Marilyn Hagerty to be awarded UND honorary degree

Longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist ‘is a treasure for our city, state and nation,’ UND President Andy Armacost says

Here’s some news that we hope will make Marilyn Hagerty break into such a broad smile, she’ll award herself the coveted honor of Cheerful Person of the Week:

Hagerty, longtime reporter and columnist for the Herald, soon will also be a UND honorary degree recipient after a vote by the State Board of Higher Education this week.

Cheerful as she may be, “overwhelmed” was Hagerty’s word of choice when speaking on the distinction.

“It’s not something I would have ever expected, but it overwhelms me to think of getting this honor,” she said. “It’s hard to explain how much it means to me, but I’m just so grateful, amazed and pleased.”

Andy Armacost

For years, Hagerty has been an integral voice describing the goings-on of Grand Forks. The honorary doctorate recognizes this, as it does the years of reporting, respect and attention paid by Hagerty to the Red River Valley, North Dakota and UND.

“Marilyn is a treasure for our city, the state and the nation,” said UND President Andy Armacost. “Her decades of service as a journalist have brought many stories to life and impacted each of us.

“An honorary doctorate recognizes those who have made renowned contributions to North Dakota, and I am thrilled to announce Marilyn Hagerty as our recipient of this award. She has made an impact on the City of Grand Forks and the entire State of North Dakota.”

Armacost went on to say that Hagerty was one of the first people he and his wife Kathy met in Grand Forks, as Hagerty interviewed Mrs. Armacost for a story in the Herald.

“With her typical grace and style, Marilyn connected our family to the citizens of our new home city,” Armacost said. “Given Marilyn’s national reputation, we were both giddy to be the subjects of one of her stories.”

National attention

Indeed, Hagerty’s reputation has transcended the Red River Valley over the years, but the University has always been part of her experience of living and working (and dining) in Grand Forks.

“Of course, it’s the people,” Hagerty said when asked about her admiration of UND. “There have been so many people on campus over the years who did many great things that made life interesting in Grand Forks.

“This is a place small enough to feel like you’re part of it, like you can do something, but it’s large enough to offer many different things.”

Hagerty grew up in South Dakota and worked for the Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D., while still in high school. A University of South Dakota graduate, Hagerty has been with the Grand Forks Herald since 1957, when her husband, Jack Hagerty, became editor of the paper. Jack Hagerty passed away in 1997.

As Wikipedia notes, Marilyn Hagerty “retired from full-time newspapering in 1991, but soon came back with a part-time schedule but a full-time workload.”

Through her work has a columnist, Hagerty has observed many aspects of UND’s mission of education and research. Her social connections and weekend outings often have been tied to UND events, sporting or otherwise – from cold November days in the stands of Memorial Stadium to “no night too long” watching women’s and men’s basketball.

Known locally for her kind-hearted folksy restaurant reviews, Hagerty has gained national attention in recent years for these write-ups, including one on the Grand Forks Olive Garden. The review went viral on social media and landed her in the national press and on big-time TV news shows.

Grace and humility

One memory that stood out to her was spending a month at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences, experiencing – with her reporter’s notebook in hand – life as a student there.

“You can do things like that at UND because it isn’t this great big walled-off institution,” Hagerty remarked. “It’s a place where you can get to know people and respect them, with so many different corners where people are interesting, kind and willing to be part of a story.”

“I think it’s obvious the way I feel – the respect that I have for UND. And as you go through life you think of things that would be nice, but an honorary degree from UND was never one of those things. I’m honored.”

Debbie Storrs

The final decision on bestowing the doctoral degree fell to the State Board of Higher Education after the Department of Communication, in UND’s College of Arts & Sciences, had their nomination of Hagerty elevated to the provost and president for consideration.

As UND moves ahead with plans for a virtual spring commencement, arrangements are being made to confer the degree at a later commencement ceremony.

Debbie Storrs, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Hagerty’s 50-year-career, still going strong, is significant and merits national attention and awards.

“Marilyn responds with grace and humility to her fame and models what is best about North Dakota – kindness and commitment to service and excellence,” Storrs said. “I’m thrilled that she has been recognized with a UND honorary degree.”

Brad Rundquist

Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said it wasn’t long after her nomination that Hagerty ascended the list of possible honorees.

“Marilyn has been such a friend to UND over a long period of time,” he said. “She has been a fan of our athletics, a friend of academics and supportive of our students through scholarships, as well as getting the word out about UND.

“I’ve lived in Grand Forks for 21 years and have always been a reader of the Herald. Through that time, Marilyn’s writing has been a way for me to plug in to the community, to appreciate and stay informed about it. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people.”