Ceremony Puts Welk Back in N.D. Spotlight
Lawrence Welk Highway
Melhus, G. Troy. "Ceremony Puts Welk Back in N.D. Spotlight." Bismarck Tribune,
6 June 1995, 1.
And Yes, by trademark, there were bubbles.
The champagne wishes for more than three generations of Lawrence
Welk fans came true Monday, when North Dakotans kicked off the first-ever
Lawrence Welk Week, renaming the U.S. highway to the Welk family
homestead near Strasburg in honor of the North Dakotan native.
The sign was unveiled at a reception for family, friends and fans
of the Welk family Monday night, renaming U.S. Highway 83 in Emmons
County as the “Lawrence Welk Highway.”
The ceremony kicked off a week honoring the Dakota-born, world-renowned
musician, made famous by the bubbly “champagne music”
he began playing for the country shortly after World War II.
Among those who made a special trip for the ceremony included Welk’s
longtime syndication manager Margaret Heron, Welk’s first
“champagne lady” Jayne Walton Rosen, and his daughter,
Donna Welk Mack.
“He was always proud to be a North Dakotan, and always made
us feel like we shared part of his fame,” said John Beecher,
director of the North Dakota State University library which houses
an extensive Welk memorabilia collection.
The push to officially proclaim a week in Welk’s honor came
last year through the help of both North Dakota State University
and Pioneer Heritage Inc., a group formed in Welk’s honor.
Lawrence Welk was born March 11, 1903, in a farmhouse just northwest
of Strasburg, where he remained until he was 21 years old.
He fell into music shortly after his 17th birthday, when he asked
his father to buy him an accordion at the local music shop.
His father reluctantly agreed, only giving in when his son promised
he would work off the instrument’s cost by remaining on the
farm until he turned 21.
Welk married shortly thereafter, and worked the Midwest big band
circuit until a lucky break with a television shot came in 1951.
Viewer response was so great that within three years ABC offered
him a contract.
Fame came as a shock.
Mack was 15 at that time.
“We didn’t realize how big this was,” she said.
“I don’t think even he knew what to expect.”
Even now Strasburg receives frequent visits from wandering tourists,
straggling past to see a part of the musical legend.
And that, said collection expert Charlotte Cox, is something Strasburg
– and the rest of the North Dakota fans – doesn’t
want to forget now.
“The more recognition Lawrence Welk receives as a native,
the more people will realize we still have a nice collection and
can take pride in the state,” Cox said.
The Welk collection includes everything from former accordions
to photographs to a bubble machine.
Welk’s legacy – from his musical papers to his memoirs
– continues to generate fame even today. In 1990, in conjunction
with the state’s centennial, fans and members of Pioneer Heritage
Inc. restored Welk’s birth home.
The Welk children – operation as “The Welk Group”
– now owns two resorts, one in Branson, Mo., and one in Escondido,
Calif., featuring their father’s musical memories.
Welk died May 17, 1992.
“He touched so many people,” said Rosemary Schaefbauer,
president of Pioneer Heritage Inc. “Everyone just loved him
for his morals, his good, clean performances and his good character.
“A lot of people always said it was the shortest hour on
the television because it always went by so fast,” Schaefbauer
These days it doesn’t go by quite as fast, with past episodes
now remixed with current commentary.
Welk boasts one of the longest running television programs, with
his first broadcast in 1951, said syndication manager Heron. This
year marks the 40th anniversary of Welk being televised nationwide;
it now regularly appears on 272 different stations.
“It was a type of family entertainment,” Heron said.
“A lot of children grew up listening to Lawrence Welk. We’re
on our fourth and fifth generation of fans now.
“The young children respect him. Where do you find a show
like that? Where do you find a person like that? He stayed a North
Dakota farm boy to the end.”