'Professor Welk' Made
the Scene Band Leader Clicked With UND Students,
Faculty During 1973 Visit
Brue, Mike. "'Professor Welk' Made the Scene Band Leader Clicked With UND Students, Faculty During 1973 Visit." Grand Forks Herald, 20 May 1992, sec. 1A, 7A.
To UND students in September 1973, “long-hair
music” meant John Lennon more than Ludwig van Beethoven.
And the “big band” those days wasn’t Glenn Miller’s
orchestra, but possibly Mick Jagger’s Rolling Stones.
But “champagne music” meant only one
thing--and one maker.
And that 70-year-old man came to UND that Sept.
24, serving as “Visiting Professor of Popular Culture”
to a generation that largely ignored or scoffed at the bubbly
music popularized on television.
“You’d think if anybody didn’t
fit on a campus back then,” UND History Professor D. Jerome
Tweton said this week, “it was Lawrence Welk.”
North Dakota’s famed native son was 89 when
he died Sunday night in his Santa Monica, Calif., home. Thirty
years of TV appearances made him an international favorite among
the more mature set, but only after the three previous decades
Welk spent entertaining Midwesterners with his accordion and band.
‘A man of the people’
“I’m an advocate of hard work,”
Welk told UND students, according to a Herald story, “and
being a ‘man of the people,’ I know my tastes are
about the same as the audience. To be successful, you must be
accepted by the audience.”
But how did UND students respond to Welk?
“We wondered about it,” UND President
Thomas Clifford added. “We thought that maybe students wouldn’t
respond to him.”
But Clifford and other witnesses says Welk’s ’73 visit--one
of several to Grand Forks in Welk’s lifetime--might have
earned one of the bandleader’s own descriptions: “Wunnerful.”
The former Strasburg, N.D., farm boy directed the
UND Band in the Chester Fritz Auditorium and played the accordion
before a capacity crowd of about 3,500 people of all ages, from
throughout North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Welk also
attended a luncheon in his honor.
And student reaction to his classroom appearances
that day might have been summed up in a Herald quote from Jennifer
Scoles, Carson, N.D., a UND sophomore who listened to “Professor
“Far out,” Scoles said.
“I’ve been called many things in my
lifetime. ‘Corny.’ ‘Square.’ But never
‘professor,’” said Welk, noting his fourth-grade
education and adding he felt “uneasy among all you learned
“They loved it,” recalled Tweton, who
first originated the idea to bring Welk to speak at “minicourses”
about the bandleader’s career, his Germans-from-Russia heritage
and popular music.
Tweton brought the idea to Clifford, who in turn
sought help from Welk friend J. Lloyd Stone, then head of the
UND Alumni Association. Welk accepted Stone’s invitation.
Welk’s heritage and the fact he was a native
son “tempered a lot” of any negative connotations
UND students may have held about Welk’s effervescent style
of music, Clifford believes.
“The best gauge of that was the afternoon
class which we were offering on Germans from Russia,” Tweton
said. “He brought his accordion and talked a little bit
about his influence, the role of music with his family, Tweton
said. “And he just went to beat the band on that accordion.
There was tremendous rapport with the students.”
Tweton, who met Welk several times, called him “a
fantastic showman with no showman’s facade.… I think
he was just terribly down to earth. He wouldn’t know how
to put on airs if he tried.” That was evident during Welk’s
’73 visit, too, he said.
“He wanted to meet with me a little before
we had a noon meeting, where he talked about music to some of
the professors and some graduate students,” Tweton recalled.
“He was terribly nervous about this. He said, ‘Now,
let’s sort of work out a script here. Let’s work on
these questions, and if I get into trouble, you come and help
me with it.’
“Of course, he got out there and he didn’t
need any help at all.”
Packing the Fritz
Later, Tweton and others were astounded to find
the Chester Fritz Auditorium parking lot filled with cars, and
the auditorium packed with people. Some people had to be turned
“For a small-time college band director, it
was quite an exciting experience,” recalls Mayor Mike Polovitz,
then the UND band director.
The band had prepared several weeks for a short
program, getting some assistance from Frank Scott, a Fargoan who
for 10 years handled Welk’s arrangements and also played
piano and harpsichord for the bandleader.
Backstage, Welk talked a while with Polovitz and
others, then “looked at the program and he picked out what
he felt it should be,” the mayor said. “It became
a Lawrence Welk program. We had a lot of mixtures--some Sousa
marches and some ‘champagne music’ and what-not. I
think it ended up all champagne music.”
Tweton recalls how Welk stopped the band briefly
when they had a brief practice under his direction. “He
wasn’t happy with the pace,” Tweton said. “It
was too heavy, and it was, too. He said, “By the time we’re
through, you’re going to be able to play with the Lawrence
UND Band drummer Flavio Cianflone told the Herald:
“He’s been around the music business 50 years. He
Reprinted with permission of the Grand
had only a fourth-grade education, the bandleader knew
his subject when he lectured to UND history students in
1973. Welk spoke at a minicourse on Welk, himself.