Marilyn Hagerty, 91, is no stranger to accolades, as she's frequently been a recipient of them while making a point to honor the everyday efforts of others.

Still, the longtime Herald columnist was caught off guard when she walked into a surprise ceremony Thursday evening to collect the 2017 UND Spirit Award, a high recognition bestowed by the UND Alumni Association and Foundation. The award wasn't the end of it though. Before the evening was over, Hagerty had also received from the school's provost an honorary master's degree in community engagement.

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The writer had been lured to the Gorecki Alumni Center on campus with her family, sold on a tale of a supposed legal meeting with university representatives. She froze when she arrived and saw the truth at the glass doorway of the center's main hall, a large room of floor-to-ceiling windows filled that evening with a host of friends and well-wishers.

Deanna Carlson Zink, the CEO of the alumni foundation and main presenter of the evening, coaxed Hagerty to a seat of honor near the hall's stage, suggesting the two could share a nerve-calming beverage when the ceremony was through.

"I'm going to need a cocktail," Hagerty said, much to the amusement of the audience.

The Spirit Award has been given by the alumni foundation since 1985 to those deemed to be outstanding alumni or friends of the university. Hagerty is now one of about three dozen to be honored with the distinction, which isn't awarded annually but is given as the foundation sees fit.

Prior to Hagerty, the most recent Spirit Award winners were former North Dakota Gov. and UND President Ed Schafer and his wife Nancy Schafer in 2016. Other notable past winners include former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and late local businessman Hugo Magnuson.

Hagerty's own spirit and long-running support of UND were highlighted by speakers through the brief evening ceremony. UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo recalled meeting Hagerty for the first time when the two served as judges a few years ago in UND's Potato Bowl festivities.

"She seems to know everyone ... and is certainly our very own local celebrity," DiLorenzo said. The provost referenced Hagerty's long-running recognition of the "cheerful people of the week" and plugged his own candidacy for the award while building a case for Hagerty's "unwavering" commitment to UND and Grand Forks.

Carlson Zink carried that thread in her own remarks, telling the audience how Hagerty hosted Thanksgiving dinners for UND athletes living far from home-even hosting Canadian Thanksgivings for those of the northern persuasion-as well as how she followed students of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences all the way through their academic careers.

Hagerty's support ties to the university also include a scholarship named in her honor, a financial award to be given to women pursuing a journalism degree or playing on the UND women's basketball team. Carlson Zink recounted for the audience a story remembered from the youth of Hagerty's daughter in which the writer announced she would go to work scrubbing floors if that meant her children could get a college education.

As the ceremony neared its end, Hagerty took to the stage.

"For the first time in my life, I'm speechless," she said, looking out at the friends and family before her. Though she herself is an alumna of the University of South Dakota, she said she imagined her friends at that campus would have to forgive her for becoming so rooted in the state to the north. At any rate, she said the city was where she was planted. And for that, she said, she couldn't be happier.

Past Spirit Award recipients

George Allen

Bill Harris

Milt and Sybil Kelly

Walter Klick

Gordon Caldis

Mark Foss

Chuck Johnson

Ray and Shirley Bostrom

Col. H.G. "Bud" and Muzette Lux

Wes Christenson

D.E. "Dewey" Balch

Ed O'Connor

W. Lloyde "Boots" and Wilhelmina "Billie" Richmond

Donald Naismith

Jim and JoAnn McKay

John "Jack" and Ellen Gray

Hugo Magnuson

Rick Schremp

Larry Isaak

Kirk Tingum

Jeff Cooper

Owen Nitz

J.R. Kirkland

Byron Dorgan

Dawn Botsford

Charles and Adele Kupchella

Ed and Nancy Schafer