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Non-profit organization honors 1972 flood heroes

Journal Staff Tanya Manus

Catholic Social Services has been one of Rapid City’s positive and lasting legacies since the 1972 flood. Created out of necessity in the midst of a disaster, CSS celebrates its 50th anniversary this month and some of the heroes whose help was vital during and after the flood.

Tickets are on sale now for CSS’s Annual Gathering and 50th Anniversary Celebration, taking place from 5-7 p.m. on October 21 at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Rapid City. Tickets are $25 and include a meal. To purchase tickets, go to cssrapidcity.com/events/fundraisers/annual-gathering/ or call Kristin Conzet at 605-716-6336.

“We want to celebrate great lives who have done great things for our community,” said James Kinyon, Executive Director and Board Director of CSS. “This is a celebration of 50 years of the reconstruction of our city. A lot of people…taught us how to live and the importance of community, and that’s what we seek to celebrate.

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During its anniversary celebration, CSS will honor some of the people and organizations who played vital roles in the days, weeks and years following the 1972 flood. Former Rapid City Mayor, Don Barnett will be a special guest at the celebration, Kinyon said. Barnett had been elected mayor of Rapid City just two months before the 1972 flood.

Founders Award: Ozzie Osheim

CSS will introduce its Bishop O’Connell Founders awardee to retired funeral director Ozzie Osheim of Rapid City.

Funeral directors were heroes who guided grieving families through the process of burying flood victims; 238 people died in the flood.

Osheim had been an undertaker for about 20 years at the time of the flood. Rapid City was a community of 40,000 with three funeral homes in 1972. When the flood hit, amid the chaos, funeral home owners came together on the first day of the disaster to try to plan for the unknown.

“These guys never got credit for what they (did),” Osheim said. “They didn’t know how many deaths there would be.”

“All three funeral homes tried to make things as easy as possible when people came to identify loved ones. All three had clergy and nurses in the building,” Osheim said.

For the first two days of the flood, the Behrens Funeral Home was dry, with electricity and running water. The Campbell Paula Funeral Home lacked electricity or running water, and the Catron Funeral Home had about 5 inches of water in its basement.

“The water was just lapping against the side of the building,” Osheim recalls. “They got busy and brought in National Guard trucks and local businesses donated equipment. They brought generators to give us electricity and brought in a tank truck. It gave us a trickle of water in the building for us to operate.

The bodies were taken to Behrens and Campbell Paula during the first two days. Catron’s basement had to be pumped out and dried out, Osheim said.

“After the first two days, the other funeral homes were flooded. When the third day started, all the bodies found were brought to the Catron Funeral Home,” he said.

“There were a lot of long, long tough days. It was very difficult. It was not as difficult for us as it was for the public. It was very difficult, very stressful. Some people had to come to the funeral home and if they couldn’t find their loved one, they had to go to all three funeral homes, and some had to come to all three for five days before they found their loved one,” Osheim said. . “Many had also lost loved ones and homes. They were really floundering.

“Many times you wanted to break down and cry with the families, but that didn’t help, so you tried your best to keep your cool,” he said. “It was extremely difficult if the family were personal friends.”

Between the three funeral homes, there were 11 funeral directors throughout the city, including Osheim.

“We couldn’t handle so many bodies on our own. We only started the identification process (after) the first three or four days,” Osheim said. “We started recruiting volunteers from all over the Black Hills. Over a three-week period, undertakers came from an area of ​​five states. That’s what made it work. »

Osheim and the other funeral directors set up a system. Once a flood victim had been identified, time was scheduled for a funeral director to meet with the family and schedule the service. Funeral directors and the local ministerial association determined that due to the volume of deaths, it would be nearly impossible to hold a full funeral for every person, Osheim said.

“It was agreed that we would only offer burial services, and the majority of the public agreed. They understood the situation,” he said. “The cemeteries in the area had to have time to open the graves and do all their work, so it was a real challenge. Once we started having funeral services it was agreed that a funeral home would schedule the hour, quarter hour and half hour so that we had some semblance of order in the cemeteries.

