Tom Brokaw and Me Hanging Out Together at the University of South Dakota
Tom Brokaw and I have a lot in common. We both lived in Yankton, South Dakota and attended Yankton Senior High School. We both graduated from the University of South Dakota. We both ended up in broadcast media. I was born in Montana and he fell in love with Montana later in his life and now owns a 5,000 acre ranch there.
We got together once, back in the ’70s—purely by accident. I don’t remember if it was Dakota Days, (homecoming), a cast party after one of our plays, St. Patrick’s Day, or another celebration for no reason at all. I will explain the cause of this foggy remembrance a bit later. And although I don’t remember the occasion, I’ll never forget the encounter.
Yankton is very proud of Tom Brokaw and justifiably so. His achievements in the worlds of journalism and literature are nothing short of amazing. His best-selling book, “The Greatest Generation” opened up a national conversation about World War II and the extraordinary veterans of that conflict. And that was after a long storied career in television news.
He is equally revered at USD in Vermillion where he graduated with a BA in political science in 1964, (only months after the Beatles stormed the U.S.). This, after he dropped out of the University of Iowa where he jokingly admitted he “majored in beer and co-eds”.
My achievements in high school and college were more modest, but I did graduate cum laude from USD with a very practical BFA in Theater/Acting. So naturally I ended up with a summer job in radio which has turned into long-time employment. (For which I thank God, because I was a terrible waitress, even when I tried!)
Our two worlds collided late one night in the lobby of the Super 8 in Vermillion. As I’ve mentioned I can’t recall what the celebration occasion was, but I do remember the circumstances with perfect clarity. It was cold, but again whether it was fall, winter or early spring–I just don’t know.
A large number of us had gathered at the motel for a celebratory affair of some sort. The beverage of choice that night was a hideously bright green alcoholic concoction of mystery ingredients mixed up in a giant garbage can lined with a black garbage bag. (Perhaps it was St. Patty’s Day!) It was re-filled with magical regularity and we all partook.
At one point several of us were standing in the lobby chatting when a guy pushed open the front door with some urgency and hurried to the front desk. I of course being a twenty-something young woman with amazing taste in men, (huh?), noticed he was a pretty good looking older guy! Thick brown hair, brown eyes and he was wearing a gorgeous, brown leather bomber jacket. Nonetheless, the minute I saw the bright lemon-colored slacks, (no I’m not kidding) and brown loafers, the love affair was over before it began.
He asked the motel clerk if he could use the phone. The clerk picked up the rotary dial phone and placed it up on the counter. He dialed a number which didn’t work. He then asked if you needed a number to get an outside line. The clerk indicated you did. The guy snapped back, “You could have mentioned that!” and tried again. Again, it didn’t go through. He quietly uttered an expletive under his breath and dialed once more. No connection.
This time the guy slammed the phone down, pushed it at the clerk, turned to me and said, “God d—–! I could probably drive there faster!” I asked where he was going and he responded, “Yankton!” I shrugged and nodded. He stormed out of the lobby and it was then and only then that I said. “Hey that was Tom Brokaw!”
Best wishes, thoughts and prayers on the rest of your journey, Mr. Brokaw.