The 1972 Flood of Rapid Creek

       The "1972 Flood" devastated Rapid City and surrounding communities.
     More than ten inches of rain fell in just over six hours on June 9, 1972.  Rapid Creek and several other Black Hills streams overflowed their banks.  The failure of the dam at Canyon Lake sent water rushing through Rapid City.  After flood waters receded, 238 people were dead and over 3,000 injured.
     The Rapid City Public Library has collected written and oral histories, photographs, news broadcasts and more about the flood in order to preserve and record the history of the night that impacted so many people
  Many classmates were affected by this major event, and have a story to tell.
     If you want to tell your story, please email me your story along with a picture if you have one.  (
     I will then add it to the "Flood Stories" tab.  The reason for this is because the stories can be long and this program doesn't work well with copy and paste. It has to be in RTF which I can change it to, then paste the story for you.

My 1972 flood experience...

      I was working the 3-11 PM  shift, doing electronic assembly work, at Control Data Inc which was located near what was to be the future Rushmore Mall on Disk Drive. Having only one vehicle, my now x-husband, had dropped me off and was to pick me up after work.
     The day was extremely hot, humid and still. During our dinner break, around 7 PM, my coworkers and I sat outside on the picnic tables that faced east, the air was thick with an eire yellowish hue and we all sensed a storm was soon to come. Not long after it began to rain hard. Around 9:30 or 10 PM the lights went out, the emergency lights came on and we waited, thinking it would only be for a short time before they would come back on and we could resume working. Almost an hour went by before our supervisor received permission to send us home. I caught a ride with a good friend, Cheryl Levine, who had recently moved to Rapid City from Bison SD and lived near Black Hawk while I, at that time, was living in a kitchenette at Mann’s Motel  on Sturgis Rd.
    The night was like black ink and raining so hard we could barely see more than a few feet in front of us. We got on interstate and took the West Blvd off ramp. When we came to Omaha we were directed to go south by a man in a yellow slicker waving a flashlight and not allowed to proceed west where we needed to go. Cheryl continued to St Joe and rationalized we could go around the block and turn down Main St. Little did we realize just behind us, the wall of water had come through, washing everyone behind us into the raging water and scattering debris.
   It was surreal coming around the corner on 9th and having the headlight beams reflect on the debris and high water blocking the street. We still thought somehow we could get around this blockage and go home.
    Turning around we proceeded back to St Joe and saw people going into the Brass Rail. Not having a plan B yet, we parked and went in to have a drink and think about what to do next. The place was lit by candles, but they were still open for business commenting there was no place to go anyway. I attempted calling my husband on their phone but it was out. Other people who were in there were also in our same predicament and told us they had tried and there was no way to drive up Main or Omaha.
     By this time the rain was letting up and we decided to drive up Skyline Dr to see if we could see anything. Stopping at the first overlook we got out…to the north we could see fires burning, could hear the explosions of propane tanks, the voices of people screaming and crying…it was then the full reality of it all hit us! This was bad! Really,really bad!!
     I had to calm my panic wondering where my husband was and siblings and parents,who lived a block north of the creek on 5th Avenue off Jackson Blvd.
My in laws, who lived in Robbinsdale and were out of town had left a key hidden in case we needed anything while they were gone. I suggested we go there and use the phone, we did and could not get a line. By then it was about 2 or 3 AM, so we curled up on the couch, trying to sleep and waited for morning.
I don’t recall the time the lights came back on, but we turned the radio on and started listening to  the news of all the loss of life and destruction, worrying if my family and our coworkers had all made it ok.
     I don’t recall when my husband and I reunited, but was sometime that day. He explained he had been attempting to get to my work to pick me up by going up 5th St, but when he saw there was only one railing on the bridge decided against it…lucky for him, because the bridge was gone.
     The water had receded so I could check on my siblings and parents, they had gone to West JR High, along with the other neighbors for the night after being prompted to leave and move to higher ground. My youngest brother told of him and the neighborhood boys walking over to the bridge on Western Avenue and watching the paddle boats from Canyon Lake float by, that’s when they figured they should probably get out of there!
     ther than mud and water in their basements my parents neighborhood was in good shape. My dad, however, lost his employer and employer’s wife who lived at the end of the street..
     Returning to work there were many harrowing stories to be heard of survival and finding bodies, we were all blessed that none of us lost our lives that night because we all came so very close!
Gwendolyn Menke (Rubin)

Lost and Found High School Rings Home After 40 Years...

Part I...
   There is a common theme to many of the stories from those who survived the 1972 Rapid City Flood.  “We had only minutes to get out.” “Our home was condemned.” “We lost everything.”   And such was the story for young Vesper and John Rau and their young son Dana. 
     Married in 1968, the young couple worked at McCrossan Boy’s Ranch and lived in a mobile home court along the Big Sioux River in Sioux Falls, SD.  In that location, they were required to have flood insurance.
     In April 1972, John accepted a job with Gifford Electric in Rapid City and he, Vesper, and their 18-month old son, Dana, relocated their mobile home to Bradsky Trailer Court near the Central  States Fairgrounds.  Today that site is home to the Rapid City Cambell Street Polo Fields.  Vesper became a daycare provider in their home.

     “We had only minutes to get out.” The evening of June 9, the Rau’s were beginning to watch the 10:00 PM news when warnings of flood began to scroll across the bottom of their television screen.  They hurriedly packed a few belongings and were leaving their home as police were going door-to-door telling residents to evacuate immediately.  The Rau family went to the home of Vesper’s parents, Pat and Nellie Matson, on the corner of 5th and Denver Streets.  A little after 10:30 PM, a wall of water hit that neighborhood taking out a nearby bridge.  According to Vesper, “By the grace of God we were not also victims of the flood, as the waters came within a half a block of the house.”
     “We lost everything.”   When John and Vesper first returned to their mobile home, they were grateful they had not canceled their flood insurance.  Their trailer was caught on a tree in the front yard, it was tipped on its side, and all but a 10” triangle at the top was under water.
     “Our home was condemned.” After the flood waters receded and residents were allowed to go back to their trailer homes, John and his dad retrieved what was salvageable from their home.  Everything was covered in mud so they took clothing, their television, and a few photos including a family picture which had been taken May 8, 1972 for the United Methodist Church directory and their senior pictures.  Marvin and Bernice Rau, John’s parents in Silver City, washed all the clothes, hosed the TV with water and let it dry.  Wonder of wonders, the TV still worked!
     The Rau family stayed with a friend until their insurance money came through.  Along with money from Church Response, the United Methodist Church, and an SBA loan, they purchased another mobile home and through generous help of friends and the community were able to resume their lives in Rapid City.  In 1973 their daughter Angela was born.
     For most flood victims, this would be the end of their tale.  Not so for Vesper and John.
     In 1972 an 18-year old young man from Rockford, Minnesota, Neil Ramlow, was working for a mobile home salvage/restoration company.  His team was assigned work in Rapid City following the flood.   When the ‘clear to proceed’ was given Neil and his fellow workers began their dirty, muddy job in an area along Rapid Creek in east Rapid City.  According to Neil, “This was not a good place to live from what I saw.  I was told there were some that did not make it out alive.”
     Working on a trailer slated for demolition, Neil found it full of mud.  The only things salvageable were some bath fixtures.  While shoveling mud he found a small box on the floor; he dumped the whole mess into a bucket and took it back to the company’s base quarters.  A few days later, Neil was able to give attention to the small box.  He hosed it off with water and found  a 1968 woman’s high school class ring with initials VM, a 1967man’s high school class ring with initials JR, and a man’s ID bracelet bearing the name JOHN on the outside and these words on the inside ‘Merry Christmas Love from your girl.’  Both rings were from Rapid City High School.  Neil showed the items to his work mates and let them know he would find the owners.  Some said ‘Good for you, that’s the right thing to do, Kid.” Others said, “Why bother? They’re probably dead from the flood.”  In Neil’s words, “I made about a half a dozen good attempts over the years to return the rings; most were with no or little response [from school or newspaper].” 

Part II...
    In the fall of 2012, while hunting pheasants in Doland, SD, Neil met a ‘nice lady from Iowa’.  One conversation led to another and she sent Neil 1972 Flood information featured in the South Dakota Magazine.  Neil contacted editor Laura Johnson Andrews who in turn gave Neil the address and contact information at the Rapid City Public Library.  Neil contacted Librarian 1, Stephanie Bents, and again asked for assistance in the return of the rings. “I hope you don’t mind all this but it’s been a long time and I’m not ready to give up.  The rings have been in safe keeping but they need to go home.”

     Within an hour of getting the assignment, Library Associate, Leanna Bussell had located the owner of one of the class rings by searching through a 1968 Rapid City Pinecone yearbook.  There was only one female in the class of ’68 with the initials VM.  Imagine Leanna’s surprise when the owner turned out to be a personal friend!   Vesper (Matson) Wright of Rapid City was contacted with the information.  She was very surprised and touched that someone had kept her ring safe and was trying to locate her after all these years.  She and John Rau, while no longer married, had remained friends over the years and Vesper was able to provide his contact information.
     Neil mailed Vesper’s ring to the library, as the staff wanted to personally deliver it to her; she retrieved it on 12-12-2012.  It has remained on her finger ever since.  On Christmas Day, John was contacted and he received his ring and bracelet January 8, 2013.  He is thrilled to have it back after all this time.  According to John, “We sure appreciate all of your efforts in completing this 40 year adventure.” 
(February 2, 2013...     Black Hills Knowledge
Vespar Wright (Matson)


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