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Published July 25, 2011, 07:27 PM

Over 800 Attend Stenehjem Funeral; Leader Recalled as Honest, Unassuming

North Dakota Senate Republican majority leader Bob Stenehjem was an honest, generous, sometimes gruff man who neither sought nor wanted praise for his accomplishments as a lawmaker, a Democratic colleague said at Stenehjem's funeral Monday.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Senate Republican majority leader Bob Stenehjem was an honest, generous, sometimes gruff man who neither sought nor wanted praise for his accomplishments as a lawmaker, a Democratic colleague said at Stenehjem's funeral Monday.

"He did so many great things for this state. I could go on for hours listing all the things Bob has done that nobody knows about. It would probably tick Bob off, knowing Bob," said Sen. David O'Connell, D-Lansford, who was the Democratic Senate leader for eight of Stenehjem's 10 years as the leader of the GOP Senate's majority.

"It wasn't his interest in taking credit for his work. He simply did what was needed to be done," O'Connell said.

More than 800 people attended the funeral for Stenehjem, 59, who died last week in Alaska when the SUV he was driving went out of control and overturned. Stenehjem was on a halibut fishing trip with his son and grandson.

O'Connell; two of Stenehjem's brothers, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and former state Rep. Allan Stenehjem; and his sister, Peggy Stenehjem-Titus, related stories of Bob Stenehjem as a grade schooler, mechanic, hunter, lefse chef — it's a type of flatbread made with potatoes — and lawmaker.

At his older brother's urging, Wayne Stenehjem said, the two preschool youngsters once raced outside on a frigid winter day in Mohall, in northwestern North Dakota, to see what would happen if they licked the propane tank that provided the family's heating fuel.

The crying, bloody-tongued boys were given tissues by their mother and told to stay outside until the bleeding stopped.

"Even at that early age, Bob was not always right. But he was always the leader," Wayne Stenehjem said.

As a grade schooler living in Williston, N.D., Bob Stenehjem and a friend once hopped a westbound freight train that was passing through town "to see how far they could get," Wayne Stenehjem said. They jumped off at Sidney, Mont., about 50 miles to the southwest.

"They had to hitchhike all the way back ... so that Bob would be in time for his paper route," Wayne Stenehjem said. "And this, I think, is why he eventually wound up on the (Senate) Transportation Committee."

Wayne Stenehjem and Peggy Stenehjem-Titus told of their brother's fascination with technology. He talked on a citizens' band radio in the family laundry room, using the name "The Red Fox," despite relentless teasing from relatives.

"You didn't care. You loved it and that was all that mattered," Stenehjem-Titus said. "You were willing to stay true to yourself no matter what."

Wayne Stenehjem said his brother "developed a love for everything mechanical and electrical. He liked to take machines apart and put them back together."

"He was the first person I knew who owned a CB radio, a houseboat, an airplane, a Trans Am, a Porsche," Stenehjem said. "Of all the people I ever knew, he was the first person to own a VCR. Dad once said, 'You know, Bob is so busy he even had to buy a machine to stay home and watch television for him.'"

Bob Stenehjem's fascination with how things worked extended to the Legislature, Wayne Stenehjem said.

"He'd take every issue, or the entire budget, treat it like a complex machine," Wayne Stenehjem said. "He'd take the issue apart, separate it into its individual parts, examine them, and then methodically put them all back together ... That took nuance, wisdom, and frankly, just street smarts, and Bob had it all."

The funeral was held on the fourth floor of Bismarck State College's National Energy Center of Excellence, which has a glass south outer wall that affords a panoramic view of the Missouri River.

The floor is unfinished, with a bare concrete surface, and Bob Stenehjem helped push for state money during the 2011 Legislature to furnish it.

"From here, you can almost see Bob's favorite walleye fishing spot," Wayne Stenehjem said. "Which, because I was sworn to secrecy, I'm not going to tell you about. But it's great."

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