Marilyn Hagerty, a University of South Dakota alumnus and columnist for The Grand Forks Herald, accepted the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media Oct. 4 at Aalfs Auditorium in Slagle Hall.
Joined by her family of journalists and Al Neuharth, Hagerty was honored for her countless contributions to the media as well as her illustrious review of the Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks, N.D.
Doors to the ceremony were opened at 6:15 p.m. and guests were greeted with the sounds of the USD Jazz Quintet. At 7 p.m. Jack Marsh, president of the Al Neuharth Media Center, delivered an opening speech followed by a short video showcasing past Neuharth Award recipients.
One by one Marsh introduced the evening’s ball players, starting with Neuharth who was sporting a bright red blazer and his iconic orange watch. Carrie Sandstrom, Hagerty’s granddaughter, who is a journalism student at the University of North Dakota, was present for the ceremony, along with Hagerty’s son Bob Hagerty.
Graduating with the class of 1948, Hagerty was the editor of The Volante, serving as Neuharth’s first newspaper boss. It was only fitting that Neuharth presented the award to his first editor 65 years later.
Following Hagerty’s acceptance speech, Marsh conducted a talk show atmosphere, giving the audience an opportunity to ask questions to all four guests.
Bob Hagerty is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and explained to audience members some of the lessons in journalism he learned from his mother growing up.
“I learned that you spend a lot of time with people,” he said. “You don’t just sit down and shoot them a bunch of questions and then leave. You make a connection and try to get to know them. That’s when you gather the best information.”
The journalistic drive bleeds through the Hagerty family, for even Sandstrom had some advice to pass on to USD students.
“You have to define yourself as a journalist and not compare yourself to those who have come before you,” she said. “It’s important to establish your own path.”
Upon earning her journalism degree from USD, Hagerty immediately began writing and reporting for newspapers and radio. While working as a stay-home mother of three children, Hagerty also produced freelance work on the side. By 1961 she had returned to full-time reporting and landed a position with The Grand Forks Herald, the newspaper that printed her nationally acclaimed food critique in March 2012.
What started as a condensed restaurant review flourished into a crown jewel of modern day reporting. Hagerty’s evaluation of the Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks, ND has been praised for its modest truth and straight forward approach, lending a new rubric to the everyday critic. The article alone has received over 100,000 views since its publication. Baffled but overjoyed, Hagerty said she is pleased with the reception her article has seen in the past few months.
“It wasn’t until the local news station was calling my phone and asking me to come to the Olive Garden that I actually understood what was happening,” Hagerty said.
Several patrons found Hagerty and Neuharth to be inspirational or uplifting. Stan Aldenwood, a resident of Grand Forks and one of Hagerty’s loyal readers, said that listening to both Hagerty and Neuharth speak gave him more inspiration to finish his novel.
“I’ve been trying to put together this work of fiction for quite some time now, but things get in the way and life happens,” he said. “After hearing these two speak tonight, I just want to put my thoughts back to paper again. Marilyn spoke a lot about never giving up and always pushing it full-throttle, which I feel applies to me in this case.”
While a good portion of the crowd dispersed after the ceremony, many individuals made their way to the podium to speak with Neuharth and the Hagerty family.
“It just feels like a dream, really, seeing all of the buildings and walking by East Hall,” Hagerty said. “It’s so wonderful to be back. I’ve been to some games and to the music museum. All of those memories just come rushing back and it just means so much to me to be here again.”
Reach reporter Joey Sevin at Joey.Sevin@coyotes.usd.edu.