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VERMILLION, S.D. | Marilyn Hagerty, a columnist for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, couldn’t predict that a feature story about the opening of the first Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks would garner national attention.

But it did, and now, she's in the spotlight again.

The founder of USA Today, Al Neuharth, 88, will present her with the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media on Thursday at their alma mater, the University of South Dakota. Past winners include Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Cokie Roberts and Katie Couric.

Hagerty, 86, took time Wednesday to talk to the Journal.

QUESTION: After a 60-year career in journalism, you became a media sensation for an Olive Garden review in a relatively small newspaper in North Dakota. Did you ever dream of being a famous newspaperwoman, and now that you are, what do you make of all the attention?

ANSWER: Of course, I always wanted to work for the New York Times, but I never quite made it. So I settled for Grand Forks, North Dakota. I enjoyed every year. Sometimes, I don’t know what to make of the viral situation. I feel very humble receiving this award. People know who the others are that have won that award, so they might be asking – Marilyn who? It’s something that, if you tried to program it, you couldn’t do it.

Q: You wrote the Olive Garden review over six months ago. What was your reaction to the attention the review received at the time and has that changed over time?

A: It’s hard to explain. It shows what can happen with the equipment we have nowadays. If I tried to orchestrate that, I would never succeed. But then I was right in the middle of it. The "Today" show came to my house. My neighbors were so excited. Then, I went to New York and was on the Anderson Cooper show. I kept thinking – I’m dreaming this. (The Eatbeat) is one of five columns I write each week. That’s one thing I’ve done for more than 30 years. All of a sudden for it to get that much notoriety is kind of weird. The friends and readers of the Grand Forks Herald have been supportive. It makes me feel really good.

Q: How did you respond to the news of receiving the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media?

A: It just so happens I knew Al Neuharth in college. To have him call and tell me that they’d like to give me that award was the frosting on the cake. This really is the top.

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