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'USA Today' Founder Honoring Olive Garden Columnist Marilyn Hagerty

Her Olive Garden fame took Marilyn Hagerty to New York City to be on the TV networks. And her newspaper created a blog just for following her travels. (Grand Forks Herald)

Back in March we wrote about how then-85-year-old North Dakota newspaper columnist Marilyn Hagerty had become an Internet sensation because of her earnest, positive review of the Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks.

As we said, she gained fame for two reasons: She seemed so darn nice; and "there are an awful lot of snarky sorts out there on the Web" who just couldn't believe someone would say something nice about a chain restaurant.

Well, the now 86-year-old Hagerty is about to be honored by another columnist who has both critics and fans.

"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," the Sioux City Journal writes. "Past winners include Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Cokie Roberts and Katie Couric."

Jack Marsh, president and chief operating officer of the Al Neuharth Media Center, tells The Volante (the University of South Dakota's student newspaper) that it's a "timely award" because of Hagerty's newfound notoriety. But, the newspaper adds, "the award recognizes lifetime achievement in the media, and Marsh said Hagerty fits that criteria very well. 'Neuharth credits her for filling him with the highest principles of good journalism at a very early age,' he said. 'She then went on to have a very good career, which she continues to this day.' "

Hagerty tells the Volante that "actually, it's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. I feel rather humble though. I'm not Katie Couric or Walter Cronkite. I'm just me, an ordinary journalist."

Full disclosure: This blogger worked at USA Today for about 25 years (but only met Neuharth a few times).

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