Secure Account Sign In

With Buddy the Dog, Gretchen Stenehjem Gives Back

Living First means something different to everyone. To FIBT Marketing Director Gretchen Stenehjem, it meant following a lifelong dream: to become a children’s author by telling the story of Buddy the Dog.

“He came to us at a time when we didn’t know that we needed him,” Gretchen said of Buddy — the golden retriever who wandered up the Stenehjem family’s home in Watford City years ago.

“He just kind of happened into our lives,” said Steve Stenehjem, Chairman and CEO of FIBT and Gretchen’s husband. Officials in the area had received no missing dog reports matching Buddy’s description. “He was a nice dog, and the kids loved having him around.”

While Gretchen and Steve were still working out what to do with the dog, he was clipped by a speeding truck, leaving him with only one eye.

“We decided that we thought the dog was meant to be with us,” Gretchen recalled. “We went home and had a family meeting, and of course the kids wanted to keep him! They decided to name him Buddy.”

So began twelve years of adventures with Buddy the Dog — adventures that aren’t just memories thanks to Gretchen’s gift for storytelling.

“I thought, I want my grandchildren to know about this dog,” she said. “So that’s why I started the book.”

“Gretchen is a former second grade teacher,” explained Steve. “She has always been a great communicator and a great storyteller.”

The Stenehjem family’s stories of Buddy — brought to life by Gretchen’s words and illustrations by Emily Hagen — are entertaining young readers across the country.

Gretchen’s son Peter, also the President of FIBT, said that becoming an author has always been a goal of his mom’s. “She's talked about it for a good chunk of my lifetime, that this is something she wants to do at some point. It's fun to see her finally at that 'some point.'”

"Anything she sets her mind to, she's all in," Peter added.

Buddy the Dog isn’t just fun for the kids; it’s a way to instill important lessons about living with a disability. “It didn’t stop him. He just wanted joy,” Gretchen said. “It doesn’t matter how someone looks; it didn’t matter how Buddy looked. He wanted love and acceptance and a family — same thing for everybody else.”

2023 saw Gretchen sharing those lessons with kids at book readings and meet-and-greet events. But her impact goes far beyond the written word: Gretchen donates all the proceeds from Buddy the Dog book sales to the Anne Carlsen Center, which provides services and support for people with disabilities across North Dakota.

Anne Carlsen Center CEO Tim Eissinger said he thrilled to learn of Gretchen’s passion for his organization. “Everywhere she goes, Gretchen is an ambassador for the work of Anne Carlsen,” Tim said. “She never misses an opportunity to advocate for the individuals we serve — and she’s a champion for people in general. We couldn’t be prouder of having an association with her.”

“The kids that live at Anne Carlsen, and the kids affected by Anne Carlsen’s outreach services, just want love and affection like every child. They want acceptance, just like Buddy wanted to be accepted.”

Gretchen’s spirit of warmth and acceptance is a constant at First International Bank & Trust. She shares it each day with our customers and coworkers — reminding us that Living First means cherishing the moments that matter most.