Gail Penning


Written Memory


June 12, 2012


It was raining like crazy and I was on a double date with my now ex-husband Butch Mercy. We were newly married three days, after my high school graduation from Rapid City Central. Butch had a softball game and we were going to go to with friends, Ray Byram and Marlys Finley, but the game was obviously rained out.
On the way to the ball field the radio station kept repeating the road to Sheridan Lake was washed out. Surely not we thought, so we decided to check it out. On the way out to check I noticed the sky was a greenish yellow and to me it seemed like a scary movie was about to unfold. Little did I know it would actually become a NIGHTMARE! I don't remember how far we got but the police were there to make us turn around and yes the road was washed out.
We decided to go back to our apartment near the corner of 8th and Columbus Street, while we were visiting deciding what to do next, lightning struck nearby and a ball of fire came out of the wall where the telephone was to be, we did not have a phone yet!! At that time we decided to go to the truck stop, now the Flying J, and eat. After we finished dinner the electricity went out, in order to leave we pooled our money together for the exact change as the register would not work. We then determined we should just give up and call it a night. Marlys lived on East New York St just above the park, we dropped her off, then proceeded to the Omaha Street bridge by the old Bean Bag Market. As we drove up to the bridge the water rose up to the hood of the car in what seemed like an instant and water came up to the seat inside the car. We were pushed by the water and hit by other cars, objects and debris and were pushed up against a huge cottonwood tree that used to line the streets of North Blvd. When Ray opened his door to get out and was nearly washed away he said, 'there is no way Gail can walk in this', so Butch decided he would carry me, and Ray would support him from the current as we made our way through the water. We walked to Marlys' house and were welcomed in by her parents, listening to the horror of people screaming for help, we watched helplessly as the lightning would illuminate the creek with debris and flaming propane tanks go by, wondering if those people screaming were in that mess. Butch and Ray then decided they had to help somehow and walked out to Rapid Valley where Butch's family lived and borrowed his fathers truck that was an old Air force transport pickup with a crew cab. They returned at one point in the early am hours, wanted the checkbook to purchase gas and said they had seen some terrible things, but were going out again and did not know when they would be back.
In the morning Marlys and I decided to go and see what was happening and got only down to where the car dealership was and saw such destruction, but the smell of mud and debris were so overwhelming that we went back to her house. Finally the guys came back and told a few stories of rescues, an elderly woman stuck to a fence that they got to the hospital, wondering if she made it, how the police tried to keep them from going into some places but said we are helping no matter what. To this day, as my son Anthony can attest to, his father will not talk alot about what he saw or did. An unsung hero to many I am sure.
The days after the flood I do not remember much, seems like a fog. I do remember the lines for food stamps, typhoid shots and the worst...the list of missing or dead and the morgues with bodies left for families to come and identify. The weather all that summer was not typical and just weird.
My husbands work went down the creek, Petroleum Equipment, owned by Lyle Poage (not sure of the spelling), our car...trusty old Plymouth Duster and our sense of security. You never know in one second your life can change forever! We had help from Faith Lutheran Church in the months after. I believe they gave us at least $200.00 and that was a huge amount to us.
So I lived through that life changing experience and will never ever forget that HORRIFYING night and the way my outlook on life is now.
Live each day to the fullest and Live Laugh and Love.



“Gail Penning,” Flood of 1972, accessed August 11, 2022,