GRAND FORKS Marilyn Hagerty couldn’t quite believe her ears when University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost and interim Provost Debbie Storrs called with big news: she has been selected to receive an honorary doctorate from UND.

“I just about fell over,” she said.

The longtime Grand Forks Herald columnist and reporter was one of three individuals approved for an honorary degree across three North Dakota campuses Thursday, March 25, by the State Board of Higher Education.

Hagerty had been informed the president’s office would be calling, but she said she had no idea what the call was about until Armacost told her the news.

“I am greatly, beyond description, honored,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be about us (reporters).”

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Storrs said the honor is "the highest distinction that a university can bestow on somebody.”

DeAnna Carlson Zink welcomes Marilyn Hagerty to a surprise ceremony at the UND alumni center where she received an honorary degree and the UND Spirit Award. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)
DeAnna Carlson Zink welcomes Marilyn Hagerty to a surprise ceremony at the UND alumni center where she received an honorary degree and the UND Spirit Award. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

Storrs said Hagerty has statewide “celebrity status” for her work at the Herald for more than 50 years, and her body of work has garnered national attention. Hagerty has been featured on national and local television shows and in various publications, including a recent piece in The New York Times during the pandemic.

Hagerty has contributed to the field of journalism in significant ways and has supported and mentored younger women to pursue similar opportunities, Storrs noted.

Additionally, she is committed to the Grand Forks community, holding positions on the Grand Forks County Historical Society, UND Sioux Boosters and the UND College of Arts & Sciences Advisory Board (2014-17). She has also received multiple awards and honors related to her service for the state.

“She’s always curious. She's been so committed to students,” Storrs said. “She’s just a force.”

Because the university is planning to host a virtual commencement this spring, UND will not be conferring honorary degrees in May. Instead, the university hopes to give the degree to Hagerty at a later commencement ceremony.

Hagerty, a University of South Dakota graduate, enjoys supporting UND students and the university’s athletics teams, frequently attending basketball games prior to COVID-19.

“We live in Grand Forks,” she said. “And I feel like we should support UND when we live here.”

Hagerty, who grew up in South Dakota, said journalism and newspapers have been important to her for a long time. She started working for the Capitol Journal in Pierre, S.D., while in high school.

“I was interested in what people do and keeping up with other people,” she said. “It was kind of my mission to do that and major in journalism because my father, who was an immigrant, thought that newspapers were so wonderful.”

There are many people who helped her and gave her a chance in South Dakota and, later, in Grand Forks, she said. Her late husband, Jack Hagerty, served as editor of the Herald.

“I just have had so much respect for the editors and the people that have helped me and given me a chance to write stories that I want to write,” she said.

Hagerty isn’t the first Herald alum to receive this honor. Mike Jacobs, former publisher and editor of the Herald, received an honorary doctorate from UND in 2014.

Two others also were approved for honorary degrees, from North Dakota State and Minot State universities.

Milton Rolle, who helped start Brokers 12 in Minot, was approved for an honorary degree from Minot State. Rolle is “dedicated community leader in Minot,” a nominating document with North Dakota University System said.

And Bill Goetz, former NDUS chancellor and former lawmaker, was approved for an honorary doctorate in business from North Dakota State. Goetz started his career at Dickinson State University as a faculty member and served in the Legislature for 20 years. He also was chief of staff for two governors.