Osheim said the support he and other funeral directors received is one of his most vivid memories from that time.

“One thing that stands out is the amount of cooperation the funeral profession has received from the whole community, from the clergy, from the general public. A number of people came to the funeral home to volunteer,” Osheim said. “Local churches brought in food daily, so we had our meals taken care of.”

Osheim, now 95, is a World War II veteran who has been a licensed funeral director for 70 years. Although he retired at 80, “I still stop by the funeral home every day and still attend the funeral. I still maintain my license,” he said.

“I have always liked people. Going to work has never been difficult. I worked day after day with the public. Although it was a tragic time, there was still satisfying work,” he said. “If in some way you could help someone through a difficult time in life, that was rewarding.”

“I’m very proud to receive this award,” Osheim said of his selection for the Monsignor O’Connell Founders Award. “I feel very lucky to have been part of the flood operation and blessed to have been part of the community all these years.”

Serving the community after the 1972 flood made him a more serious person.

“It certainly made me realize the value and the fragility of life,” Osheim said. “It’s hard to put into words.”

Monsignor William O’Connell, after whom the Founders Award is named, was a longtime friend of Osheim from his arrival in Rapid City in 1957 until his death in 2015. After the flood, O’Connell worked working closely with Osheim to plan many funerals for flood victims, Kinyon said.

The recipients of the Medal of the Order of Saint Benedictines

The CSS will present the Medals of the Order of Saints Benedictines to Delores Catron Miller of Rapid City, South Dakota Army National Guard and Ellsworth Air Force Base. The medal is named after the Sisters of Benedict who pioneered formal education for women in western South Dakota and have a long tradition of service to the poor.

CSS’s anniversary celebration is a time to recognize those who responded heroically and 50 years later should be remembered for their help in times of disaster, Kinyon said.

Delores Catron Miller was married to Dennis Catron, owner of the Catron Funeral Home during the 1972 flood. Catron Miller also served as chairman of the Catholic Social Services Board. Catron Miller and her children will accept the award.

Major General Jeffrey P. Marlette will accept the award on behalf of the South Dakota Army National Guard. In 1972, the South Dakota National Guard was conducting summer training in the Black Hills when flooding hit.

“The South Dakota National Guard played a huge role in disaster recovery and dealing with the disaster afterwards,” Kinyon said. “They reacted immediately during the flood. They showed up in force to help save people.

Ellsworth Air Force Base will also be honored. “We will use this (event) to recognize people who responded heroically,” Kinyon said. “Some of these people may not have gotten the recognition they deserve. Very often we rely on the military who do amazing things for us. What a great opportunity to recognize them.

CSS will also focus on its landmark 50-year anniversary. After the flood, O’Connell threw himself into full-time relief work and partnered with numerous churches and nonprofits. He organized a disaster response that was modeled in all 50 states and at least 160 countries around the world, Kinyon said.

Catholic social services began to expand following the flood. O’Connell was asked to develop an organization to serve those in need, regardless of religious affiliation. O’Connell invited two nuns from the Daughters of Charity to help identify the many social service needs of people in western South Dakota, and Catholic Social Services was first licensed as a small agency adoption and counselling.

During and after the flood, Kinyon said people of all religious affiliations stepped up to work together and help the community. CSS is a non-profit agency whose mission remains to help anyone of any religion, race, or orientation who is in need.

“We want to be a reflection of the community we serve,” Kinyon said.

CCS continues its adoption and advisory work and has added many more. Her Uplifting Parents program helps single mothers complete college. Among its many other programs and services, the CSS provides outpatient mental health care and does community outreach work for suicide prevention. The agency offers parenting classes, disaster relief in western South Dakota, and marital and family telehealth services. CSS is also rewriting Lakota Circle of Hope, a program that integrates Lakota values ​​into schools.

“We have a great community and donors and supporters,” Kinyon said. “As Christian people, we must live the story of the Good Samaritan” who helped another person, despite religious and cultural differences, simply because the need was there.

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