Famous Faces, Great Places: 5 People You Didn't Know Are from South Dakota

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Mount Rushmore State is full of beauty and surprises. Although South Dakota is known for its historical figures such as Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickock, and Calamity Jane, the great plains have also birthed some notable figures whom we’ve watched on screen today. From renowned TV host Bob Barker to wrestling powerhouse Brock Lesnar, fame is no stranger to this midwestern state. Beyond the iconic monuments and landscapes that grace the Great Plains, South Dakota boasts an array of well-known figures that just might surprise you. Join the National Presidential Wax Museum as we uncover five prominent figures and icons that originated from our great state.

Tom Brokaw

Retired network television journalist and author, Thomas John Brokaw is noted as one of the “Big Three” U.S. news anchors during the 1980s/90s and early 2000s. Brokaw’s legacy earned him numerous awards including two Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, the French Legion of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. However, with his impressive resume came humble beginnings. Brokaw was born in the small town of Webster, South Dakota with a population of 1,714. From the get-go, he was quite active in his community serving as governor of South Dakota American Legion Boys State as a Yankton Senior High School student, accompanying then-South Dakota governor Joe Foss to New York City for a joint appearance on a TV game show, and mountain climbing with a group called the “Do Boys”. Brokaw graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. Post graduation, his career ignited. Brokaw quickly gained notoriety on broadcast television.

  • In 1966, he joined NBC News, anchoring the 11:00pm news for KNBC.
  • In 1973, NBC made Brokaw White House correspondent, covering the Watergate scandal, and anchoring the Saturday editions of Nightly News.
  • In 1983, the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw commenced.
  • In 1989, Brokaw made headlines being the first English-language broadcast journalist to report the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • In 1993, Brokaw conducted the first one-on-one American television interview series with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • In 2004, Brokaw announced his retirement from NBC Nightly News.
  • In 2008, Brokaw moderated the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain.

Today, Tom Brokaw remains one of the most influential broadcasters in America. He is the only news anchor to have hosted all three major NBC News programs (The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and Meet the Press).

Brock Lesnar

Hailing from the same hometown as Tom Brokaw, Brock Lesnar was born and raised on a dairy farm in Webster, South Dakota before his claim to fame as a WWE wrestler. Lesnar played football and competed in wrestling as a high school student at Webster High School, placing third in the state championship his senior year. In 1999, Lesnar transferred from Bismark State College to the University of Minnesota on a wrestling scholarship, where he was roommates with future WWE colleague and assistant coach, Shelton Benjamin. Brock’s big debut kicked off in 2002 after he won the 2002 King of the Ring tournament, defeating Bubba Ray Dudley, earning him a shot at the WWE Undisputed Championship. He battled against WWE powerhouses, including Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Undertaker, and even defeated The Rock at SummerSlam in August 2002, becoming the new WWE Undisputed Champion and the youngest WWE Champion at age 25. Lesnar’s wrestling career continued to skyrocket as he made headwaves fighting in Japan, conquering opponents with his signature moves like the F-5. He excelled in mixed martial arts, delivering two (F-5) blows to John Cena, becoming a UFC Heavyweight Champion in 2015. Despite several hiatuses from WWE, Lesnar’s random returns always ignite excitement among fans, as they anticipate the arrival of “The Beat Incarnate” to wreak havoc once more in the ring. Brock Lesnar’s larger-than-life persona continues to leave an indelible mark on the world of professional wrestling.

January Jones

January Kristen Jones, award-winning actress and model, was born in South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls as the daughter of store manager Karen Cox and exercise physiologist Marvin Jones. Although she was born during the month of January, her name actually hails from the character in the Jacqueline Susann novel Once is Not Enough, January Wayne. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1996, her career took off. Jones first began her modeling career in New York at the age of 18 modeling for Abercrombie & Fitch and Versace, and for household names including Interview, Allure, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. However, her heart was more in acting as she began appearing in well-known films including:

  • The Glass House (2001)
  • Anger Management (2003)
  • Love Actually (2003)
  • We Are Marshall (2006)
  • X-Men: First Class (2011)
  • Good Kill (2014)

