Evidence of a hardy, practical people should be preserved, Scholar says

Haga, Chuck. "Evidence of a hardy, practical people should be preserved, scholar says." Grand Forks Herald, 11 July 2013.

The Rev. William “Bill” Sherman who spent much time over decades examining and documenting the ethnic makeup of North Dakota and the region, has studied and photographed Welk family homes on two continents.

Lawrence Welk’s boyhood home near Strasburg, N.D., shares some features with the home Welk’s father left in Selz, Russia (now Ukraine), when he emigrated to America late in the 19th century.

“They have the same basic structure, with an entryway,” said Sherman a retired Catholic priest in Grand Forks who taught sociology at North Dakota State University in Fargo and teamed with the late P.V. Thorson of UND to write about regional ethnicity.

The adobe home in Russia, photographed in 1995 when Sherman visited following the collapse of the old Soviet Union, was of clay mixed with straw, he said, “and the one in Strasburg was also clay. They made it out of clay and straw, but they had wood siding on it.”

Features of the North Dakota farmstead, including a separate summer kitchen to avoid overheating the main house and an entryway on the house to avoid people coming inside directly from bitter winter cold, reflect a practical people whose contributions should be remembered, Sherman said.

“There are about1 million descendants of the Germans who immigrated from Russia in the United States,” he said, including many who made North Dakota “their second frontier,” after the steppes of Russia.

Though they produced several notables— among them, bandleader Welk, actress Angie Dickinson, singer John Denver and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. — “they usually stayed away from publicity or public affairs,” Sherman said. “They tended to keep a low profile,” compared with other large ethnic groups.

While there are strong Germans from Russia organizations and an extensive historical collection at NDSU, “they could easily be lost to history,” he said, explaining why he strongly supports acquisition and development of the North Dakota Welk property.

“They need a kind of tribute to themselves,” he said.

The Rev. William Sherman discusses his photographs of the Welk homes that he’s taken on two continents.

Reprinted with permission of Grand Forks Herald.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller