Emmons County's famous native son, the late Lawrence
Welk, who died in 1992, would have been 100 years old on March 11,
2003, and the Champagne Music Maker will be honored at the annual
Pioneer Heritage Dinner on March 15 at the Blue Room in Strasburg,
Welk's home town.
The Lawrence Welk Show, which remains in the top five programs
on Public Television, was last taped for commercial television
on Feb. 24, 1981, 21 years ago. However, the show's re-runs, which
include newly taped introductions, continue to be popular with
the national television audience, proof that wholesome family
values-type entertainment from happier times still has a major
Welk's popularity is also evident in the hundreds of people who
visit his birthplace at Strasburg every summer
Currently, the "Live Lawrence Welk Show 2003" is touring
the country, including a recent stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell,
S.D. In addition to the Welk stars who perform in the show, special
guests at the March 11 Salt Lake City show will include Myron
Floren, Norma and Rudy Zimmer, Guy Hovis, Welk¹s son and
daughter, Larry Welk and Donna Mack, and his long-time secretary,
Margaret Heron. As a special touch, everyone will be served a
piece of birthday cake.
Also this month, "Lawrence Welk: God Bless America"
is being broadcast on PBS stations across the country. It was
filmed at the Welk Champagne Theatre in Branson, Missouri, last
In tribute to Lawrence Welk, the following is a reprint of the
remarks Larry Welk made about his famous father at the dedication
of the Welk site at Strasburg:
June 7, 1992
"Governor, distinguished guests, family and friends. I am
here with you today, just a few weeks after my father's passing,
to bring back to this homesite the deep respect and love which
he carried in his heart for this place. All of his life, the mention
of the word Strasburg would put a light in his eyes and fill his
memory with the people and scenes from his childhood. It was this
home and the people of Strasburg which supported and sustained
him throughout an extraordinary life and career. Today, I bring
back his gratitude and mine.
When, at the age of 21, my father left this home to seek his
fortune in a wider world, he never forgot the important virtues
and values which had formed his character. These were carried
throughout his life and were the foundation for his work, both
as a celebrity and a business leader. As he left this place, the
only skill he possessed was his accordion playing. He spoke no
English, had no education, knew nothing of the entertainment field.
Cars, radio stations, business contracts and gangsters were all
new to him. But the hardships of his boyhood, with deprivations
of every kind, provided a major strength to this self-taught musician.
It didn't matter that he had to sleep in cornfields or in cars.
A life of music, which had found its expression in his accordion,
seemed like a miracle. Into that music he poured his immense sense
of wonder, joy and zest for life. And people listened - and are
My dad always reminded me of the Russian comedian, Jacob Smirnoff,
shortly after he immigrated to America. Jacob (pronounced Yah-kob)
tells about walking down the aisles in an American Supermarket
and being utterly amazed by what he was seeing. First he noticed
some milk powder for sale and discovered that you only had to
add water to it to have real milk. He marveled at this technology.
On the next aisle he found powdered orange juice and found that
he only had to add water to that to make real orange juice. He
was astounded at this advance. Then, as he rounded the next corner
he found a shelf displaying baby powder. He turned around and
shouted, "My God, What a country!"
Dad mirrored this same exuberance and optimism about life in
America. I think the word "Irrepressible" was coined
for him. His persistence was legendary. He felt that most people
gave up on a project much too soon. In fact, he felt that they
gave up just before the project was ready to take off and fly.
He would say, "always keep trying never give up". My
mother often commented, "Your father is like a cork. If you
push him down in one part of the water, he soon pops up in another
part and keeps right on going."
My dad was the son of immigrants - the first generation - in
this country who had to struggle with the tensions between an
old-world culture of formal rules and tradition and a new-world
culture of curiosity, independence and diverse values. His life
reflected the competing forces of these two worlds - few men or
women of his generation integrated these two worlds so successfully
into their lives and work.
|The late Fern and Lawrence Welk are
pictured with their children, Donna, Larry and Shirley.
I want, for a moment, to speak here about my grandparents, Christina
Schwan and Ludwig Welk. They had come to this site in the waning
years of the last century, having left the black sea region of the
Ukraine, under gathering clouds of economic and political oppression.
They, along with many young families, left behind parents, siblings,
extended family and friends knowing with a heartbreaking certainty
that they would never again see these loved ones. I wonder if any
of us can comprehend the enormous courage of mind and heart that
it took to make that final break and to walk forth into an unknown
world and an incomprehensible future.
