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NTC/BSU: Students build 3D scale model to be placed in Crazy Horse visitors' center

From left, Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College students Kyle Liesenfeld of Comfrey, Minn., Johnathan Grace of Orlando, Fla., Anthony Milano of Wheaton, Ill., Patrick Olson of Side Lake, Minn., Vincent Houser of Staples, Minn., and graduate assistant Eric Meuelebroeck of Bemidji work on a three-dimensional scale model of the Crazy Horse Memorial located near Custer, S.D. The model, an NTC student-run project, will replace the existing model in the welcome center on the Crazy Horse Mem...

Students from Northwest Technical College and Bemidji State University are about to unveil something really big.

In fact, it's the first time a project of this size has ever been completed by students in NTC's industrial model-making program.

Six students are building a three-dimensional scale model of the Crazy Horse Memorial grounds located near Custer, S.D. When it's completed this spring, the model will be placed in the 40,000-square-foot welcome center in the main entrance to the visitor complex at Crazy Horse.

The students were eager to share their story in completing a project that has taken them to South Dakota and back.

Pure luck

The start-up of a project of this magnitude was possible thanks, in part, to a little luck.

Lyle Meulebroeck, model-making instructor at NTC, and his son, Eric, a graduate student at BSU, took a family trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota last summer.

Along the way the family stopped to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota being carved to show Crazy Horse, a Lakota Indian warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski, who is now deceased. Today all that has been carved is Crazy Horse's face and his pointing finger, but plans for finishing the carving, and building a medical center and university on the grounds of the memorial, are in the works.

While touring the welcome center, the Meulebroecks came across a scale model of the Crazy Horse grounds.

"We both thought, 'Hmm, it's not very nice-looking,'" Lyle Meulebroeck said of the model built over 40 years ago.

"It was pretty tiny and made of paper," added Eric Meulebroeck.

After leaving the grounds, the Meulebroecks agreed the visitors' center model should be replaced, and they knew just the people to do the job.

Back in Bemidji, Lyle Meulebroeck stopped into the office of Bruce Hemstad, dean of academics at NTC. He told Hemstad of his trip and asked him if he could arrange for NTC's model-making students to build a scale model for the Crazy Horse welcome center.

As it turns out, Hemstad's longtime South Dakota hunting buddy was no other than Rollie Noem, the chief operating officer for the Crazy Horse project.

"So I called (Noem) and I talked to him about my class project idea," Meulebroeck said. "I mentioned (Hemstad's) name and he just started laughing."

Hemstad and Meulebroeck flew to South Dakota in January. They pitched their idea of building and donating a model to Ruth Ziolkowski, president and CEO of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and Korczak's widow. She said, "Yes."

Chisels and sanders

In the design technology wing of BSU's Bridgeman Hall, the Crazy Horse model is preened and prodded by students almost every day.

It is here where students learn to work as a team, solve math problems, read maps and use tools like chisels and sanders. Some students will receive a credit or two once the job is finished, but ultimately the teambuilding and leadership skills they've learned along the way are priceless.

"This is a student project," Hemstad said. "Normally, in this program students do individual projects. They collectively decided to take this on and dedicate the model to the Memorial. It's a real credit to them."

The 10-foot-by-16-foot model is no coffee table-topper. It's big enough to fill the lane underneath a basketball hoop.

Everything that holds the model in place has been custom built by the BSU-NTC design team. Sitting on top of roller carts, wooden blocks in four-foot sections are connected to form one big square. On top of the wood is a thick layer of pink insulation foam, which lies beneath layers of polyurethane. Black contour lines drawn with a marker depict altitude changes and rectangles cut from construction paper mark the buildings, set in place by push pins.

"When we started out, everything was in blocks," said Eric Meulebroeck. "We cut out the rough contours from straight edges."

"This is the first topography model most of us have ever done," said student Johnathan Grace. "And it's a lot larger than normal."

Eventually the students will punch small holes into the base of the model and will place thousands of tiny ponderosa pine tree replicas that will fill the hills and valleys around the Crazy Horse Memorial. The students will use actual ponderosa pine wood, the native wood of the Black Hills, as the material to make the buildings on the model.

The dimension of their model was designed based on the size of one item - a bronze sculpture of Crazy Horse valued at $30,000, which was loaned to NTC by the wife of the founder of Crazy Horse project. The sculpture was used as a starting point for the students' construction of the model.

"If we would've been given a seven-foot-tall sculpture, this model would've really been huge," Lyle Meulebroeck said, chuckling.

Before starting the model, Meulebroeck and his students took a three-day trip in April to measure, photograph and assess the Crazy Horse grounds. They also met with Crazy Horse project leaders and were given private tours, including a walking tour to the top of the mountain sculpture.

"Everyone would want to do a model if they got the tour we got," Lyle Meulebroeck said. "They let us in where nobody else would get to go. It was pretty impressive."

Seeing is believing

By the time the Crazy Horse model is finished the students will have put in at least 800 hours of work, according to Lyle Meulebroeck.

Several of the students and their instructor talked about the challenges associated with explaining the size and complexity of the project to others.

"Whenever everybody hears about what we're doing, they only think about Crazy Horse the Monument," Lyle Meulebroeck said. "But it really isn't about that. It's really about what you're seeing in our model. It's the vision of the university and the medical center."

"It's hard to explain what we're doing to friends and family," said student Patrick Olson. "I tell them, 'You have to come in and look at it and then you'll get it.' Then after they see it they say, 'Yeah, this is a serious thing.'"

Lyle Meulebroeck said he anticipates the model being delivered to South Dakota in the spring by means of a large truck, although the details have yet to be worked out. He also said the students may have to learn how to install a glass covering over the top of the model once it is situated.

"Once it's complete, this will be a very complex complex," Hemstad said as he looked over the final plans of the model.

More photos

To see pictures of the NTC-BSU students' class trip to the Crazy Horse Memorial, visit the class blog online at