- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

PICKSTOWN, S.D. (AP) - For former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, this Charles Mix County town means more than his boyhood home.

Brokaw recently delivered the keynote speech during the dedication of the Pickstown and Fort Randall Dam Museum.

For the renowned journalist, the dam completed 60 years ago and the community that arose as a result of the dam represent America’s drive to achieve “the big idea.”

“This room is filled with people who knew the ravages of the Missouri River every year,” Brokaw told the audience. “I see this room and the museum. Fort Randall Dam and the life of the town is a statement unto itself.”

Fort Randall Dam forms part of the massive Missouri River system of dams and reservoirs created through the Flood Control Act of 1944 and the Pick-Sloan Plan. Contracts were awarded for initial construction in 1946, and the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by 6,000 people.

Brigadier General Lewis A. Pick touched off the dynamite explosion marking the first construction on the dam. Construction began on the town, named in Pick’s honor.

At its height, Pickstown became a boom town and one of South Dakota?s 10 largest communities with 3,000-4,000 residents, according to town historians Guy Rhoades and Arthur Trautman. The first family moved into Pickstown in 1947, and many more families soon followed.

The planned community gained a number of businesses and amenities to serve the booming population. However, the transitory nature of the dam construction was also seen in the swinging population and school enrollment not only from year to year but during the course of a single year.

The dam dedication ceremony was held in 1956, and the exodus of workers and their families led to the closure of the hospital, theater, recreation center and most retail facilities.

The school graduated its last class in 1968, and the school demolition and removal of surplus facilities began in 1977.

Pickstown was put up for sale in 1985. The town held a dedication ceremony in 1986, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers transferred the deed to the town and its residents. Pickstown currently has a population of about 210 residents.

Brokaw’s family moved to Pickstown in 1948, when his father began work on Fort Randall Dam. The family would later move to Yankton when the elder Brokaw worked on Gavins Point Dam.

For the Brokaw family, the dam construction meant a good job, good pay and the best home they had owned. The job also meant a car and the opportunity for the younger Brokaw to attend college.

“We had arrived at Nirvana,” Tom Brokaw said.

The workers saw their jobs not as hard work but as golden opportunities, with many World War II veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill to educate themselves for the jobs, he said.

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