Welk, his Fans Place Heritage in
"Welk, his Fans Place Heritage in Perspective." Forum, 10
June 1992, sec. A4.
The death in May of bandleader Lawrence Welk, and
the dedication a few days ago of his boyhood home in Strasburg,
N.D., are reminders to all North Dakotans of the rich heritage
of the Germans from Russia who settled in the state.
Welk's remarkable musical career is a classic rags-to-riches
story. More importantly, however, is that the champagne music
maker never forgot his roots on the Emmons County farm, and frequently
referred to North Dakota during the 30 years his musical variety
program was on television. His place in the state's history is
assured and was underscored years ago when he became the first
recipient of the North Dakota Roughrider Award, the highest honor
the state can confer on a native son or daughter.
The Welk homestead at Strasburg is a focal point
for long overdue recognition of the contributions of German-Russians.
A heritage museum is an important part of the development. It
will tell the story of pioneers who escaped oppression in the
Old World and then faced the hardships of the Northern Plains
in the New World.
Stories of hardy immigrants certainly are not unique;
people from nearly every European nation came to North America.
The Germans from Russia, however, maintained an identity - a community
- that is unique.
It is that strong connection to ethnicity, language
and custom that lends such vitality to the project at Strasburg.
It is that strong connection between heritage and modern America
that ensured Welk's popularity for such a long time. He was the
bridge between old and new.
The people of Strasburg and Emmons County have struggled
to get the heritage project and Welk homestead restoration funded.
A $500,000 federal grant - an inappropriate expenditure of federal
funds - was withdrawn, but project proponents did not lose faith.
Indeed, private dollars keep coming in, indicating Welk's fans
and others who recognize the importance of the German-Russian
story are willing to help tell it.
The unexpectedly large turnout last Sunday for the
Welk homestead dedication indicates the effort will succeed without
federal dollars. Maybe that's as it should be. After all, among
the admired characteristics of the German-Russian pioneers were
self-reliance and an ability to overcome adversity.
Establishing a place where German-Russian heritage
can be examined and appreciated is another chapter in the story
of these extraordinary North Dakotans. We applaud their work,
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.