BISMARCK— The funeral of Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem reflected how he lived: passionate for the outdoors, surrounded by fellow public servants and filled with his family’s sense of humor.
About 1,000 government officials, colleagues, friends and family attended Stenehjem’s funeral on Monday at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence.
Stenehjem, 59, was killed last Monday near Soldotna, Alaska, when the vehicle he was driving went off the road and rolled. He was on a family fishing trip when the accident occurred.
The windows in the room at BSC provided a view of the Missouri River, making it feel like the funeral was in the great outdoors that Stenehjem loved.
Flowers lined the front of the room, along with United States and North Dakota flags.
Sen. Dave O’Connell of Lansford, the state’s former minority leader, gave the first speech reflecting the tone of the day: emotional, but also filled with the humor known of the Stenehjem family.
Although they were on different sides of the political aisle, O’Connell said Stenehjem was like a brother.
“Bob was a man who had a clear sense of right and wrong,” O’Connell said. “He was consistent in what he believed in.”
Stenehjem, a Republican from Bismarck, was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and became majority leader in 2001. He worked as the city of Bismarck’s roads and streets foreman.
O’Connell said most people will never know the depth of dedication that Stenehjem had to the state, saying he could go on for hours. He sparked laughter saying it would also “tick Bob off” if he did because Stenehjem wasn’t one to seek the limelight.
He thanked Stenehjem for building a strong foundation and laying many cornerstones for the next generation to build upon.
He also recalled the humor between them and how Stenehjem would ask him, “What the hell do you want now?” when he walked into the majority leader’s office. The two would talk as friends, and Stenehjem would end the conversation by saying, ‘Now get your ass out of here. We both have work to do.”
Stenehjem’s siblings also spoke of how he always stayed true to himself. His sister, Peggy, spoke of how he loved making lefse and sausage and his belief that “plaid shirts go with everything.”
His brother, Allan, took a moment to take in the large crowd and said the family appreciates all of the calls and messages.
His brother’s death is a tragic loss, but sharing memories helps keep him alive, he said.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem recalled when he and his brother were young boys, and Bob convinced him they should stick their tongues to a propane tank on a bitter cold winter day.
“Even at that early age, Bob was not always right, but he was always a leader,” Wayne Stenehjem said to laughter.
Bob Stenehjem was “truly North Dakota’s master of the Senate,” but he was always “just Bob” and never put on airs or pretended to be someone he wasn’t, Wayne Stenehjem said. He didn’t seek media attention and preferred simply to get the job done.
Wayne Stenehjem shared a note the family received from a North Dakotan who visited the Capitol and needed help getting water for his service dog. Bob Stenehjem found a container and wiped up the floor when the dog was finished.
Wayne Stenehjem said that gesture summed up who his brother was.
On Sunday, about 700 people paid their final respects to Stenehjem at the state Capitol, where he lay in state in the Senate chamber.
He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery on Monday.