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Leah Braaten Larson and her friend Laree Schell Balvitsch take a picture in front of the red carpet at the Academy Awards

Mayville woman wins seat by red carpet at Academy Awards

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Mayville woman wins seat by red carpet at Academy Awards
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Leah Braaten Larson’s obsession with the Oscars finally paid off this year.

The Mayville, N.D., woman had a front-row seat to the Academy Award’s red carpet event Sunday in Hollywood after winning a magazine contest.


She and her close friend Laree Schell Balvitsch, Fargo, were treated to bleacher seats right in front of the ABC-TV stage and co-hosts Robin Roberts and Michael Strahan.

“I was excited about everyone, really,” Larson said. “Matthew McConaughey and Leonardo DiCaprio in particular. And after seeing him on the Red Carpet, Jared Leto.”

McConaughey won the Best Actor and Leto the Best Supporting Actor awards for their roles in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

“He’s my new favorite,” Larson said of Leto. “There’s just something about him. He just seems like a fun guy. He seemed like he was really having a good time. Bradley Cooper was another one who seemed to be having a good time.”

‘We were on TV’

A longtime subscriber to People Magazine, Larson was reading her email when she received an alert announcing the annual “Experience on the Red Carpet” contest, with two free tickets going to the first person who enters. Balvitsch being a close friend and a fellow Oscars aficionado was the natural recipient of the other ticket.

“It was really a no-brainer for us to go. We’re both big celebrity fans,” Larson said.

She is employed by Amity Technology, a Fargo manufacturer of sugar beet and other farm equipment. Balvitsch works for Auto Owners Insurance in Fargo.

Sunday was a long day for the pair, but one they’ll never forget.

After going through a background check, they were instructed to be at the red carpet by 8:30 a.m., hours before the event began. Each received breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with an exclusive swag bag filled with memorabilia and other gifts.

They also received tickets to the El Capitan Theatre where they watched the Academy Awards ceremony on a giant movie screen. El Capitan is across the street from the Oscars venue, the Dolby Theatre.

Although they’re graduates of Moorhead State University, they wore bright gold NDSU Bison T-shirts to stand out.

It worked.

“You could see us waving on TV. We were really sticking out,” Larson said. “I could tell the first time we were on TV. My phone just went crazy.”

Kevin Bonham
Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  
(701) 780-1110