Never Give Up

A Prairie Family's Story



Large Print

Audiobook Download

June 13, 2023 | ISBN 9780593742747

Apple BooksGoogle Play StoreKobo

About the Book

In this moving story, the New York Times bestselling author of The Greatest Generation chronicles the values and lessons he absorbed from his parents and other people who worked hard to build lives on the prairie during the first half of the twentieth century.

“In our fractured times, this inspiring book reminds us how we can rise to meet our current challenges by honoring the fortitude of the generations before us.”—Walter Isaacson

Tom’s father, Red, left school in the second grade to work in the family hotel—the Brokaw House, established in Bristol, South Dakota, by R. P. Brokaw in 1883. Eventually, through work on construction jobs, Red developed an exceptional talent for machines. Tom’s mother, Jean, was the daughter of a farmer who lost everything during the Great Depression. They met after a high school play, when Jean played the lead and Red fell in love with her from the audience. Although they didn’t have much money early in their marriage, especially once they had three boys at home, Red’s philosophy of “Never give up” served them well. His big break came after World War II, when he went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers building great dams across the Missouri River, magnificent structures like the Fort Randall and the Gavins Point dams. Late in life, Red surprised his family by recording his memories of the hard times of his early life, reflections that inspired this book.

Tom Brokaw is known as one of the most successful people in broadcast journalism. Throughout his legendary career, Brokaw has always asked what we can learn from world events and from our history. Within Never Give Up is one answer, a portrait of the resilience and respect for others at the heart of one American family’s story.
Read more

Praise for Never Give Up

“Sometimes, when the evening is winding down, when the dishes are done and the little ones asleep, memory guides the conversation, gently pushing away the cares of the moment. As a portal to past times, that memory retrieves the missing among us and brings them and their values and examples to the fore. Brokaw’s spare, elegant masterpiece is just this kind of time machine, resurrecting one family’s prairie experience and, like all good alchemy, transforming it into pure gold usable for anyone who knows they always have and always will stand on the shoulders of giants.”—Ken Burns

“The prairie values of his parents that Tom Brokaw celebrates in this heartwarming memoir are the girders of the American Dream. In our fractured times, this inspiring book reminds us how we can rise to meet our current challenges by honoring the fortitude of the generations before us.”—Walter Isaacson, author of The Code Breaker and Leonardo da Vinci
“Tom Brokaw tells the story of his parents’ beginnings and the foundation they built for his own big American life. In his easy, conversational tone, he weaves a narrative full of rugged individualists who worked hard without complaint, made countless sacrifices for their families, and united in common cause for the country they loved. Brokaw honors their lifelong commitment to the greater good and rightfully nudges us to embrace this tradition as our own.”—Connie Schultz

“The venerable news anchor narrows the Greatest Generation to the folks back home. . . . With his customary evenhanded tone . . . Brokaw pays homage to the sacrifices of his parents’ generation—and finds their successors wanting by comparison.”Kirkus Reviews

“In this affable memoir, former NBC Nightly News anchor Brokaw draws a line from his parents’ perseverance through world wars and the Great Depression through to his own values. . . . Brokaw recounts Red and Jean’s courtship and reflects on the work ethic he gleaned from them, masterfully bringing them to life through fond recollections. . . . Brokaw constructs this memorable family history with all the concision and color of a good journalistic profile. It’s hard not to be moved.”Publishers Weekly

“With an economy of words but a wealth of emotion, Brokaw evokes his parents’ hardscrabble childhoods, their solid and storied marriage, and their struggles to create a secure home for a growing family while confronting the challenges of the Great Depression and WWII. . . . Brokaw’s candid and heartfelt memoir offers a timely reflection infused with his trademark sincerity and unabashed appreciation for the bedrock inspirational values that always deserve attention.”Booklist
Read more

Never Give Up

Chapter 1

Bristol, South Dakota

In the late nineteenth century, in the Great Plains of Middle America, the American savanna, the land rush was on.

It was a vast swath of real estate that was low on water and rich in challenges—from brutal winter seasons to scorching summers. Until recently it had been the home of enormous herds of antelope and American bison, the magnificent beast prized for its rich pelts and thick cuts of red meat.

After the Civil War and during the great migration of immigrants from northern Europe and Scandinavia to America, that part of the United States was also prized for two irresistible qualities: Land was dirt cheap (or free), and there was lots of it. America’s flourishing railroad industry saw fresh opportunity for new business, so it pushed into that harsh but promising prairie.

My great-grandfather, R. P. Brokaw, left his Upstate New York home after the Civil War and headed west seeking security as a farmer or innkeeper.

The Brokaws were Huguenots, enterprising Protestants who had fled France and taken up residence in Holland before coming to America, where many flourished in New York and New Jersey real estate, the arts, and civic affairs. But R. P. Brokaw took another route, not nearly as rewarding. R.P. went north, into the New York wilderness, where he opened a small market in the Finger Lakes region.

He was a quartermaster and clerk for the North in the Civil War, emerging with a modest pension to finance his trip to the new territories in the American West.

He rode the rails and farmed along the way until he reached what was to become the state of South Dakota. Founders of the Milwaukee Road railroad saw opportunity in the eagerness of the new immigrants to take advantage of land bargains. R.P. stopped in a new village of wooden shanties and primitive homes because it had a promising feature: a rail line north and south and one east and west.

A Milwaukee Road railroad developer had given these new villages British city names and this one was called Bristol. R.P. decided it needed overnight accommodations. He started with a tented commissary and then began constructing the first substantial building in town and called it The Brokaw House. R.P., his son William, and his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, ran The Brokaw House as a hotel, boardinghouse, and center of civic activity.

By 1889, South Dakota, with statehood, began to attract more settlers, but it remained a frontier.

William would meet incoming Milwaukee Road trains as they arrived on that stretch of the prairie. He would greet the passengers with a pitch for Elizabeth’s home cooking at the hotel, saying, “If you don’t get enough to eat, it won’t cost you a dime.”

The Brokaw House was famous for its dining room, which featured lace tablecloths and an elaborate Sunday menu of oyster stew, roast turkey, duck, roast beef, lamb, tongue salad, mashed potatoes, suet pudding, apple, mince, custard and blueberry pies, ice cream, and assorted cakes, all prepared by Elizabeth in a kitchen with an enormous woodburning stove, while her ingredients were kept fresh by great blocks of ice packed in wood shavings in an icehouse.

Somewhere along the way, a Roman Catholic priest converted Elizabeth and she became a devout Catholic, rejecting the Huguenot connection. Nine of her children followed suit, and to this day my cousins, aunts, and uncles on that side of the family are devout Catholics.

In the fall of 1912, William and Elizabeth were expecting their tenth child. That was my father, and somehow the Catholic priest missed him in the conversion crusade.

That’s where this Brokaw prairie saga really begins.

About the Author

Tom Brokaw
Tom Brokaw is the author of seven bestsellers: The Greatest Generation, The Greatest Generation Speaks, An Album of Memories, Boom!, The Time of Our Lives, A Long Way from Home, and A Lucky Life Interrupted. A native of South Dakota, he graduated from the University of South Dakota, and began his journalism career in Omaha and Atlanta before joining NBC News in 1966. Brokaw was the White House correspondent for NBC News during Watergate, and from 1976 to 1981 he anchored Today on NBC. He was the sole anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw from 1983 to 2005. He continues to report for NBC News, producing long-form documentaries and providing expertise during breaking news events. Brokaw has won every major award in broadcast journalism, including two DuPonts, three Peabody Awards, and several Emmys, including one for lifetime achievement. In 2014, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in New York and Montana. More by Tom Brokaw
Decorative Carat