FARGO -- The community of Strasburg and the
state of North Dakota have lost their most famous native son,
bandleader Lawrence welk.
As I reflect upon my youth growing up in Strasburg, I have
fond memories of Welk's visits to his hometown. Welk would come
home to visit his brothers and sisters. He would take time to
visit the schools and play his accordion at the nursing home.
I can recall the fall of 1960 when Strasburg's native sons,
accordionist Mike Dosch, drummer Johnny Klein and Welk performed
at the memorable high school homecoming festivities.
Today, Welk's hometown prepares to dedicate the Ludwig and
Christina (Schwahn) Welk homestead at Pioneer Heritage near
Strasburg on June 7, in memory of Welk and the Germans from
Russia pioneers who settled the Dakota prairies.
Ludwig and Christina Welk left their Black Sea Catholic village
in south Russia in 1893 for America. They traveled by rail to
Eureka, S.D. There they acquired a wagon and a team of oxen
for their trek northward to Emmons County, N.D. Besides being
a farmer, Ludwig Welk became a blacksmith, like his father.
They had lost their first child, Anton, before leaving Russia.
When they emigrated in 1893, Christina was carrying their second
child, John. There were eight children in all in the Welk family.
The following were born in the sod house still standing on the
homestead: Barbara, 1885; Anna Mary, 1896; Louie, 1898; Agatha,
1900; Lawrence, 1903; Michael, 1905; and Eva, 1909. Still living
today is Anna Mary, a resident of the Strasburg Nursing Center,
and Eva, living in Aberdeen, S.D.
Lawrence Welk recalls in his autobiography, "Wunnerful,
Wunnerful!," "On March 11, 1924, I woke up early in
the morning. I was 21 years old ... My father and I had made
a bargain, and we had kept to the letter and spirit of the agreement.
He had kept his word and I was free to go. Now, it was up to
me to prove that my dreams were more than dreams."
Little did Welk's parents know that their son with only a third
grade education, who spoke primarily German, would become a
legend in American music who would bring so much love and joy
to so many people. Welk would go on to receive North Dakota's
first Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award, the Citation of Service
to millions of Americans through Popular Music, a honorary doctorate
from North Dakota State University and a honorary diploma from
Strasburg High School, presented on the national television
program "This Is Your Life" in 1957.
In the book, "Champagne Music: The Lawrence Welk Story,"
he wrote, "Music was, and always will be, my life. I'm
deeply, humbly proud of the place my orchestra and I have been
able to create in the hearts of so many people across the nation.
It would be very nice to be remembered as a man who brought
music to America."
As Mike Jacobs of the Grand Forks Herald stated in his comments,
"Lawrence Welk helped create nation's image of North Dakota.
Probably Welk did more than any person to sharpen the image
of North Dakota in the national consciousness" (Comment,
May 20). Barbara Phillips' headline in her Wall Street Journal
article eloquently provides an accolade to music of Lawrence
Welk, "It Was Wunnerful While It Lasted."
Since his death on May 18, North Dakota and the nation have
acknowledged the man who was always loyal to his native state
and to his musical family throughout the world. Welk was an
American legend whose champagne music and his German-Russian
heritage will stand the test of time.
I, too, want to extend my appreciation to the newspapers, television
and radio stations throughout the Dakotas and the United States
for their fine coverage relating to the life and musical career
Miller is a bibliographer for the Germans from
Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries,