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  • Writer's pictureRetha Mattern

Remembering my friend, Wayne Stenehjem

Every once in a while, you’re lucky enough to meet a person who leaves a lasting impact on you. Wayne Stenehjem was one of those people for me. It’s been amazing reading all of the posts these past few days and hearing stories of what he meant to so many. It all shows just how genuine of a person he was, and how huge his capacity to love others was.

I had the fortune of meeting Wayne 15 years ago, first in his official capacity, and later had the fortune of calling him a friend. I spent many hours in his office interviewing him for stories both serious and fun, learning about his love for North Dakota and his desire and determination to do what was right for the state and its people. He added me as one of his first Facebook friends shortly after joining the platform and would greet me with a hug and a big “hello my Facebook friend!” for weeks after.

After I left my role in media I got to know him more at events and dinners, where he always made you feel like you were the one he wanted to be sitting with or talking to, and not that he was just biding time until someone more important came along. He genuinely cared about his time with you, and that’s been so evident reading all of the stories and anecdotes shared by so many. We were lucky enough to be invited to some of his 4th of July bashes and watch fireworks from one of the best vantage points in the city. Clara and I walked in the State Fair parade with him, where she wasn’t the least bit disappointed about not gathering candy since she got to sit on all the tootsie rolls she could want once her little feet got tired. (She still talks about that time she got to ride in a convertible and eat endless tootsie rolls).

I’m devastated that despite seeing him several times in January, I didn’t take a picture with him, nor can I find one I know I do have from a few years ago, but I will forever cherish his cards and notes of support, along with his memory. He was one of my earliest and biggest supporters in encouraging me to run for office and made the time to come to my campaign announcement, talk with me on the phone to give me advice, and text me with encouragement. I know he did so much like this for so many.

Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Wayne, I promise I’ll do my best to live up to the legacy you left, laugh and find joy in your larger-than-life way, and love life and the people around you the way you did. Thanks for being my friend. I’ll miss you terribly.

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