of the Ludwig and Christina (Schwahn) Welk Homestead
Near Strasburg, North Dakota
Sunday, June 7, 1992
Presentation by Larry Welk, son of Lawrence Welk
and grandson of Ludwig and Christina (Schwahn) Welk
Governor, distinguished guests, family and friends. I am here
with you today, just a few weeks after my father's passing, to
bring back to this homesite the deep respect and love which he
carried in his heart for this place. All of his life, the mention
of the word Strasburg would put a light in his eyes and fill his
memory with the people and scenes from his childhood. It was this
home and the people of Strasburg which supported and sustained
him throughout an extraordinary life and career. Today, I bring
back his gratitude and mine.
When, at the age of 21, my father left this home
to seek his fortune in a wider world, he never forgot the important
virtues and values which had formed his character. These were
carried throughout his life and were the foundation for his work,
both as a celebrity and a business leader.
As he left this place, the only skill he possessed
was his accordion playing. He spoke no English, had no education,
knew nothing of the entertainment field. Cars, radio stations,
business contracts and gangsters were all new to him. But the
hardships of his boyhood, with deprivations of every kind, provided
a major strength to this self-taught musician. It didn't matter
that he had to sleep in cornfields or in cars. A life of music,
which had found its expression in his accordion, seemed like a
miracle. Into that music he poured his immense sense of wonder,
joy and zest for life. And people listened -- and are still listening.
My dad always reminded me of the Russian comedian,
Jacob Smirnoff, shortly after he immigrated to America. Jacob
(pronounced Yah-Kob) tells about walking down the aisles in an
American supermarket and being utterly amazed by what he was seeing.
First he noticed some milk powder for sale and discovered that
you only had to add water to it to have real milk. He marveled
at this technology. On the next aisle he found powdered orange
juice and found that he only had to add water to that to make
real orange juice. He was astounded at this advance. Then, as
he rounded the next corner he found a shelf displaying baby powder.
He turned around and shouted, "My God What A Country!"
Dad mirrored this same exuberance and optimism
about life in America. I think the word "Irrepressible" was coined
for him. His persistence was legendary. He felt that most people
gave up on a project much too soon. In fact, he felt that they
gave up just before the project was ready to take off and fly.
He would say, "Always keep trying -- never give up." My mother
often commented, "Your father is like a cork. If you push him
down in one part of the water, he soon pops up in another part
and keeps right on going."
My dad was the son of immigrants -- the first generation
in this country who had to struggle with the tensions between
an old-world culture of formal rules and tradition and a new-world
culture of curiosity, independence and diverse values. His life
reflected the competing forces of these two worlds - few men or
women of his generation integrated these two worlds so successfully
into their lives and work.
I want, for a moment, to speak here about my grandparents,
Christina and Ludwig Welk. They had come to this site in the waning
years of the last century, having left the Black Sea region of
the Ukraine, under gathering clouds of economic and political
oppression. They, along with many young families, left behind
parents, siblings, extended family and friends knowing with a
heartbreaking certainty that they would never again see these
loved ones. I wonder if any of us can comprehend the enormous
courage of mind and heart that it took to make that final break
and to walk forth into an unknown world and an incomprehensible
And, having weathered the grueling journey by wagon,
ships' steerage and train, they finally settled here on the plains.
Do we have any idea of the sheer guts it took to carve their home
out of this soil, block by hard block, while they lived in temporary
shelters and Christina gave birth to their first child? In their
first years they endured the extreme cold of winter and the searing
heat of summer with no relief, often spending sleepless nights
and days nursing children gravely ill with diseases for which
there were no immunizations and no antibiotics.
Each year there was new hope that the seeds sown
the previous season with backbreaking labor would produce a good
harvest - a harvest that would not be destroyed by drought, locusts
or frosts. In the bitter years of the depression, there was still
hope that the family would survive with enough food and enough
clothing - and a little extra, to share with less fortunate neighbors,
so that they could have some semblance of pride.
