Presentation of Baton & Anthology
Governor Schafer, NDSU President & Mrs. Jim Ozbun, and officials of the great state of North Dakota, its State University and Pioneer Heritage:
When I was invited to Bismarck to represent my family at the opening of Lawrence Welk week, I expected all I’d have to do is meet interesting people, many of them relatives, and enjoy several free meals. It came as a shock that I was supposed to earn my keep and say a few words. If you’re fortunate, I’ll keep this to only a few words. Otherwise it may be a long time before you get back home to see loved ones again.
Thank you for allowing me to come and represent the Welk family which includes my sister Shirley, my brother Larry, and another outstanding North Dakota native, my still frisky but lovable mother, Fern. We know Dad would have been touched and delighted by the honor his home state is bestowing on him this week. Throughout his life an as entertainer and celebrity he maintained a special place in his heart that was devoted to North Dakota.
No, the North Dakota dad admired was as much the quality of the state of its people’s mind and spirit as it was its geographical boundaries. The memories he held of growing up on a farm in Strasburg left him with a life-long respect for the character of North Dakota’s people. Love of God, family, county and the ability to work very hard to make dreams come true seemed part of the fabric of this state’s people to him. He would tell us of how difficult it was to work so hard to put in the crops to only see them fail for reasons outside of one’s control; drought, fire, hail and insects. Disappointments and disasters of such a stunning nature burnished a resolve in these early immigrant farmers to roll up their sleeves and try again. The results? New crops followed by new harvests. Such examples of perseverance, hard work, and courage were not lost on the young Lawrence Welk.
Throughout his life, from the time he left the farm to go out on the road, unable to read music or speak the English language, to the time his entire band walked out on him because they felt he was too much of a hick to ever make it in the music industry, he exhibited that perseverance and courage by keeping his dream alive. We know he succeeded with one of the longest running and most beloved television shows in history.
It is appropriate that today we remember this extraordinary North Dakota native. Even though national recognition and honors were conferred upon him, nothing ever changed his sensitivity and respect for others, his humanity, or caused him to lose the values he grew up with. If he were here today he might close this little speech with the following two pieces of advice: 1) Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to get back to those early North Dakota values and 2) Remember at the same time to always keep a song in your heart.
By Donna Welk Mack
June 5, 1995
Bismarck, North Dakota