Musical Schwab Family Helped Make
the Blue Room a Place to Remember
"Musical Schwab Family Helped Make the Blue Room a Place to Remember." Emmons County Record, 5 September 2000, sec. 3B.
Magdalena "Lenny" (Baumgartner) Schwab grew up with Lawrence
Welk, and her family had as much to do with making The Blue Room a
place of memories as anyone else.
Lenny, born in 1907, and John Schwab, born in 1902, were married
in 1925 at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Strasburg. It
was about that time that John came into demand as an accordionist
play at wedding parties, barn dances, namesday parties and golden
His abilities on the accordion prompted his friend, Lawrence Welk,
who was a year younger, to ask him to teach him some of his songs.
John had learned to play the button accordion from his father, Lorenz.
The instrument was popular among Germans from Russia who began settling
in the Emmons County area in the 1880s.
Lenny knew the Welks because her family's farm was about two miles
from the Welk homestead, which is now a museum operated by Pioneer
Lawrence and John and other young musicians practiced together
many times before Welk left Strasburg at about age 21 to launch
a career that would make him world famous and a very successful
"Lawrence Welk had guts. He could hardly talk English when
he left Strasburg but look how big a man he got to be," Lenny
As far as I can remember, John and Lawrence never performed together
in public," she said.
Lenny said she was very proud of her husband and his musical talent,
and she enjoyed accompanying him to the events where he performed.
The Schwabs had 10 children, four of whom performed with John as
kids and young adults. The family includes Joe "Juddy,"
Larry, John Jr., Jimmy, Florence (Klein), Irene (Lipp), Clarence
(deceased), Luverne (Feist), Antonia (Baumgartner) and Clara (Huber).
When the Schwabs performed together, Florence played the accordion
and the piano. Larry played the piano, Jimmy was on the trumpet
and Clarence added rhythm with his drums. They played many times
over the years in The Blue Room.
The Schwab brothers later became the "Bubbling Quintet"
and continue to perform, although not as often as they did for so
many years. The quintet also included Bill Mastel and Eugene Weisbeck.
Adding to the family's memories of the ballroom, the wedding parties
of Juddy, Larry, Clara and Clarence were held in The Blue Room.
John switched from the button accordion to the keyboard instrument
after buying a used 1915 model from Tom Guttenberg of Bismarck,
who introduced the "piano" accordion to the area.
On a regular basis, John would pack up his accordion and ship it
to Chicago where it would be repaired or rebuilt. The last time
he sent it, the company said they could not fix it. That did not
stop John for he took it apart and overhauled it himself. The ivory
keys were worn through to the wood beneath them, so he replaced
While John played a large repertoire of songs by ear, he was probably
most noted for his rendition of "The Wedding March."
Lenny remembers that he would arrive in The Blue Room well ahead
of a wedding party and play the march as the honored couple and
guests arrived after saying their vows at Sts. Peter & Paul.
Until his death in 1956, John was The Blue Room's most frequent
performer, and a wedding almost wasn't a wedding without his beautiful
Cooking for crowds
Like John, Lenny was also a key person at The Blue Room. She cooked
for countless weddings, gold anniversaries and other events held
at the ballroom.
After John's death, she also cooked at the Strasburg School for
"When I first cooked in The Blue Room, the kitchen was in
the south end. The kitchen was on one side of the stage, and the
coatroom was on the other," Lenny recalled.
At first, the kitchen was equipped with cookstoves that were stoked
with wood and coal. They were later replaced with kerosene stoves
that had tanks that held a gallon of kerosene and had to be refilled
"The cookstoves had an advantage over the kerosene stoves
because you could cook more on a cookstove," she said.
There was no running water in the kitchen for years, and Lenny
would haul cream cans full of water for use in cooking as well as
for drinking water for the people.
Lenny believes it was in the 1950s when the kitchen was moved to
the north end of the ballroom, and running water and gas stoves
"The gas stoves were quite an improvement, and I didn't miss
filling the kerosene tanks on the stoves," she said. She said
the gas stoves were a lot handier and cleaner than their predecessors.
When a family asked Lenny to cook for a wedding, she helped organize
the menu and told them what would be needed for the meal. Although
it depended upon the family, most families butchered their own chickens
and brought potatoes and other ingredients from their gardens. They
also provided the kuchen for dessert.
With the help of one other lady, usually Margaret Kraft, Lenny
would spend the day before the wedding getting everything ready
in The Blue Room kitchen. The family would help out, and the potatoes
would be peeled and the coleslaw made.
"Wedding parties sometimes last two or three days, but, for
many years, we usually prepared noon dinner and supper for wedding
parties," Lenny explained.
A typical noon menu would be German chicken noodle soup, fried
chicken, mashed potatoes, coleslaw and kuchen. Supper would include
sausage, rice dressing, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, cakes and kuchen.
"There were no smorgasbords when I cooked at The Blue Room.
Everything was served at the table, plate by plate," Lenny
said. "The family provided the waiters and waitresses, who
were usually younger kids."
Lenny doesn't remember the biggest group she ever served, but she
said many wedding parties included over 300 people.
In addition to her memories about cooking in The Blue Room and watching
her husband perform there so many times, Lenny's most recent memories
are of the Schwab family reunions, including one held earlier this
summer, at The Blue Room.
At 97, Lenny can remember when Strasburg was booming with three
big general stores and many other businesses, including the Keller
Hotel. The streets would be packed with people coming to town to
do their week's business.
"I hope The Blue Room can be rebuilt," she said. "The
town needs it."
For Lenny Schwab, life is full of rich memories of a wonderful
ballroom packed with happy people, good food and great music.
Pictured at one
of their reunions in The Blue Room are, back row, left to
rigt, Larry and Evelyn Schwab, John Schwab, Jr., Jimmy and
Edna Schwab, Florence (Schwab) Klein, Irene and Jim Lipp and
Luverne and Jimmy Feist; seated, Juddy and Imogene Schwab,
Antonia Baumgartner, Lenny Schwab and Clara and Jim Huber.
Lenny Schwab holds
her late husband John's accordion. She did not play the instrument,
but she is very proud of her husband's musical talent.
The Schwab family
continues to maintain the sod house that homesteader Lorenz
Schwab built northeast of Strasburg. John and Lenny Schwab
raised their 10 children in the house, and they moved into
Strasburg in 1947. Juddy and Imogene Schwab then took over
the farm. Although it is not occupied full time now, the family
continues to maintain it, and it was painted after this picture
was taken. It is similar to the sod house where Lenny (Baumgartner)
grew up. It has an outside stairway to the attic, much like
the Lawrence Welk family homestead.
John and Lenny
Schwab are pictured as a young couple.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.