We often think of those great Americans who have
climbed mountains, or formed alliances, who have been fine presidents
or who have walked on the moon. Or those who have achieved a stunning
breakthrough in man's endurance record or in man's understanding
of technology. We hail these remarkable individuals and we are
inspired by them. But do we ever ask if their marvelous feats
required a lifetime of the kind of quiet valor that Christina
and Ludwig and their neighbors possessed? Their lives of perseverance
called for stouter hearts than those worn by many who have been
lauded in our history. Each day of their lives was infused with
a dedication to their family and to their principles which we
now see was heroic. That is the legacy which they left to their
heirs, among them my father.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay a special
tribute to the women of these plains - and to my grandmother and
my aunts. In addition to sharing in all of the work of their men,
these women also endured the ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth
under primitive conditions, the enormous responsibility of sheltering
and rearing infants and children while working on a farm and the
often soul-shattering experiences of nursing children through
long illnesses or losing them to death. I am here today to praise
their courage and to thank them for their vision in securing the
strength and stability of their families and their communities.
I want to know my history! It is my generation that wants to explore
our history - that wants to know the details of personalities,
circumstances and motivations which formed the lives of our ancestors.
But my ancestors are silent. They have left no letters, no diaries,
no stories. Much that they experienced was too painful to relate
- to painful to ponder. The pain would have been crippling. So
they put it behind them in order to build a different life. This
is the tension between those who want to learn their history and
those who have lived it.
There's a story about Richard Nixon when he was
president. At one of his press conferences he had answered several
questions. Finally, a reporter asked him a personal question:
"Sir," he queried, "Is it true that you were born in a log cabin?"
"Oh no, no," replied Mr. Nixon, not true at all - no no. I believe
you're thinking of Abraham Lincoln. You see, I was born in a manger."
Well, my dad was so poor, he was practically born in a manger
and he never forgot it. He was always proud of his roots, of his
family and of his home town. He had no pretensions. [His virtues
and talents were born here.]
A deeply ingrained respect for every person made
him the confidante of farmers and financiers, of peasants and
presidents. It was hard for him to be biased because he so quickly
saw beyond race, creed or gender to the essential humanity of
His was one of the first shows to display the talents
of performers of all races, to play the music of many religions
and to show the joyous contributions they were making to America's
culture. He was the first entertainer to institute a profit-sharing
policy in his corporation and with his orchestra - a policy that
continues in place today.
His curiosity and keen insights into business patterns
enabled him to spot trends, to analyze concepts and listen to
his intuition. Throughout his life, people knew that they could
trust his word - that his handshake on a deal was as good as an
So, my friends, it was this home and this family
that, despite daunting hardships, nurtured the young boy who became
my dad - who became Lawrence Welk. In those harsh early times,
it would have been understandable if his family had forced him
to conform to their rigorous schedule in keeping a small farm
going while trying to support 8 children. Yet his musical talent
was respected, and shared, by his parents and his many siblings.
His artistic temperament and creative mind were not crushed by
insistence on a rigid conformity to rules but were accepted by
parents who did not know what life held for him but trusted that
his talent, and God's guidance, would bring him a full life. How
often we find, as parents, that it is our non-traditional children
who become a great source of pride and growth for us!
In this home I see the embodiment of all of the
values which my father lived and which our family still lives:
- It was this home that taught him integrity and honesty.
- It was this home that formed his exquisite sensitivity to people
- It was this home that modeled sacrifice and self-discipline
for other's benefit.
- It was this home that taught him to worship God and the world
he (or she) created.
- It was this home that was an example of perseverance.
- It was this home where a love of music became a part of their
- It was this home which strengthened him to meet and conquer
Our futures, too, were born in this home, this
town, this state. Let us take hope and courage from this place
as a precious legacy from our ancestors, as we carry forward their
dreams to fulfillment.
Reprinted with permission of Welk Group Inc.,
Santa Monica, California.