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Fern Welk Dies Peacefully at 98

Excerpt from the book Wunnerful, Wunnerful written by Lawrence Welk, 1971

"Fern Welk Dies Peacefully at 98." Lawrence Welk Show Musical Family News, 2002, 2.


Fern V. Renner Welk, the 98 year old matriarch of the Welk family and wife of the legendary orchestra leader and television star, Lawrence Welk, passed away peacefully in the arms of her loving family on February 13, 2002. In a statement released to the press, family members remembered her as a source of strength, wisdom, forgiveness and abiding love to all who knew her, noting that her spiritual gifts will remain a rich legacy for both her family and friends.

Fern's long and productive life spanned the entire 20th Century and she was called upon to meet unimaginable and untested challenges. She was born on August 26, 1903, the 13th of 14 children born to Elizabeth and Mathias Renner, an immigrant family in St. Anthony, North Dakota. Eight of her siblings died while Fern was still a child, and her beloved father died when she was just three years old.

A Strong Mother

In the years after her father's death, Fern's mother was a tower of strength, with management skills and a brilliant financial mind. The farm succeeded with the help of her older children and she invested her profits in the stock market, an unheard of enterprise for a woman of her generation and rural location. Contrary to the times, she believed in educating both her sons and daughters and made sure that all her children had advanced degrees. Fern earned an RN degree and began a career in nursing and laboratory work, first in the Dakotas and then in Dallas, Texas.

After meeting and falling in love with the young bandleader, Lawrence Welk, Fern faced a critical life decision. She knew that marriage would finish her dreams of a career in medicine because she believed it demanded complete intellectual absorption and total personal dedication.

In the end, she chose a home and children, marrying Mr. Welk in 1931, beginning a life of travel and temporary homes throughout the U.S. In 1952, Fern and Lawrence settled in Los Angeles, and lived in California for the rest of their lives.

Lifelong Interests

Fern rejoiced in being a wife and mother but maintained a lifelong interest in medical science and research. She was an avid duplicate bridge player, winning many championships and she relished her afternoons at the horse races, placing her small bets with the knowledge and instincts of a "pro." Though marriage brought her into the life of a celebrity, she always knew that her family and her faith gave her life its true wealth.

She carefully guided the education of her children and, with pride and delight, saw her grandchildren achieve many college, career and graduate degrees. Their nurturing was her life's joy and it is no accident that her two daughters happily married physicians, that three of her eleven grandchildren became physicians and, in their generation of spouses, there is another physician and two nurses.

A Loving Family

Fern is survived by three children, Shirley and Bob Fredricks, Donna Mack and Larry and Lynn Welk; 11 grandchildren, Laura and Jeff Segall, Dr. Robert and Becky Fredricks, Dr. David Fredricks, Jonathan and Tracy Fredricks, Lisa and Paul Parker, Dr. James and Jennifer Mack, Christine and Mark Oliver, David and Dr. Jenny Mack, Larry and Tracey Welk, Kevin and Lindy Welk and Jeffrey Welk, and by 15 great-grandchildren.

The funeral Mass took place at St. Monica's Church in Santa Monica on February 19th, concelebrated by Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson and Rev. Donald Riffle, a guest from Boise, ID and friend of Donna Mack. The church was filled with family members and friends, and dozens of stars, band members and production staff members of the "Lawrence Welk Television Show." The musical group, "Venice," sang and played before the Mass. The members of "Venice" are: Michael and Mark Lennon, the sons of the late Ted Lennon, and Kipp Lennon, the youngest brother of the Lennon Sisters. Ralna English sang some of Fern's favorite hymns and Henry Cuesta played two clarinet solos during the Mass, both accompanied by Bob Smale. The Mass was sung by Gary Turk, a parish soloist.

Fern was buried beside her husband in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Culver City, California.

A memorial gift may be sent to The Lawrence Welk Family Foundation, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, California 90404. An article about the Welk Family Foundation was planned for this issue of the newsletter before Mrs. Welk's death.

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