of art…a work for eternity.” Eventually it will all reside in central Minnesota. —Karl Zinsmeister
Healing Large in Fargo
The business triumphs of Denny Sanford allowed him to retire to Florida at 45—but he was soon itchy, and returned to the upper Midwest where he had spent his entire previous life. After further commercial successes, he started giving away money. He turned his attention to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, beginning with a $16 million gift for a children’s hospital designed like a fairy castle. After his $400 million pledge in 2007 the organization was renamed Sanford Health. Today, his gifts total $700 million, and the non-profit health system centered on North and South Dakota includes nearly three dozen hospitals and more than 140 clinics.
In Fargo, Sanford Health is in the midst of one of the largest construction projects in the history of the Dakotas. The result will be a top-shelf medical facility filled with the best technology and some of the brightest medical experts in the country. It will bring a new level of care to the region, including a major trauma center, enhanced pediatric services, a heart center, an expanded cancer center, and new services in areas such as eating disorders and rehabilitation.
A signatory of the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, Sanford says he aims to “die broke.” At a cost of $500 million, Fargo’s remarkable new medical complex will bring that day a little closer. —Caitrin Nicol
A Bachelor Enriches His Place
Harvey Ordung, a bachelor farmer who spent his entire lifetime (1923-2007) in the little town of Luverne, Minnesota, was about as unprepossessing as they come. He wore bedroom slippers over his club foot and went everywhere in floppy bib overalls. Harvey “didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, and I don’t think he ever went on a date,” said his friend Gregg Gropel.
Harvey’s modest obituary noted his membership in the First Presbyterian Church of Luverne and the town’s Ben Franklin Masonic Lodge. “He enjoyed billiards, playing cards, farming, and spending time with his lodge brothers,” noted the eulogist. But there was more to Harvey Ordung than met the eye. He was thrifty; he worked hard; he was a shrewd investor; and perhaps most of all, he was deeply in love with his community. Upon his death, his neighbors learned something new about Harvey: he was rich. His estate was worth $9.3 million.
Ordung bequeathed most of it to local institutions, including the county historical society, the hospital, and the community theater group. His largest single gift—$2,927,447.93—went to “Dollars for Scholars,” which provides financial aid to any Luverne High School graduate who wishes to pursue post-secondary education at a two- or four-year college. He also gave a substantial sum to the Luverne Presbyterian Church because, as he had joked, “someone’s gotta bury me.”
Dollars for Scholars was especially close to Harvey’s heart. He and several friends had founded the Luverne chapter in 1983. Harvey “was a bachelor and wanted to help out these young children,” says co-founder Gregg Gropel.
Harvey Ordung understood the truth of the adage that “charity begins at home.” Luverne was the love of his life—and in death, his fidelity continues to enrich his place. —Bill Kauffman
Boosters of the Bang
In Clear Lake, Iowa, population 7,700, more than 60,000 visitors gather every July for a carnival and spectacular Independence Day fireworks display. Launched from multiple barges on the lake, the celebration is famed for being one of the best shows in the midwest.
Back in 1997, Des Moines businessman John Pappajohn and his wife Mary began contributing $10,000 or more a year (anonymously at first) to match other gifts from the community in support of the lake fireworks. The carnival has grown and grown since then. Other local contributors have paid for an extra barge, and even established an endowment fund to keep the commemoration going. Without this donor support, says local Chamber of Commerce director Tim Coffey, the fireworks could not exist.
These gifts pay off many times in the revenue brought in by tourism, which at $7-$10 million per year is a pillar of the Clear Lakes economy. But the fun of celebrating freedom in style: that’s priceless. —Caitrin Nicol
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