Strasburg Toasts Welk, the 'King
of Champagne Music'
"Strasburg Toasts Welk, the 'King of Champagne Music'." Bismarck Tribune, 8 June 1992, sec. 1A.
STRASBURG- Champagne music filled the air and cars
lined up for miles along a gravel road Sunday as friends and neighbors
came to dedicate the farm where Lawrence Welk was born.
"I can just see him clasping his hands and
saying, 'wunnerful, wunnerful!' " said Norma Zimmer, the
"champagne lady" singer with Welk's band, who joined
the crowd at the tiny Welk farmhouse two miles from Strasburg.
The dedication had benn planned long before the
89- year- old bandleader's death May 17. But Sunday's turnout
stunned even its organizers.
Rosemary Schaefbauer, president of Pioneer Heritage
Inc., a Strasburg group that worked to restore the Welk farm,
said she had planned for 1,500 to 1,700 people. But the cars and
trucks kept streaming down the road, backed up more than two miles.
The license plates told of visitors from as far away as Colorado
It was the kind of gathering that Welk's parents,
who came to this country in 1893, might have loved to share with
other German- Russian pioneer families. First there was a parade
down Strasburg's Main Street, with people standing four- deep
to watch the 50 entries, inculding convertibles carrying Zimmer,
Myron Floren and assorted dignitaries.
Parade watchers came armed with cameras and videocams
to capture the special day. They chuckled as one tribute to Welk
puttered by: a garden tractor pulled a float toting a pint- sized
accordion player and his bubble- blowing assistant. A boom box,
blaing polka tunes, was strapped onto the tractor's hood.
Zimmer, introduced by the announcer as "Norma
Simmer" in true German style, flashed an empty candy barrel
and an apologetic smile to kids who waited expectantly for another
shower of goodies.
Later, at the formal dedication, she said this was
the first time she'd seen Welk's boyhood home. "I'm just
thrilled with it. It's so beautiful... with all the rolling hills
Visitors toured the refurbished sod house wher Welk,
one of eight children, was born. They also walked through other
buildings like a summer kitchen, a buggy house and restored barn.
"I don't think the farm has seen this many
people ever on one day," said accordion player Floren, a
member of Welk's band for 32 years.
Welk: City hopes to preserve heritage of
(from page 1A)
"I think it shocked us all to see the line,"
said Larry Welk, Lawrence's 52- year- old son. Now a resident
of Santa Monica, Calif., he had not been to the farm in some 30
The visitors included members of the Welk clan who
held their own family reunion over the weekend, and officals from
North Dakota State University, who are planning to house and promote
some of Welk's personal papers as part of German- Russian history.
Welk left Strasburg when he was 24 to start a musical
career that took him from the dance halls of the Dakotas to national
television. He became known as the "King of Champagne music"
for his bubbly dance tunes.
"He never really spoke a lot about his early
childhood, except (about) the values and work ethic he acquired
here at his home," said his son, who received a standing
ovation from the crowd.
"But I think for so many people of his generation,
the experiences were painful experiences- a lot of hard work and
a lot of sickness and early death and having to brave the elements."
But Welk didn't forget Strasburg, even after he
moved to California. He provided money for a park and improvements
for the school, among other things.
"He was very proud of the fact that he was
from North Dakota," said Margaret Heron, Wel's executive
secretary. She now works for the Welk Group, headed by Laryy Welk,
which has dealings in real estate and entertainment.
The Welk resoration project came in for some criticism
last year when a proposed $500,000 grant for a German- Russian
museum in Strasburg was scrapped by Congress as an example of
wasteful spending. The Welk farm itself has been restored with
Michael Miller, a German- Russian expert at NDSU,
said that with the support of the Welk family, Starsburg organization
and university, the farm can draw tourists interested in Welk
and German- Russian history.
Te three surrounding counties- McIntoch, Emmons
and Logan- have the largest concentration of Germans from Russia
in the country, Miller said.
And the champagne music will live on, say Welk's
Adam Gefre of nearby Linton remembers dancing to
Welk's music 50 or 60 tears ago. But his children, he said, feel
"After us, it's gone," he said. "But
those old people, they still have polkas and waltzes in their
Reprinted with permission from The Bismarck
WELK FAN: Lawrence
Welk Jr. met one of his grandfather's fans, Rosemary Norby,
at Sunday's dedication. Norby of Knox even brought along
a postcard she reveived from the bandleader to show the
TURNOUT: Traffic was backed up for two miles Sunday as Lawrence
Welk fans poured into Strasburg to see the dedication of
the famous bandleader's boyhood farm. Sunday's turnout even
stunned the event's organizers.