Welk Collection is 'Wunnerful, Wunnerful'

Rylance, Dan. "Welk Collection is 'Wunnerful, Wunnerful'." Grand Forks Herald, 9 July 1992.

The family of Lawrence Welk gave a great present to the people of North Dakota on Monday.

The donation of Welk’s entire manuscript collection to the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU is truly a recognition by the Welk family that roots are as important to them as they were to Lawrence. The collection could have found an eager home in any number of West Coast repositories or in the large popular culture archive at Bowling Green University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

But the Welk family decided that all of the extant material created and saved by their father should come home to North Dakota, where Welk was born and raised. Their decision both to keep the collection intact and to return it to North Dakota is worthy of praise. It was a wise decision and one that makes North Dakotans feel good about themselves. It also adds cultural depth to our higher education library holdings.

Welk’s entire life’s work as a musician and television entertainer was donated to the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU. The institute, located in the basement of the NDSU library, is a repository for regional manuscript collections and a publisher of monographs on history and literature.

The Welk collection is a significant acquisition. It’s a large and valuable collection of 20th century popular culture. It includes more than 15,000 musical arrangements, 1,700 television videos, hundreds of photographs and countless but yet un-catalogued memorabilia.

The acquisition is a major collection coup for NDSU. It demonstrates that institutional contacts with prospective donors do bear fruit. Welk was awarded an honorary degree from NDSU in the 1960s and later established $20,000 of student scholarships. The continual institutional effort also was aided by the work of NDSU librarian Michael Miller, a Strasburg, N.D., native and longtime Welk family friend, has been instrumental in the development and promotion of a North Dakota Germans from Russia repository at the institute. Monday his work paid off.

The Welk donation to NDSU compliments rather than competes with the Welk Homestead Museum in Strasburg. Research material that stands at the core of the Welk collection belongs in a research library or a state historical society repository, not a local museum that may lack security, temperature controls and professional staff to sort and inventory the material. By donating the collection to the NDSU library, the Welk family ensures for future generations processing, preservation and public access.

The donation also puts an institutional pressure on NDSU to develop the collection. The primary purpose of collecting historical material other than preservation is to make it available for scholarly use. This takes a commitment of space and staff.

NDSU officials made it clear Monday that they are aware of their responsibility and excited about the challenge. “This will not be a dead collection of papers stuffed away in some dusty corner,” promised one NDSU official. Let’s hope not. President Jim Ozbun even suggested in the long run that a separate facility could be built to house the entire collection.

In the words of Welk himself, that would be “wunnerful, wunnerful.”

But in the meantime, all North Dakotans should feel honored that one of their own has come home, not just in spirit but in words and deeds. In this case, in music and more music.

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