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Kris Engelstad McGarry: Damaged relationship not tied to nickname issue

Kris Engelstad McGarry

During a nearly 90-minute interview with the Herald editorial board Wednesday, Kris Engelstad McGarry—the daughter of late UND donor Ralph Engelstad and the head of the Engelstad Family Foundation—outlined a damaged relationship with UND President Mark Kennedy.

Her current discontent with the school's administration, however, isn't a result of the university's retirement of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, she said.

Instead of the nickname at the center of her unhappiness, McGarry painted a picture of dysfunctional negotiations and interactions with Kennedy, who she said has threatened to pull the school's basketball teams out of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

"The issue for a very long time in this community, and we seemed to get stuck in the middle of it, was the issue about the logo," McGarry said. "That's a non-issue for me and for us. It's decided. We complied to the NCAA. We did what they asked us to do. I don't have an issue, period, with the logo situation, because it was settled."

Outside of Ralph, the Engelstad family, McGarry said, doesn't have the same connection to the Fighting Sioux name as her outspoken father, who gifted the $110 million hockey arena that opened in 2001.

"My dad felt very strongly about (the Fighting Sioux nickname)," she said. "He identified with that university as a Sioux. That's what he played under; that's where he went to school."

McGarry's mom, Betty Engelstad, didn't attend UND, while McGarry went to the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

"We don't have those same feelings my dad had," she said. "We were trying to stay true to the original agreement and what we were led to believe by the administration at the time."

Although McGarry stressed her current state of affairs with the UND administration aren't tied to the nickname issue, she did recall previous tenuous relationships with UND administrators throughout the battle, namely with former UND President Charles Kupchella during the arena's building process about 20 years ago.

"Kupchella came to (Ralph) and wanted to do a change," McGarry said. "(Ralph) said that's fine, but I'm stopping building today. Kupchella said you won't do that, and (Ralph) said, 'Yeah, I will,' and he did for a little bit. Then (Kupchella) came back and said they love the Sioux."

As UND has transitioned to a new Fighting Hawks moniker, McGarry said Kennedy has argued the arena's Fighting Sioux holdovers have created "brand confusion."

"I feel as we got drug in, we got blamed for causing brand confusion," she said. "But the fact is we didn't change, the building stayed the same. ... Everything around us changed. We can only do what we can do in our space to be in accordance to the NCAA. We are going to obey the law and do what we have to do to have games and make revenue. We can't dig our heels in, but this whole revolution and change had a momentum of its own. It didn't have anything to do with us. We're there and somehow through the course of this, we become the nemesis of students, faculty and the sporting world."

McGarry also spoke to the genesis of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, where she said former UND President Thomas Clifford told the Engelstad family the school needed a home for basketball and volleyball and that the school didn't have the finances for it.

"We said, 'OK,' and that's what we did," McGarry said.

The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, which McGarry said will receive an REA-funded $800,000 new roof this summer, has been a point of contention between her and Kennedy. The Betty opened in August of 2004.

"He's threatened to move the basketball team to another arena," McGarry said, "but he can't afford that."

McGarry lauded the efforts of REA management, led by General Manager Jody Hodgson. The REA management group works alongside UND athletics but aren't UND employees.

"They're so talented and under-appreciated with how they balance and struggle," McGarry said. "The community is really lucky they're in charge of everything. They're a miracle-worker in that space.

"Jody is in a tough spot. He's an arena employee but he has to get along and has to try to make people happy. He has to see them every day. He has the most difficult job of them all. He has to be the face of it every day. I'm flying home (today). They can dislike me from afar."

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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