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Gary Tharaldson back in his town of Dazey, ND

BISMARCK, ND — Anyone privileged to know Gary Tharaldson would know he is North Dakota through and through. Born to a rural family with a large garden, some dairy cows and no personal transportation, he and his family lived day-to-day doing what they needed to do to survive. And like so many small town kids, he turned to sports as an outlet—which for Gary would teach him about overcoming limitations and achieving goals that would prove powerful early and often through life.

“In sports, I was a quiet leader,” Gary said. “I led more by example than I did being the rah-rah type of guy.”

The second of six children and the grandson of hardy Norwegian descendants who homesteaded near the little town of Dazey, in southeastern North Dakota, Gary made the most of what would be considered a modest and frugal upbringing.

“I was just a kid growing up and never really thought of being poor,” Gary said. “I loved sports and I never felt sorry for myself or my family.”

Anyone just meeting him for the first time would have little idea that he is North Dakota’s richest resident, let alone a billionaire. Gary often did business in the warmer months in polo shirts rather than formal attire—throw in the fact that he loved to get little-kid-dirty on the softball diamonds and you’d think, well, he’s just your average country boy.

But there was nothing average about Gary or his work ethic. A couple of childhood experiences with friends of the family ignited Gary’s entrepreneurial spirit. Gary rolled up his sleeves and worked hard in the world of business. He was in it to win it. The competitor in him always kindled his game-on attitude.

Gary Tharaldson with management team

It’s safe to say the only thing in common between a teacher, insurance salesman, landowner and motel owner, is that Gary Tharaldson has had success at being all of them. However, success was more than just wealth for him and his immediate family, but also for his extended family—the others who trusted him, who believed in him—the thousands of loyal employees who worked for him.

“Not only do I create jobs,” Gary said, “but my whole philosophy is: How do I make it better for people that work for me? How do I make them wealthy?” And Gary fulfilled his promise: “I made people wealthy beyond their belief.”

Gary still attends church every Sunday and to him Christianity comes down to “being good to everyone,” he said. “What I learned as a child was to treat everybody really well.” And that he’s done with enormous generosity and by creating a very lucrative Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) benefit plan for his employees.

Gary Tharaldson on the cover of Forbes magazine

It’s no surprise the University of Mary’s school of business is named after him—a place that promotes ethical values throughout its curriculum, dedicated to the belief that business can be a force for good. He’ll return to the Gary Tharaldson School of Business on University of Mary’s Bismarck campus Tuesday, January 23, where he loves to engage with students and speak to business classes before the world premiere and release at 4:30 p.m. in Chick’s Place of his book Open Secrets of Success: The Gary Tharaldson Story, published by University of Mary Press. At that time University of Mary President Monsignor James Shea will introduce Gary for a period of questions and answers that the public and media are invited to.

Gary learned quickly what worked and what didn’t work. He was hit so hard by the Great Recession that his lawyers wanted him to file for bankruptcy “If I have to file,” Gary responded, “I still want to pay every one of my banks back the full amount they are owed.” He was advised strongly by lawyers not to do so, to simply get out of this situation and not pay anyone back. But then ”the banks get screwed,” Gary said, “and I’ve always been treated well by my banks.”

Fairfield Inn Marriott

His work in the hospitality industry didn’t go unnoticed by his peers; in fact, they describe Gary as “a man of great character.” He has earned many awards in business and softball, met U.S. military generals and was featured in a cover story in Forbes Magazine. Perhaps the true indicator that the Gary Tharaldson Express was on the right track and moving full speed ahead was when he drew the attention of Bill Marriott, the owner of Marriott Hotels. Gary was the first franchisee to build Marriott’s Fairfield Inns that would become the industry standard for his innovative ideas, concepts and efficiencies, something that helped expand the brand of the hospitality giant.

Bruce White, founder, chairman and CEO of White Lodging, called Gary a “genius.” But as the author of Open Secrets of Success, Patrick McCloskey points out, Gary would never agree to that label. But he tells McCloskey perhaps one of the most important secrets of all. “There are not many people with the passion and the ability to do things,” Gary recounted. “I don’t want to say I’m different: I know I’m different. It’s all about passion.”

As retired Tharaldson executive Doug Dobmeier said, “Gary was a risk-taker, but a very calculated risk-taker who always had faith that he was going to get things done right.”

Even though they have properties across the U.S., Gary and his wife Connie are raising their family in North Dakota so they can experience the same values and work ethic they adhere to every day. North Dakota is where they have their roots, and they will always consider it home sweet home.

Open Secrets of Success: The Gary Tharaldson Story

Jerry Anderson (left), Patrick McCloskey (right) pictured overlooking the majestic Missouri River Valley

Patrick McCloskey – Author

McCloskey is the Director of Research and Publications at the University of Mary and serves as the editor-in-chief of 360 Review. He earned a BA in Philosophy and English from Carleton University and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. McCloskey has written for many publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Post and City Journal. He also served as the press secretary for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. In 2009, the University of California (Berkeley) Press published his non-fiction narrative book, The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem, to enormous critical acclaim.

Jerry Anderson – Art Director & Photographer

Anderson is the art director at the University of Mary, University of Mary Press and 360 Review magazine. He earned a Bachelor of University Studies from North Dakota State University and BS in design from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Anderson has published photos in many publications, including the New York Tines, US News and World Report and Newsweek. He has also published photos in numerous books, including Every Place with a Name (State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1976) and North Dakota 24/7 (Penguin Random House, 2003).