And prominent TV series including:

  • Get Real (1999)
  • Mad Men (2007-2015)
  • Law & Order (2008)
  • Saturday Night Live (2009)
  • Project Runway (2010)
  • The Last Man on Earth (2015-2018)
  • The Politician (2019)

Jones is also not a stranger to celebrity romance as she coupled up with some legendary names including:

  • Ashton Kutcher in the late 90s
  • Jim Carrey in 2002
  • Josh Groban from 2003 to 2006
  • Jason Sudeikis from 2010 to 2011

Adam Vinatieri

If you are an NFL/sports fan, you are sure to have heard of the name, Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri was born to Paul Vinatieri and Judy M. (Goeken) in Yankton, South Dakota. At the age of five, he moved with his family to Rapid City. As a child, Vinatieri struggled to read and write, but thrived in more physical rather than mental activities. He remained very active during his high school years, attending Central High School and lettering in football, wrestling, basketball, soccer, and track. After graduating in 1991, Vinatieri enrolled at South Dakota State University where he finished his collegiate career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 185 career points as a kicker and punter. After graduating college, Adam trained and competed with the Amsterdam Admirals as a kicker and punter. His impressive and athletic performance caught the attention of New England Patriot scouts earning him the position of kicker and punter and embarking on his record-breaking NFL career. While playing for the New England Patriots from 1996-2005 and the Indianapolis Colts from 2006-2019, Vinatieri’s track record proved his prowess:

  • 4x Super Bowl champion
  • 3x First-team All-Pro
  • 3x Pro Bowl
  • NFL scoring leader in 2004
  • Most career points scored: 2,673
  • Most consecutive field goals made: 44
  • Most combined regular season and postseason games played: 397
  • Most career field goals made: 599
  • Most seasons with 100+ points: 21
  • Most field goals made in a postseason: 14

In 2021, after his final season with the Colts, Adam Vinatieri announced his retirement. He retired as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, and the last active player to have played in the 90s.

Becky Hammon

Similar to South Dakota native Adam Vinatieri, Rebecca Lynn Hammon (Becky Hammon) crafted an athletic legacy for the WNBA. Born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, Hammon learned to dribble a basketball at a very young age, playing with her older brother and father. Her legacy started from an early age, playing as the point guard for Stevens High School. As a junior, she was named South Dakota Miss Basketball, and, as a senior, she was voted the South Dakota Player of the Year – averaging 26 points, 4 rebounds and 5 steals per game. Standing at 5’ 6”, Hammon was at first overlooked as being too small for college basketball, however, her tenacity grabbed the attention of a Colorado State assistant coach, and she committed to the Rams. She showed the same tenacity as she did during her high school career, leading her team to a 33-3 record and the Sweet Sixteen in the 1998-99 NCAA tournament. Hammon was signed to the WNBA in 1999, joining the New York Liberty. Her WNBA career was filled with accolades including:

  • 6x WNBA All-Star
  • 2x All-WNBA First Team
  • 2x All-WNBA Second Team
  • WNBA assists leader in 2007
  • Spanish League champion in 2010
  • Queen’s Cup winner in 2010

After retiring as a player in 2014, Hammon became one of the most influential WNBA coaches, serving as the assistant coach to the San Antonio Spurs from 2014 to 2022, and being the current head coach for the Las Vegas Aces. So far, her coaching career has remained consistent with her impressive career as a player earning her awards including:

  • 2x WNBA champion
  • Commissioner’s Cup champion
  • WNBA Coach of the Year in 2022

Legends Run Deep in Prairie Lands

These Prairie Prodigies only scratch the surface of the great legacy that South Dakota boasts. There are countless famous faces from our great state including Bob Barker, Mamie Van Doren, Amy Hill, and more. Looking to learn more about icons that have shaped our nation’s history? Extend your journey through history by booking a tour of the National Presidential Wax Museum. Walk among the lifelike representations of past leaders and relive pivotal moments in our nation’s story. Book today!

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