VERMILLION, S.D. -- Newspaper columnist and Internet sensation Marilyn Hagerty, 86, a University of South Dakota alumna who was Al Neuharth’s first editor 65 years ago, will receive the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media on Oct. 4, 2012.
Hagerty, who writes columns for the North Dakota Grand Forks Herald, drew widespread media attention earlier this year when her straightforward feature story about the opening of the first Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks went viral on the Internet, and led to coverage on television, in newspapers, on websites and in social media.
The award, recognizing lifetime achievement, will be presented Thursday evening, Oct. 4, at the University of South Dakota. It is named for USA TODAY and Freedom Forum founder Al Neuharth, a South Dakota native and 1950 USD journalism graduate, who will be on campus to honor Hagerty as a model journalist dedicated to serving local communities through consistently fair, truthful and relevant coverage. Hagerty is the 26th person honored by the Freedom Forum and the university since the Al Neuharth Award program began in 1989.
“Marilyn, my classmate back in the ’40s and editor of the student paper, took a chance on me as rookie reporter, hired me for my first newspaper job and taught me vital lessons about the roles and responsibilities of professional journalists,” Neuharth said. “Those same high principles that Marilyn preached as a young college editor 65 years ago define and distinguish her extraordinary and enduring career.”
Born May 30, 1926, to Mads and Thyra (Linnet) Hansen of Pierre, S.D., Hagerty began her career as a journalist at the Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D., when she was a college student in the 1940s. After graduating from USD in 1948 with a journalism degree, Hagerty went to work at the Aberdeen American News for two years before moving on to KFYR, a Bismarck, N.D., radio station. Hagerty left KFYR in 1953 to be a stay-at-home mother of three children. She continued to write as a freelancer for Fairchild Publications and provided feature stories for United Press International (UPI). Hagerty returned to full-time reporting in 1961 as a feature writer for the Grand Forks Herald, eventually becoming the newspaper’s features editor.
Although she officially retired in 1991, Hagerty continues to write five columns a week for the Grand Forks Herald, including “Eatbeat,” the editorial page column “That Reminds Me” and three personal columns. Her “Eatbeat” restaurant column in the Grand Forks Herald on March 7, 2012, garnered national attention for her earnest commentary on Olive Garden’s menu and decor. The article created interest beyond loyal readers in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota with Olive Garden devotees and detractors nationwide, and even renowned food personality Anthony Bourdain, weighing in on social media with their opinions about the story. The coverage generated more than a million hits online for her article. Hagerty appeared on numerous television shows, including NBC’s “Today” and Anderson Cooper’s syndicated talk show.
As USD students, Hagerty and Neuharth both took classes from journalism professor E.G. Trotzig, and both served as editors of the student newspaper The Volante in different years. In 1949, she married Jack Hagerty of Montevideo, Minn., a UPI correspondent in Bismarck, who was editor of the Grand Forks Herald from 1957 to 1983. He died June 13, 1997. The Hagertys’ daughter, Gail Hagerty of Bismarck, is presiding judge of the South Central Judicial District in North Dakota, and son James Robert “Bob” Hagerty of Pittsburgh is a Wall Street Journal staff writer. Daughter Carol (Hagerty) Werner, an attorney, died in 2011.
During her six decades in the profession, Hagerty has been recognized with many honors and awards, including: 22 Minnesota and North Dakota State AP writing awards; three North Dakota Newspaper Association awards; a Golden Grains nutrition writing award from the North Dakota Dietetic Association; and second place in a national nutrition writing competition sponsored by Carnation. Additionally, Hagerty was awarded honorary membership to the Grand Forks School Board after covering education in the community for more than 10 years; the North Dakota Communicator Award in 1995 from the Centennial Tree Commission; the Liberty Bell awarded by the North Dakota Bar Association in 2004; and an Outstanding Alumni Award presented by the University of South Dakota media and journalism department.
A photo of Hagerty is available for download at http://www.usd.edu/press/news/images/releases/Marilyn_Hagerty.jpg.
The Al Neuharth Award presentation, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m., Oct. 4, in Aalfs Auditorium at Slagle Hall, 414 East Clark St., Vermillion. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m. No tickets are required for general seating, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Free tickets for preferred seating may be requested until Oct. 1 by calling 605/677-6060 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Specify ticket quantity (up to six), name and address. The 90-minute program also will be telecast live on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
Past Al Neuharth Award recipients are: Walter Cronkite (1989); Carl T. Rowan (1990); Helen Thomas (1991); Tom Brokaw (1992); Larry King (1993); Charles Kuralt (1994); Albert R. Hunt and Judy Woodruff (1995); Robert MacNeil (1996); Cokie Roberts (1997); Tim Russert and Louis D. Boccardi (1998); John Seigenthaler (1999); Jim Lehrer (2001); Tom Curley (2002); Don Hewitt (2004); Garrison Keillor (2005); Bob Schieffer (2006); John Quinn and Ken Paulson (2007); Charles Overby (2008); Katie Couric (2009); Cathie Black and Frank Vega (2010); and Brian Lamb (2011).