Wayne Stenehjem Memorial

Wayne Stenehjem

Wayne Stenehjem
February 5, 1953 – January 28, 2022

Wayne Stenehjem’s family and friends have established an endowment in his name to fund law student scholarships at his alma mater.


Wayne Stenehjem, 68, died January 28, 2022, in Bismarck, North Dakota. The longtime public servant, who was North Dakota’s Attorney General for the past 20 years, received a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of North Dakota in 1974 and was a 1977 graduate of the UND School of Law.  

Wayne was born on February 5, 1953, to Martin “Buck” and Margurite “Peg” (McMaster) Stenehjem in Mohall, North Dakota. He was married to Tamra Smith on June 16, 1978, and his son Andrew was born on December 31, 1980. On June 30, 1995, he married Beth Bakke Stenehjem. 

Wayne was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1976, serving two terms until his election to the ND Senate in 1980. He served 20 years in the Senate until his election to the Office of Attorney General. In January 2001, Wayne was sworn in as the State’s 29th Attorney General. He was reelected five times and was the longest serving Attorney General in North Dakota history. 

An Eagle Scout since 1968, Wayne was honored with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in 2013. He had an “open door” office. Boy Scouts, FFA members, preschool classes, and many small groups were welcome. He especially enjoyed meeting children and had a gift for putting them at ease. Wayne was well-known for his sunset pictures of the Capitol. He was a gifted and humorous speaker. 

Beth and Wayne hosted annual 4th of July parties where all were welcome. Friends, new and old, have memories of water balloon slingshots and the occasional mishap with shingles and fences, pinatas held up only as high as the child who was aiming, and Mentos in Diet Coke with volcanic results. Wayne masterminded the fun. Wayne’s laugh was like him – larger than life and completely genuine. 

Wayne, Beth, and Andrew travelled the world over: Antarctica, Africa, and many places in between. On a recent trip to Belize, he became a certified diver, joining his son, Andrew, and nephew on some spectacular dives. Closer to home he and Beth explored the local area with their electric bikes. 

Wayne will be deeply missed by his wife, Beth; son, Andrew; brothers, Steven (Kim) and Allan (Dominque); sister, Peggy Stenehjem Titus (Corky); sisters-in-law, Kathy Stenehjem, JaVayne Stenehjem; and brother-in-law, Patrick Brown. 

He is proceeded in death by parents, Martin (Buck) and Peg Stenehjem; brothers, John and Robert (Bob); and sister, Sue Stenehjem-Brown. 

Adopted from obituary published by Bismarck Funeral Home and Crematory 

An endowment has been created by Wayne’s family and friends to honor his memory and his impact on law students at the University of North Dakota.
From the Grand Forks Herald:  

Rob Carolin, who spent more than 15 years at UND’s School of Law as director of alumni and public relations and is now chief of staff in President Andrew Armacost’s office, said he was shocked at the news of Stenehjem’s death. From working with the school’s legislative internship program to mentoring students and returning to the school to speak in lectures, Stenehjem was a force in the school’s history since he graduated in 1977, and he particularly enjoyed the swearing in ceremony in Bismarck for newly minted attorneys. 

“He was such a trusted adviser. He was a proud alum,” Carolin said. “He was a person that we looked to for support for the things that we were doing here for our students.” 

Michael McGinniss, dean of the law school, said Stenehjem always wanted to inspire new graduates to be responsible professionals. It was part of his character, to display genuine interest in people and their careers. 

With Stenehjem’s death, the law school lost an important ally and voice in the Legislature, McGinniss said. Lawmakers listened to him because of his credibility and character, and he was a force in helping improve funding levels to the school, after a downturn in commodity markets caused it to be reduced. 

“I'm grateful to him, and the whole law school is to this day for the work that he and our allies did to lead us to some really better places through the additional funding,” McGinniss said. 

Said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation: “There were many times where I'd be in Bismarck for the legislative session and have UND students with me and I'd say, ‘let's stop by Wayne's office.’ He was always there with a handshake and talking to the students and wanting to know where they were from, and what they were pursuing.” 

UND President Andrew Armacost called Stenehjem "a true giant" in North Dakota. 

"As a graduate of UND and the UND School of Law, he offered incredible leadership to our North Dakota citizens for many years. We will keep the Stenehjem family in our thoughts and prayers as they search for peace in the wake of this tragedy,” Armacost said.

Please commemorate Wayne by supporting UND Law students. Your gift today will continue Wayne's commitment to a bright future for North Dakota's youth.

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