On June 5, 1976, the Teton Dam in Idaho failed. What began as a small crack spread to a substantial break within hours. As the surrounding area began to flood, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quickly mobilized and prevented what could have been a dramatic loss of life. Nonetheless, the damage was significant. Homes and business were ruined. Access to water and utilities was curtailed, if not entirely inaccessible. The situation was awful.
In the coming days and weeks, thousands would flock to the area to help with cleanup and rebuilding. My father, Howard Manwaring, was a teenager at the time and among those who traveled to Rexburg, Idaho, from Pocatello, Idaho to assist in the efforts.
Purported response of President Packer
The aftermath of disasters can often leave people wondering why it happened. Such was certainly the case in this instance. In fact, I seem to remember my grandfather, Eugene Manwaring, telling me that when general authorities of the Church visited the area, the people asked why it had happened. I remember him telling me that President Boyd K. Packer told the people, “The dam broke because the dam broke.”
The quote fascinated me. It spoke of how not everything bad that happens in life is a punishment from God, but that sometimes things just happen – even bad things. It made me think of Ecclesiastes 9:11: “time and chance happeneth to them all.”
However, I was entirely unsuccessful as I searched for the quote from the story. I did find someone else who told the same story with the same general verbiage, namely, Truman G. Madsen, in a recorded philosophy lecture, The Problem of Pain.
Brother Packer is reported to have said something like this: “You have been asking the question, ‘Why us?’ Well, I’ve come to tell you.” And by the way, they had said the things most of us would: “Well, I’ve tried to live a good life and I certainly have faith in the purposes of the Lord, and etcetera.”
“I’ve come to tell you the answer,” said Brother Packer. “It happened to you because the dam broke.”
This seemed to match the statement I remembered. But nowhere did I find a newspaper article with the quotation nor any kind of Church record.
Search for the quote
As I intended to use the quote in a book, I contacted the author of an in-depth book on President Packer by Clyde Williams. On February 10, 2010, he responded:
“I can find nothing in all of the data bases that I have access to and that includes his biography by Lucile Tate. It does not mean he did not say it, I just do not have it in print or manuscript form. Sorry I was not of more help.”
Although I was unsuccessful, I decided to take one final step. I contacted President Packer’s secretary, Luella Thompson. She chuckled when I told her what President Packer had reportedly said and responded, “That sounds like him.”
Actual response of President Packer
She told me she would see what she could find and get back with me. On February 12, 2010, she emailed the following response after speaking with President Packer:
No record was kept of the comments made by either President Spencer W. Kimball or Elder Boyd K. Packer at the time that the Teton Dam broke. Today (February 12, 2010) President Packer made the following statement, which he has given permission for you to use:
“The Teton Dam was a natural disaster. It was not caused by man. It turned out to be a very significant test for those affected. How the people responded was memorable and illustrated how the members of the Church and organizations of the Church can rally in times of adversity.
With good wishes,