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Published October 12, 2012, 02:29 PM

UND Legacy Award Connects ND Political Families

One of North Dakota’s most famous political families connects two winners of a UND journalism award this year.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald

One of North Dakota’s most famous political families connects two winners of a UND journalism award this year.

Sara Garland, now chief of staff for Sen. Kent Conrad, and Coleman James Barry both worked for Burdicks, Garland for former Sen. Quentin Burdick and Barry for Burdick’s father, former Congressman Usher Burdick.

The two UND alumni are among five recipients of the 2012 Alvin E. Austin Legacy Award, and they will be honored in a ceremony from 2 to 4 p.m. today at the UND Center for Community Engagement.

The annual honor recognizes students and colleagues of Austin for their outstanding professional achievements.

Austin, who died in 1999, led a colorful life that included his night editor duties at the Herald, serving on the City Council and earning a bronze star during World War II. He taught journalism at UND for 34 years, and has won the Sioux Award among other honors.

Garland and Barry both said Austin was a big influence in their life.

‘Wonder woman’

Garland, a native of Mandan, N.D., and a 1968 UND graduate, has spent most of her career working with the state’s congressional delegation.

The Congressional newspaper The Hill called her a “wonder woman,” citing the staff positions she’s held with Burdick, Conrad and former Sen. Byron Dorgan, all Democrats.

As one of 21 female chiefs of staff, her job requires managing five offices, working closely with other chiefs of staff and responding to Conrad’s needs.

“It’s a mix of policy, it’s a mix of management, and that’s what I like about it,” Garland said.

She credits her UND education, particularly her journalism degree and her classes with Austin, for making her career possible. “I still use all of those editing skills he taught me every day,” she said.

“In my mind’s eye, I can still see that cute little twinkle in his eye,” she said. “He was a very kind person who was very caring toward his students. He made you feel that you were the only student in the room, which is not an easy task to do.”

According to UND, Garland was the first female on-camera TV reporter in the state.

Talented youngster

Barry, a 1948 graduate, began his career working for Usher Burdick.

Political articles Barry wrote at UND drew the attention of Burdick’s son, Eugene Burdick, who arranged a meeting with the former Republican-NPL congressman. What started as an informal meeting ended up with a job for Barry.

“That was Usher’s way,” said Toney Jo Hanson, Barry’s oldest daughter. “He recognized talent and that’s what he wanted.”

Barry, 89, of Williston, N.D., worked for Burdick from 1949 to 1959, and had hoped to run for Burdick’s position after his boss retired.

But Hanson said Barry couldn’t defeat the Burdick name.

Quentin Burdick won in 1958 and became the first Democrat in the state elected to the House.

Barry, who was in the first class Austin taught at UND, referred to his former instructor as one of the three most influential people in his life.

Despite his involvement in politics, he maintained his journalism roots. In the mid-1950s, he helped start a newspaper in Williston. He also wrote a weekly newsletter, updating the community on his work, even while in Washington, and kept this up until five years ago.