of Lawrence Welk
March 11, 1903 - May 17, 1992
Fredricks, Shirley Welk. "Eulogy
of Lawrence Welk." May, 1992.
Sunday night I was driving home on a peaceful,
clear evening. There was little traffic and I was musing about
the life of my Dad who had slipped from our arms just a few hours
before. My first thought was of him: young, tanned, vibrant, whizzing
along that same road in his Dodge convertible, shouting with pleasure
over the wind and sun. He would often say, "See that car up ahead?
I bet I can beat that fellow by the next corner. Watch this!"
He would zoom off and he would beat him.
Wasn't that what we all loved about him? That rakish
air of boyishness, that sense of joie de vivre, that sense of
competitiveness. Though he could be careful and conservative,
lurking just below the surface was the daredevil, the risk taker
- always looking for the golden ring. Sometimes grabbing for it
and falling - more often grabbing for it and succeeding.
And wasn't it this man, still and always a child
at heart, whose giant imagination and the fantasies it spun, made
us believe that we, too, could recapture that playful and creative
child within each of us? The best part of us. That was what the
world responded to, it was what we responded to.
The word "Irrepressible" was coined for him. I
remember being a very small girl when he said, "I'll tell you
a secret, its a secret that most people don't know. It's the secret
of success. You see, when people try something, they usually give
up too soon. They don't know that if they would keep going and
just persevere, they would prevail. Just when their projects begin
to curve upward, they are too tired and discouraged to see it,
so they give up. They don't know that if they hold on and keep
trying they would succeed. Shirley, always keep trying." My Mother
has often said, "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."
Most people don't know that he had many failures
in his life businesses he started that didn't work out, designs
he patented that were useless, great ideas that collapsed. It's
just that he had so many ideas, designs and projects that some
of them did succeed and some were "great".
As a child it seemed as though he would come home
about once a week and announce enthusiastically at dinner, "Kids,
I've just had a brilliant idea". or "Kids, I think I've just invented
something wonderful." These phrases always struck terror in our
hearts. Forks would pause in mid-air. Spoons would clatter to
the floor. Someone would run to turn off the radio (for many years
a major piece of furniture that was taller than I was, regrettably).
All eyes would be on him as he outlined, with gusto, yet another
impractical scheme while we searched our brains for a response
that would sound encouraging but cautionary. Anyone remember the
Squeezburger with Accordion fries, Vibrant vegetables and Piccolo
pickles? this was to be the prototype restaurant for a nationwide
chain that started in Chicago. If you're still hungry you might
want to consider his Lawrence Welk's Chicken restaurant for which
he wrote the song, "Let's Start Pickin On a Chicken." Or how about
his design for an automobile with recessed wings that you could
unfold and fly when you wished? Sometimes I thought that this
man, who found screwing in a light bulb correctly a fulfilling
experience, fancied himself a minor Thomas Edison.
The rigors of travel on the road were an accepted
and often relished part of life to him when our family traveled
with him. We learned very quickly that personal comfort had a
low priority for him. Any old roach motel was fine. Give him hot
and cold running water and he felt like a prince. We learned to
keep a wary eye out for decent accommodations, urging him to drive
on rather than turn into the first available lodging in town.
We learned the euphemisms of the road. "Rustic"
meant unpainted rathole. "Cabin" meant spider's playground. And
"All the Comforts of Home" meant uninhabitable. "Live Lobsters
Dining and Dancing" sounded like an energetic sea party. But my
favorite was "Mom's cooking" which meant the chef is a drunk.
Dad wasn't the least concerned about status, he didn't even know
what it meant. He was living a life rich in ideas and emotional
experiences. As long as his surroundings sustained life, what
more could you ask?
A deeply ingrained respect for every person made
him the confidante of factory workers 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 people. Playing the macho male could also be hard for him,
especially since he gave my Mother so much credit and admiration
for being a wonderful Mom and a superb manager. When he tried
to punish us as children, he would give us some mild admonition
- usually time-out in our rooms, and then slip us some candy about
an hour later.
He 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.
But life was not all a lovely dream like those
of so many children of immigrants, his life was shadowed by the
harsh realities of his early years. He had only a fourth grade
education, poor health as a boy, grindingly hard farm work to
perform and an 18th Century, authoritarian, peasant life in which
the family considered themselves successful if they survived another
winter. No one would have expected that any astonishing artistic
or psychological sensitivity would have flourished there. But
his family was musical, brave in the face of daunting adversity
with a great faith in God.
The hardships of his boyhood, with deprivations
of every kind, provided a major strength when he struck out on
his own as a self-taught musician. No 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.
His curiosity and keen insights into business patterns
enabled him to spot trends, to analyze concepts and listen to
his intuition. He would say, "You know, my intuition tells me
this is right." Nine times out of ten it was.
He could be stubborn and insist that he was correct.
However, if later information clarified a situation he could ask
forgiveness. Some of his early emotional deprivation made him
vulnerable, and therefore defensive. Yet how do we account for
his remarkable generosity of spirit - including his desire to
surround himself with performers better than himself.
To those of you whom he may have hurt in the past,
I know that he would want to offer a sincere apology and ask for
your forgiveness. To those of you whom he loved, he would now
want you to turn toward the living, and, in his name, nurture
the talents of young people, and validate and comfort the elderly.
Now, Dad, we say our last farewell - our hearts
brimming with love and thanksgiving for your life.
We thank you for teaching us to be tender and generous
with one another.
We thank you for giving us an example of tolerance.
We thank you for teaching us to dance, with our
feet and with our hearts.
We thank you for sharing your faults with us, which
challenged us and helped us grow.
We thank you for your lifelong dedication to your
principles and for your steadfast integrity.
We thank you for infusing our lives with a love
of music which will enrich us forever.
We thank you for setting standards of excellence
for us. You made us reach for the stars.
Today your grandchildren are carrying forward your
legacy into a future that will need your reach and their vision.
Last night your granddaughter slipped a tiny, silver
angel into your pocket. That angel will be buried with you today.
May choirs of angels lead you into paradise.
Beyond grief, is our gratitude for your remarkable
life. Your memory will live on - not only in our minds but in
our hearts. Your life was a benediction. Your legacy is our affirmation
and celebration of life. In your honor we intone the sublime words
of an Irish poet,
"Earth, receive an honored guest."*
* William Butler Yeats