With the approval of the State Board of Higher Education on Thursday (April 12, 2012), the University of North Dakota plans to confer honorary degrees on three outstanding Americans in the fields of public policy, health and human services, and business and finance.
The board, at its regular monthly meeting in Williston, N.D., approved honorary Doctor of Letters degrees for North Dakota natives U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, Dr. Mary Wakefield and B. John Barry. Each was nominated separately by various University colleges. Conrad, Wakefield and Barry could receive their degrees as early as Saturday, May 12, 2012, when UND’s spring general commencement ceremony will take place at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
“The University is proud to recognize Sen. Conrad, Dr. Wakefield and Mr. Barry with one of our most prestigious honors for lifetime achievements and service,” said UND President Robert Kelley. “Sen. Conrad, the United States Senate’s resident fiscal hawk and budget expert; Mary Wakefield, regarded by many as the most powerful and influential nurse in America; and John Barry, UND alumnus, successful entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist, are living examples of what it means to give back to society more than you use. All have had a profound effect on the University, state and nation through their dedication and unceasing desire to affect positive changes in their respective fields. UND is an exceptional place, in part, because of their individual contributions to the University.”
Conrad, Wakefield and Barry join other recent notable honorary degree recipients, including Phil Jackson, legendary National Basketball Association coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and former coach of the Chicago Bulls (August 2008); former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer (May 2008); Jean Kiesau, a long-time Grand Forks business and community leader, who was president of Home of Economy (May 2008); and Bill Marcil, longtime North Dakota newsman and business leader, who served as CEO of his family business — regional media giant Forum Communications (December, 2008).
There have been more than 200 UND honorary degree recipients in the past 100 years, including President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Crown Prince Olav of Norway in 1939, journalist Eric Sevareid in 1970, philosopher Mortimer Adler in 1983 and famed cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey in 1990. UND presented its first honorary degree in 1909 to Webster Merrifield, who served the University for 25 years, including 18 as its third president.
Conrad and Barry were nominated primarily by the College of Business and Public Administration, while Wakefield’s nomination originated from the College of Nursing and the Department of Social Work. President Kelley forwarded the names of the nominees to the North Dakota University System chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education, following approval by the UND University Senate Executive Committee.
Sen. Kent Conrad
A fifth-generation North Dakotan, Kent Conrad was born in Bismarck and attended Roosevelt Elementary and Hughes Junior High. He graduated from the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1966. He attended the University of Missouri and Stanford University, where he graduated in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in government. He earned his master’s in business administration from George Washington University in 1975.
Conrad has dedicated his life to serving the people of North Dakota, starting with his six years as North Dakota’s Tax Commissioner, before his successful 1986 bid for the U.S. Senate. North Dakotans have sent Conrad to the represent them in Washington, D.C., in five successive elections. He became ranking Budget panel member in the U.S. Senate in 2004, and then chairman after the elections of 2006. He has also been a prominent face when it comes to agricultural and energy issues.
In April 2006, he was selected by Time magazine as one of the “America’s 10 Best Senators.” That same year, he was commended by The American for his knowledge of economic issues. Sen. Conrad also has aligned himself with a bi-partisan “gang” of senators that have pushed for greater offshore drilling and compromises in the area of budgetary reforms.
Conrad has been an avid supporter of UND, and in particular, the College of Business and Public Administration. He visits the University, serves as a guest lecture and can often be seen on campus speaking to students about the political issues of the day.
Conrad has announced that he will retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of his current term.
Dr. Mary Wakefield
Mary Wakefield, a North Dakota native and youngest of eight children raised in Devils Lake, is a longtime nurse, advocate for improved patient care and champion for rural and tribal health issues across the nation. In February, 2009, she was selected by President Obama to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration.
A former director of the UND Center for Rural Health in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Wakefield graduated from the University of Mary in Bismarck in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. At the University of Texas-Austin, Wakefield completed both a master’s and Ph.D. in nursing.
In 1977, Wakefield began an academic appointment at the UND College of Nursing while simultaneously expanding her clinical experiences caring for residents in a rural nursing home as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit. Wakefield’s educator role increased with her academic credentials and her teaching responsibilities expanded to include nursing core courses at the graduate level.
Wakefield’s impact on the nursing profession was evident through her active role in the North Dakota Nurses Association, which fueled her desire to have a broader impact on the health and welfare of the citizens of North Dakota. She became engaged at the national level, too, volunteering to serve as an aide to the North Dakota Congressional delegation.
In 2004, Wakefield became the first North Dakotan in history to be elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, one of the highest honors in medicine and health. In 2008, she was honored with the “Nursing Economics/Margaret D. Sovie Writer’s Award” for her work as a member of the editorial board and regular columnist for the journal Nursing Economics, and in 2009, she was named one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare.
In 2010, Wakefield received another of UND’s highest honors, the Sioux Award, in recognition of her distinguished professional achievements.
B. John Barry
John Barry began honing his business and entrepreneurial skills at the age of 12. During the summer of 1953, he would walk into the corner grocery store in his native Fargo and purchase all of the soda and candy bars he could fit into a cooler strapped to his bike. All that summer, he resold the treats to construction workers at a nearby housing development at a tidy profit. Years later, Barry enrolled at UND to develop his burgeoning business sense. In 1963, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a major in banking and finance. After graduation, at age 26, Barry was able to make his first real estate investment, using earnings and cash flow from various business ideas he had dreamed up and executed as a boy.
Barry went to work at American National Bank and Trust Company in St. Paul. He quickly moved his way up the ranks, becoming executive vice president and chief lending officer in less than 10 years. In 1974, he resigned to start his own banking organization. Within six months, Barry had bought more than 20 additional banks with more than 88 locations and nearly 1,000 employees in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. In 1998, Barry sold his banking organization to Norwest Bancorp, now Wells Fargo.
Barry also has owned a number of diversified financial services companies, as well as a chemical manufacturing and an airline. When Barry purchased Sun County Airlines in 1988, the company had three planes and 150 workers. By the time he sold it less than 10 years later, it had 18 planes and more than 1,250 workers. In 2003, Barry formed America Bancshares, Inc., and purchased a community bank with several locations in southern California.
Today, Barry is owner of MidAmerica Capital Partners, LLC. The company provides services for the Barry family business interests. Barry and his children, Thomas, Michael and Jessica, also are actively involved with The Barry Foundation, a nonprofit organization, which focuses on education, environment, health, social entrepreneurship and spirituality. The Barry Foundation has benefited UND immensely over the years with educational support, such as funding the Dru Sjodin Scholarship, which provides a full scholarship for one UND student in memory of the late UND alumna Dru Sjodin.
Currently, Barry serves as co-chair of the national steering committee for North Dakota Spirit – The Campaign for UND, which comprises many other UND alumni, including former UND athletes Phil Jackson and Carla Christofferson, a prominent Los Angeles lawyer and co-owner of the L.A. Sparks of the WNBA. The campaign is a $300 million fund-raising effort that began in 2005.
Peter B. Johnson
University of North Dakota
Executive Associate Vice President for University Relations
Media Relations Coordinator
Office of University Relations
701.777.4317 | 701.777.4616 fax