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Dave Barry Day

1/23/2006:

January 23rd, 2002 was Dave Barry Day in Grand Forks—the middle link in a chain of events and series of columns and news reports that used barrels of ink and provided barrels of laughs at North Dakota’s expense. Much needed laughs at that…it was just four years since the devastating flood of ’97, and just four months after 9/11.

The fun started back in August of 2001, when the humorous Miami writer got wind of a scheme to remove the “North” from “North Dakota,” and a parallel marketing push to label the cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks the “Grand Cities.” The two concepts were not linked in any way, but they both tickled Barry’s funny bone, and together they earned a column on August 12th entitled, “GRAND CITIES, DAKOTA: DON'T IT MAKE YOU WANT TO VISIT?”

“Popular” is an inadequate word for the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. According to the Grand Forks Herald, his column appeared in 548 newspapers in the U.S. and 50 abroad—with a combined circulation of 40 million. If any publicity is good publicity, the Grand Cities and North Dakota had hit the publicity jackpot with a Dave Barry column. But it was only the beginning.

City leaders wisely chose to fight humor with humor and urged citizens to deluge Barry with quirky postcards about the area, as well as invitations to visit. The mayors fanned the flames with an official invitation and the added enticement of an offer to name a municipal sewage lift station after Barry.

The campaign worked like goose calls in a slough full of decoys. Column number two appeared November 11th with more good-natured mockery of North Dakota and the Grand Cities. At the end he told his readers he was “seriously pondering a trip up to Dakota.”

City leaders brainstormed other potential activities should the Florida columnist accept their invitation. They could have him drive a snowplow or a Zamboni. They could suit him up in a goalie outfit and let the Sioux hockey team take shots at him. He could participate in the Frosty Bobber ice-fishing tournament.

Just days later, page one of the Herald declared, “DAVE BARRY IS COMING - SYNDICATED COLUMNIST RELENTS, PLANS TO VISIT GRAND CITIES IN DEAD OF WINTER.” Everyone, including Barry, knew the visit would be fodder for at least one more column. Chamber leader Dan Schenkein commented, “Can you imagine if we were trying to purchase this many column-inches in this many newspapers?”

On the big day, a crowd of about 75 gathered at the lift station at the corner of Cherry Street and 32nd Avenue South. As hoped, the temperature was 5 below zero. Barry shivered as he was presented a commemorative medallion and the sign bearing his name was unveiled. The mayor gave a mock speech and Barry responded in kind, “I'm honored…it's not every day that your work is compared to human waste.”

The balance of the day included city tours, ice-fishing on the Red, and a potluck with 1,000 area residents at Sacred Heart School in East Grand Forks, complete with hotdish, Jell-O salad, and bars. The visit generated three more columns—in February, March and May of 2002. In his Farewell Column in 2005, Barry summarized his 30-year career by recounting some of the fun things he (quote) “actually got paid to do.” Among the five things he listed was this, “After I made fun of North Dakota, the city of Grand Forks, N.D., invited me up there one January, and, in a deeply moving (also deeply cold) ceremony attended by a crowd of dozens, the mayor of Grand Forks, Mike Brown, dedicated a new sewage-lifting station in my honor…”

An historic moment…January 23rd, 2002…and no, we’re not making this up!

Sources:

Barry, Dave. “Grand Cities, Dakota: Don’t it make you want to visit?” Grand Forks Herald 12 Aug. 2001: E-3.

Jensen, Kris. “Too Good to Refuse: GF Mayor Invites Dakota-Bashing Columnist Dave Barry to Tour Grand Cities” Grand Forks Herald 18 Aug. 2001: A-1.

Tran, Tu-Uyen. “Going on the Offensive: Plotting a Barry-Picking Offensive, Group Plans Campaign to Coax Columnist to Visit Grand Cities” Grand Forks Herald 24 Aug. 2001: B-1.

Barry, Dave. “Poking Fun at N.D., Grand Cities Invitation Leads Columnist to Lampoon Sewage Lift Station Naming, Buffalo Jerky and Fishing Tourneys” Grand Forks Herald 11 Nov. 2001: E-3.

DeLage, Jaime. “Won’t We Be Grand If Dave Barry Visits – We Are Not Making This Up” Grand Forks Herald 11 Nov. 2001: A-1.

DeLage, Jaime. “Dave Barry is Coming – Syndicated Columnist Relents, Plans to Visit Grand Cities in Dead of Winter” Grand Forks Herald 17 Nov. 2001: A-1.

Bakken, Ryan. “Wanted: Some Barry Challenging Ideas” Grand Forks Herald 25 Nov. 2001: B-1.

Bakken, Ryan. “BRRR, Barry – Dave Set to Give the Grand Cities a Midwinter Lift” Grand Forks Herald 23 Jan. 2002: A-1.

Bakken, Ryan. “A Barry Good Time – Columnist Honored With a Lift Station Naming and Community Potluck” Grand Forks Herald 24 Jan. 2002: A-1.

Barry, Dave. “Investigative Reporter Finds Grand Cities Nice, Cold, Flat” Grand Forks Herald 24 Feb. 2002: E-3.

Barry, Dave. “Matt’s Schnapps Thawed Daves’s Frosty Bobber” Grand Forks Herald 3 Mar. 2002: E-3.

Barry, Dave. “Forget Disney – Bring the Whole Family to Grand Forks” Grand Forks Herald 26 May 2002: E-3.

Barry, Dave. “The Last Laugh” Grand Forks Herald 2 Jan. 2005: E-3.