Linda Haffner Spencer


Written Memory


July 31, 2010


I was ten years old that summer, and school had been out for just over a week, I had finished 4th grade, and I went to visit a cousin in Chadron, Nebraska. The morning of Saturday June 10th, my mom was able to get just one phone call out of Rapid City to explain the horrors of the night before, to let me know my family was safe, and that she and my stepdad would be down to get me later that day. There was so much confusion and so many strange stories, that in retrospect it was a very good thing I had confirmation. For example, I had an uncle in California who was unable to get through via phone to Rapid City. He called Chadron, Nebraska and spoke to the telephone operator there, as he tried to get through to family there. In those days one really did talk to telephone operators. It so happened that the operator lived next store to where I was staying and she knew the whole story, and told him “yes your niece is here and all your family is safe.” He was astounded at how “small” the Midwest was. My sister and her husband happened to be in West Allis, WI that week and they heard that Pactola dam had broken. She was sure everyone had perished, and it was over 24 hours before she was able to get through by phone to find out we were all okay.

I will never, ever forget the sights, sounds and smells of that summer. My stepdad worked at the Westside Safeway. The morning after the flood, he got up and drove to work only to be stopped by the police somewhere along West Boulevard. They informed him that the Safeway was under water and that there had been a devastating flood the night before. That same morning, my mom put on her coffee as usual turned on KOTA radio and the first thing she heard was “If you see a dead body do not touch it.” She continued to listen in disbelief, as she looked out the window at our Robbinsdale neighborhood, which was untouched. She would always say that to her it was reminiscent of the radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” when she was a child. It was only when my stepdad came home to confirm that the city was in a disaster, did the magnitude of what was happening hit her. The next weeks were spent in clean-up. My stepdad would help to swab the mud and debris out of Safeway. He would come home and throw out his clothes, as the stench was unimaginable. We all got typhoid shots. We had to get water from the water truck. My friends and I felt helpless, and we offered our 10-year old selves out as babysitters. I remember that as the list of the dead and missing came out, I was so saddened to hear that a classmate of mine, Mary, had perished. For years after this flood, people in Rapid City were very skittish about severe thunderstorms and rain. I watched the leaders of the town, and felt so proud to have Mayor Barnett as our Mayor. The rebuilding, the kinship, the drawing together will always be with me, to the point that no matter where I live, Rapid City will always be my home.

Linda Haffner Spencer



“Linda Haffner Spencer,” Flood of 1972, accessed July 2, 2022,