BISMARCK, N.D. - As 2019 closes the book on the last decade, all of us at Your News Leader are saying goodbye to an important chapter in our station's history. Donna Hardt, news photographer of more than 40 years, is retiring today. We took a moment to look back on her impact on the community.
"You see some faces come and go, but Donna's was one that was always a constant," said Lee Ellison, KFYR-TV photographer.
"Donna is one of the greatest people I know," said Max Grossfeld, KFYR-TV producer and reporter.
In part, that's what makes Donna Hardt so special to the news cycle in North Dakota. Former news director Dick Heidt describes her as "like a bull dog. She finds a way to get everything done."
After signing on to chase down stories with a camera twice her size in the late 1970s, she never tired of meeting more North Dakotans.
"Literally, I could probably say, not exaggerating, probably thousands of stories," Donna said, trying to put a number on the amount of stories she's covered. But, from the very beginning, she made a splash wherever she went.
"I saw this little blonde," Ellison recalls of the first time he met Donna, "we were doing live shots at a trial or something. I walk over to the corner, and there's Donna Hardt. It's like, who are you? What are you doing in TV? Because you're 5'3" and you weigh 80 pounds. This gear is a lot more weight than you combined," he laughed.
Monica Hannan, anchor, recalls how Donna's tenacity always delivered a story by deadline. "Donna will do anything for a story," she said. "So, she's out doing a story on a tattoo shop. No customers. So, we wait, and wait, and wait, and finally she decides, I'm not waiting any more. So, she points the camera at her ankle and films her own tattooing."
Along the way, some of North Dakota's leaders couldn't help but take notice of her, like when she turned down then-Governor John Hoeven's insistence to get her medical attention.
"I was doing a drought tour and you were out covering us," Sen. Hoeven recalled. "We were out in a field and you stepped in a hole and badly sprained your ankle. I was trying to get you to come back on the Governor's plane with us. You were too much of a trooper. You wouldn't do it. You finished out your work. It just shows you're a true professional. You were always out covering us on whatever we did and just did a super job."
Donna was behind the camera for some of the biggest stories in the region, including a massive pot bust in South Dakota in 1980, the infamous Gordon Kahl shootout in Medina, the 2011 floods and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Starting out as a single mom of two, she covered it all without losing sight of what's important.
"If you were a reporter on staff and you wanted to get an interview done, Donna set that feeling for you when you walked into an interview. Because all the people in the community know Donna from years of experience as a photographer and close friends she has," Dwayne Walker, former KFYR-TV photographer and childhood friend, explained.
Donna really knew what it meant to press record on someone's life.
"It's an honor to come into your home or your business," she said.