2007 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference."
Tom Brokaw was born and raised in the small towns and rural culture of the Great Plains. Brokaw's father was the youngest of 10 children who left school in the third grade to begin working in construction, a trade he stayed in for the rest of his life. In 1944, when Tom Brokaw was four, his father joined the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and earned $6.88 a day. Their house, which measured 20' by 20', was heated by a coal stove.
The oldest of three boys, Brokaw spent much of his formative years in Pickstown, South Dakota, a new community of prefabricated houses built for Army Corps families working on a construction project that built four dams across the Missouri River. Brokaw roamed the hills there with his friends and also went on regular fishing excursions along the Missouri River. He became a Cub Scout and later made his way through the Boy Scouts. As a senior patrol leader, he discovered that he liked serving in a leadership role.
To earn money, Brokaw mowed lawns using a power mower his father built from spare parts in his garage. During his last summer in Pickstown, Brokaw was a lifeguard at a local camp. He spent two months living in a tent next to the swimming docks and canoe racks. When he was 17, Brokaw moved with his family to Yankton, a much larger town. He began working a few nights at the local radio station, spinning records and broadcasting news from the public high school. He worked in a men's clothing store on Saturdays.
Brokaw served as president of his junior class, had the lead in the class play, and played football and baseball. That year, he was a delegate to Boys State. While there, he became the nominee in his party for Boys State governor and won the election. Later, South Dakota Governor Joe Foss called on Brokaw whenever he needed teen representation and the two developed a lasting friendship. That summer, Brokaw lived with his aunt and uncle in Iowa, where he earned $1 an hour loading crushed rock onto dump trucks in a rock quarry.
During his senior year in high school, Brokaw began working for KYNT 1450, the local Yankton radio station. That same year, he served as president of the student council. He often went to the state capital to preside over events for teenagers, and he also received awards for high school forensics. He applied to and was accepted at the University of Iowa, making him the first member of his family to attend college. The following year he transferred to the University of South Dakota, where he worked as a substitute newscaster at KTIV, the NBC affiliate in Sioux City.
After his college graduation, Brokaw moved to Omaha with his wife, Meredith Auld. He worked in the newsroom of KMTV, an NBC affiliate. His big break came in 1965 when he became editor and anchorman of the late-evening news on WSB-TV in Atlanta. The following year, he joined NBC News. During his 40-year career, Brokaw covered Robert Kennedy's assassination and Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial campaign. Starting in 1973 he was NBC's White House correspondent before serving as anchor of Today on NBC from 1976 to 1981. After briefly co-anchoring NBC Nightly News with Roger Mudd, he became the sole anchor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, a position he held for more than 20 years (1983-2004).
Tom Brokaw's career highlights include obtaining the first one-on-one interview by an American journalist with Mikhail Gorbachev, for which he was awarded the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. Brokaw was the only major American anchor in Berlin on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. He was also the first to report on human rights abuses in Tibet and to interview the Dalai Lama. In 1995, he was the first network evening news anchor to report from the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, and in 1996, from the scene of the TWA flight 800 tragedy. In 2000, Brokaw traveled to Moscow for the first American television interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He will continue with NBC News through 2014, reporting and producing long-form documentaries and providing expertise during breaking news events.
After authoring the best seller The Greatest Generation (1998), followed by two other books, The Greatest Generation Speaks (1999) and An Album of Memories (2001)-all about World War II-he was invited to serve as the master of ceremonies for the opening of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2007, Tom Brokaw delivered one of the eulogies during the state funeral of former President Gerald R. Ford, a member of the Horatio Alger Association from the class of 1983. Brokaw's most recent book is Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections of the '60s and Today.