North Dakota’s only billionaire and successful hotel entrepreneur Gary Tharaldson shared stories about his life growing up in rural North Dakota and building his business career with UND students on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

North Dakota’s richest man is known for building and acquiring hotels. He purchased his first Super 8 motel in 1982 in Valley City. He built his fortune by acquiring and building hotels all across the country. He has built more than 400 hotels. Forbes declared Tharaldson North Dakota’s first billionaire in 2019.

Tharaldson said his success was not grown overnight and was never easy. Growing up in Dazey, N.D., Tharaldson’s home didn’t have running water or heat. When he was in high school, he would work for $50 a month on a local farm, while also playing three sports. But that doesn’t mean those memories were bad, he said.

“If you have the right attitude, you can do almost anything,” he told the students who gathered in the Gorecki Alumni Center, adding that belief in himself and his projects was also incredibly important to his success.

Tharaldson said he thinks it would be difficult to replicate the success he has had in the hotel business now. He built a strategy around each project to show how he could be successful. The changes surrounding the industry today likely wouldn’t make that strategy as successful today, he said.

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Following his talk, Tharaldson spent time taking questions from the audience, as well as visiting with students and attendees. He also signed a copy of the book “Open Secrets of Success: The Gary Tharaldson Story” for each person. The biography was written by Patrick McCloskey.

Alongside Giving Hearts Day on Thursday, Feb. 13, this month marks philanthropy month on the UND campus, DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said.

Prior to Tharaldson’s talk, Carlson Zink asked students to pause and think about what UND’s campus would look like without philanthropy. She noted many buildings on campus wouldn’t exist without the donations of alumni and community members, including the Chester Fritz Library and Auditorium, Robin Hall and the Collaborative Energy Complex.

“Those are all buildings that have been gifted by friends and alumni of this university,” she said, also mentioning one of the university’s latest donors, the Nistler family, who is donating $20 million to build a new building for the College of Business and Public Administration.

Scholarships also wouldn’t be possible without the gifts from alumni and others, Carlson Zink said.

As a part of Giving Hearts Day, students will have the opportunity to register to win a scholarship. Students can register on Thursday for the scholarships. In 2019, more than $150,000 was given and created 40 scholarships to students at UND, according to the foundation’s website.