And, having weathered the grueling journey by wagon, ships' steerage
and train, they finally settled here on the plains. Do we have
any idea of the sheer guts it took to carve their home out of
this soil. Block by hard block, while they lived in temporary
shelters and Christina gave birth to their first child? In their
first years they endured the extreme cold of winter and the searing
heat of summer with no relief, often spending sleepless nights
and days nursing children gravely ill with diseases for which
there were no immunizations and no antibiotics.
Each year there was new hope that the seeds sown the previous
season with backbreaking labor would produce a good harvest -
a harvest that would not be destroyed by drought, locusts or frosts.
In the bitter years of the depression, there was still hope that
the family would survive with enough food and enough clothing
and a little extra, to share with less fortunate neighbors, so
that they could have some semblance of pride.
We often think of those great Americans who have climbed mountains,
or formed alliances, who have been fine presidents or who have
walked on the moon. Or those who have achieved a stunning breakthrough
in man¹s endurance record or in man¹s understanding
of technology. We hail these remarkable individuals and we are
inspired by them. But do we ever ask if their marvelous feats
required a lifetime of the kind of quiet valor that Christina
and Ludwig and their neighbors possessed? Their lives of perseverance
called for stouter hearts that those worn by many who have been
lauded in our history. Each day of their lives was infused with
a dedication to their family and to their principles which we
now see was heroic. That is the legacy which they left to their
heirs, among them my father.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay a special tribute
to the women of these plains - and to my grandmother and my aunts.
In addition to sharing in all of the work of their men, these
women also endured the ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth under
primitive conditions, the
enormous responsibility of sheltering and rearing infants and
children while working on a farm and the often soul-shattering
experiences of nursing children through long illnesses or losing
them to death. I am here today to praise their courage and to
thank them for their vision in securing the strength and stability
of their families and their communities. I want to know my history!
It is my generation that wants to explore our history that wants
to know the details of personalities,
circumstances and motivations which formed the lives of our ancestors.
But my ancestors are silent. They have left no letters, no diaries,
no stories. Much that they experienced was too painful to relate
- to painful to ponder. The pain would have been crippling. So
they put it behind them in order to build a different life. This
is the tension between those who want to learn their history and
those who have lived it.
There¹s a story about Richard Nixon when he was President.
At one of his press conferences he had answered several questions.
Finally a reporter asked him a personal question: "Sir,"
He queried, "Is it true that you were born in a log cabin?"
"Oh no," replied Mr. Nixon, not true at all "No
No. I believe you¹re thinking of Abraham Lincoln. You see
"I was born in a manger." Well, my dad was so poor,
he was practically born in a manger and he never forgot it. He
was always proud of his roots, of his family and of his hometown.
He had no pretensions. (His virtues and talents were born here.)
A deeply ingrained respect for every person made him the confidante
of farmers and financiers, of peasants and presidents. It was
hard for him to be biased because he so quickly saw beyond race,
creed or gender to the essential humanity of people.
His was one of the first shows to display the talents of performers
of all races, to play the music of many religions and to show
the joyous contributions they were making to America's culture.
He was the first entertainer to institute a profit-sharing policy
in his corporation and with his orchestra's policy that continues
in place today.
His curiosity and keen insights into business patterns enabled
him to spot trends, to analyze concepts and listen to his intuition.
Throughout his life, people knew that they could trust his word's
that his handshake on a deal was as good as an ironclad contract.
So, my friends, it was this home and this family that, despite
daunting hardships, nurtured the young boy who became my dad -
who became Lawrence Welk. In those harsh early times, it would
have been understandable if his family had forced him to conform
to their rigorous schedule in keeping a small farm going while
trying to support eight children. Yet his musical
talent was respected, and shared by his parents and his many siblings.
His artistic temperament and creative mind were not crushed by
insistence on a rigid conformity to rules but were accepted by
parents who did not know what life held for him but trusted that
his talent, and God's guidance, would bring him a full life. How
often we find, as parents, that it is our non-traditional children
who become a great source of pride and growth for us!
In this home I see the embodiment of all the values which my
father lived and which our family still lives.
* It was this home that taught him his integrity and honesty.
* It was this home that formed his exquisite sensitivity to
people and ideas.
* It was this home that modeled sacrifice and self-discipline
for other's benefits.
* It was this home that taught him to worship God and the world
he (or she) created.
* It was this home that was an example of perseverance.
* It was this home where a love of music became a part of their
It was this home which strengthened him to meet and conquer adversity.
Our futures, too, were born in this home, this town, this state,
let us take hope and courage from this place as a precious legacy
from our ancestors, as we carry forward their dreams to fulfillment.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.