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Why Praise For An Olive Garden Turned Marilyn Hagerty Into A Star

The sudden national fame for 85-year-old North Dakota newspaper columnist Marilyn Hagerty because she wrote last week that the new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks is "impressive ... welcoming ... [and] is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating" in the city reinforces two things for this blogger:

1. Almost everyone loves a story about someone who seems to be just so darn nice and who's still going strong at an age when many of us will just be glad to still be around.

2. There are an awful lot of snarky sorts out there on the Web who just don't realize that in many towns and cities across the U.S. a restaurant such as The Olive Garden (or Macaroni Grill, or Red Lobster, or Applebee's or any of many other chains' outlets) is indeed a big deal. And that it just might be "the largest and most beautiful restaurant" around.

Trust me, in the little Western New York village where I grew up it's huge news when a national restaurant opens up anywhere within about a 50-mile radius.

If you haven't heard yet about Hagerty, her newspaper — — has a long list of stories, videos, letters to the editor and other materials about how she's gone "viral" (a term Hagerty wasn't familiar with, according to her son).

She's now been on all the major news networks, and according to the Herald one of her state's senators (Democrat Kent Conrad) is working on getting her an invitation to the White House. Celebrity chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain has gotten her a reservation at New York's Le Bernardin restaurant.

As for Hagerty, the newspaper says she's kind of baffled by all the attention: "It's like I'm dreaming," she said. "One of these days, I'll go back to being the little old lady on Cottonwood Street."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.