Welk, his Fans Place Heritage in Perspective

"Welk, his Fans Place Heritage in Perspective." Forum, 10 June 1992, sec. A4.

The death in May of bandleader Lawrence Welk, and the dedication a few days ago of his boyhood home in Strasburg, N.D., are reminders to all North Dakotans of the rich heritage of the Germans from Russia who settled in the state.

Welk's remarkable musical career is a classic rags-to-riches story. More importantly, however, is that the champagne music maker never forgot his roots on the Emmons County farm, and frequently referred to North Dakota during the 30 years his musical variety program was on television. His place in the state's history is assured and was underscored years ago when he became the first recipient of the North Dakota Roughrider Award, the highest honor the state can confer on a native son or daughter.

The Welk homestead at Strasburg is a focal point for long overdue recognition of the contributions of German-Russians. A heritage museum is an important part of the development. It will tell the story of pioneers who escaped oppression in the Old World and then faced the hardships of the Northern Plains in the New World.

Stories of hardy immigrants certainly are not unique; people from nearly every European nation came to North America. The Germans from Russia, however, maintained an identity - a community - that is unique.

It is that strong connection to ethnicity, language and custom that lends such vitality to the project at Strasburg. It is that strong connection between heritage and modern America that ensured Welk's popularity for such a long time. He was the bridge between old and new.

The people of Strasburg and Emmons County have struggled to get the heritage project and Welk homestead restoration funded. A $500,000 federal grant - an inappropriate expenditure of federal funds - was withdrawn, but project proponents did not lose faith. Indeed, private dollars keep coming in, indicating Welk's fans and others who recognize the importance of the German-Russian story are willing to help tell it.

The unexpectedly large turnout last Sunday for the Welk homestead dedication indicates the effort will succeed without federal dollars. Maybe that's as it should be. After all, among the admired characteristics of the German-Russian pioneers were self-reliance and an ability to overcome adversity.

Establishing a place where German-Russian heritage can be examined and appreciated is another chapter in the story of these extraordinary North Dakotans. We applaud their work, thus far.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum.

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