With all the flooding that has occurred in recent days, it may seem strange that my mind is stuck on a flood that took place over forty years ago, but it is. Until now, my interest in the South Dakota flood of 1972 started and ended with the fact that it killed my cousin and her cat. (We were stationed in Italy at the time, so all news got to us late. I remember standing around the kitchen table with my brother and sisters as my parents read us the news about Sheila. After a moment of silence, one of us asked the question we were all thinking: “Did the cat die too?” Yes. Sheila loved her cat.)
The other day I went online to learn more about the flood that claimed 238 lives in and around Rapid City, South Dakota. As I read articles and watched interviews, hoping to learn more about my cousin, the story of one family stood out so much that my focus shifted. I devoured anything and everything I could read or watch concerning that family. I went to bed that night thinking about them. I woke up with them still on my mind.
I was planning to write a different blog post today, but I can’t get my mind off that story.
So I’m taking a detour.
Perhaps God wants someone else to hear it.
In 1972, Ronald Masters was the pastor of a church in Rapid City. On June 9 he was on the mound pitching during a church baseball game when the rain started.
Fast forward a few hours. The Masters family lived next to Rapid Creek. The local news was reporting that their area was at high risk for flooding. Water had, in fact, entered their house by the time a concerned church member called and offered refuge in his own home. A short time later, Ron Masters, his wife LaVonne, and their five children, already in pajamas, left their home, piled into their International Scout, and started to cross the bridge over Rapid Creek. Unbeknownst to them, the Canyon Lake Dam had just failed. They were still on the bridge when a wall of water hit, forcing the Scout off the bridge and into the creek, which was now twelve feet above its normal level.
As the storm raged and water filled the vehicle, in the black of night Ron Masters heard the voice of his twelve-year-old son Stephen: “Dad, this is all in God’s hands.” Those were the last words he ever heard from his son.
When the Scout became lodged in some cottonwood trees, Ron was able to get a small opening in a window. He managed to squeeze out and then reach back in for his family. Unable to see anything, he felt around until he grabbed someone. It was his wife. As soon as she was out and clinging to a tree, he reached back in and found his fourteen-year-old daughter Karen, who was holding her two-year-old brother Timothy. As Karen came through the opening, the raging current ripped Timothy from her arms. (His was the last body found, days later, lodged in a tree.)
Suddenly, another wall of water hit, and the family vehicle was gone, along with the other three children.
Ron and LaVonne Masters and their daughter Karen survived the stormy night clinging to tree branches, struggling to hold on as tons of debris, some of it burning, floated past, often striking them. Sometimes a body would float by. Throughout the night they could hear the pitiful cries of a young girl, also trapped in a tree. Even with their own plight, their hearts ached for her.
Songs in the night…
In the midst of the horrors of that night, somehow God gave Ron and LaVonne Masters a song–several songs, in fact–songs in the night. Throughout the night they sang hymns, including “God Leads Us Along,” by George A. Young:
Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.
Finally, dawn began to break, and the water began to subside, revealing the family vehicle under their feet. It had remained all night caught in the tree, completely submerged.
Suddenly, from inside the vehicle, a voice…
It was JoAnn, their ten-year-old daughter.
She had spent the night alongside her brothers, submerged in the Scout.
For a while, all three children had been able to breathe and talk due to a small air pocket in the back of the Scout. Soon, however, the older brother had stopped talking, and then the younger, leaving JoAnn alone.
She spent the night like that… underwater… between two dead brothers. She didn’t know if anyone in her family had survived. She didn’t know if she would survive.
I can’t imagine.
On the morning of June 10, 1972, when JoAnn saw her daddy’s face and realized she wasn’t alone in the world, she said these words: “Daddy, God wants me to be a missionary.”
“Honey, He surely must,” her daddy replied. “He surely must.”
As I read this story and listened to an interview with Ron and LaVonne Masters, I was reminded once again that God can be trusted. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them for our good and His glory.
There is so much more to this story.
There is more to my story.
There is more to my family’s story.
I want to keep writing, but blog posts are supposed to be short.
So I’ll stop.
God’s still working.
We can trust Him.
More to follow…
Note: You can read the whole story in Ron and LaVonne Masters’ book Some through the Flood, available on Amazon.com. The interview can be seen on the Rapid City Public Library’s web site.