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Flood damage on East Blvd. at Omaha St. in Rapid City, June 10, 1972 (photo courtesy of the Rapid City Journal)

Praise for Thorns & Roses

Brad Johnson, USA Today, guest columnist.

“I was just a young boy in eastern South Dakota in 1972, but the Rapid City flood is seared into my memory. Don Barnett’s Thorns and Roses offers a rare glimpse into the bold actions he took as mayor during that fateful evening and in the days that followed. His spell-binding description of heroic rescue efforts by countless people leaves the reader breathless and wanting more. Then, as if one of the nation’s worst floods wasn’t enough, the young Rapid City mayor found himself in the middle of another life-threatening conflict focused on the American Indian Movement’s demand for racial justice and respect. What was accomplished in Mayor Barnett’s four years is beyond amazing. Be prepared – once you start reading this book you won’t stop."

Donna Durant, Don Wessel’s daughter.

“Don Wessel was “Dad” to my two sisters, brother and me. He seldom talked about his experiences during WW II when he was wounded and received the Purple Heart. Nor did he talk much about the 1972 Rapid City Flood when the Wessel family lost our family home. By 8:00 p.m. on that terrible night, along with so many others, he was working to maintain the city reservoirs and keep the water treatment plant operational. Years later I learned from Mayor Don Barnett that my dad worked himself to a frazzle, going without meals or rest and almost destroying his personal health to get the plant and distribution systems back up and running by Thursday morning after the Friday night flood. He and his crews prevented a possible epidemic from the public use of unsafe water.”

Becky Swanson Jones, daughter of Leonard Swanson.

"Thorns and Roses is a must read, especially if you were born after June 9, 1972, the night of the disastrous Rapid City Flood that claimed 238 lives. My father, Public Works Director Leonard “Swanny” Swanson, worked closely with Mayor Don Barnett during the early hours of the disaster. While bodies were still being found, he told the city council not to rebuild in the floodplain. “We cannot sentence these survivors to one more night near the creek in the suicidal floodplain.” As head of Urban Renewal and with the guidance of the mayor and city council, my father oversaw the clearance of the floodplain and its transformation into an incredible city park. Today, my siblings and I, Swanny’s family, are proud to stroll the ten-mile bike path named the Leonard ‘Swanny’ Swanson Memorial Pathway."

Liz Hamburg, CEO, Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

“The Rapid City Flood was a tragic event, and this book’s first-hand account tells the story well. As Thorns and Roses details, disasters can and do become catalysts for new growth and community building. In the wake of the flood, people helped one another. People far and wide contributed money and other resources. These donations provided immediate assistance to victims and resources for years to come. This desire to help one another remains alive and well in our community and was apparent in 2013, when the October blizzard known as Storm Atlas, caused major devastation. It’s evident now with our COVID 19 pandemic relief and recovery. Thorns and Roses underscores the good in humanity and affirms our desire to help our fellow man by being generous with time, talent, and treasure. The Thorns share the stem with the Roses.”

Jerry Shoener, former member of the Rapid City Common Council. 

“On the night Don Barnett was elected mayor of Rapid City in 1971, I told some of the opposing party that I had known Don since he was a paper boy, and he was the right person for the job.  He may not have been the mayor many of them wanted, but he was the mayor they needed during the early 1970s. As Thorns and Roses recounts, he led our city through a terrible natural disaster and a time of deep social division. It was time for our city to address a new process to improve racial relations for our 45,000 citizens. Don respected different perspectives and cultivated trust. These actions were several generations overdue. With all that the city overcame, we can still hope for so much more that we can become. Don’s vision and optimism helps light the way.”

David Blair, Contracting Officer for the Pennington County Housing Authority.

Thorns and Roses offers the first full account of the 1972 flood and the public response. After the morning of June 10th, 1972, intergovernmental cooperation played a key role in the recovery. As the contracting officer for the public housing authority created after the flood, we worked to develop 500 units of affordable housing with federal funding including 256 senior citizen high-rise apartments and another 204 single family structures located throughout the city, including 48 flood-damaged single family homes that were moved and renovated for families. Construction of the new housing units was completed by 1975. Over the next 45 years, these units were home to more than 3,500 families, including many disaster victims.”

Bernita Loucks, former member of the city council, 1972-1980. 

“These years on the common council were very traumatic as we dealt with the loss of life and property from the flood to disruptions tied to race relations. There were many anxious moments throughout the process. We stuck together and we persevered. I am very proud of the recovery in spite of all the difficulties that we experienced on the city council.

David Super’s career started as a Black Hills area newspaper reporter/photographer,

followed by military service, then information technology and tour guide assignments.  

He retired in Rapid City after three decades in the Washington, D.C., region.

“Mayor Don Barnett takes you inside the campaign trail, on the dangerous streets and shoreline of Rapid Creek during the night of the flood, and as close to the action as you can get during the turmoil of AIM activities in his memoir Thorns and Roses. Readers will come away with a new appreciation for how hard everyone—elected officials, civil servants and volunteers—worked during the tumultuous early 1970s." 

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