Strasburg Toasts Welk, the 'King of Champagne Music'

"Strasburg Toasts Welk, the 'King of Champagne Music'." Bismarck Tribune, 8 June 1992, sec. 1A.

STRASBURG- Champagne music filled the air and cars lined up for miles along a gravel road Sunday as friends and neighbors came to dedicate the farm where Lawrence Welk was born.

"I can just see him clasping his hands and saying, 'wunnerful, wunnerful!' " said Norma Zimmer, the "champagne lady" singer with Welk's band, who joined the crowd at the tiny Welk farmhouse two miles from Strasburg.

The dedication had benn planned long before the 89- year- old bandleader's death May 17. But Sunday's turnout stunned even its organizers.

Rosemary Schaefbauer, president of Pioneer Heritage Inc., a Strasburg group that worked to restore the Welk farm, said she had planned for 1,500 to 1,700 people. But the cars and trucks kept streaming down the road, backed up more than two miles. The license plates told of visitors from as far away as Colorado and Washington.

It was the kind of gathering that Welk's parents, who came to this country in 1893, might have loved to share with other German- Russian pioneer families. First there was a parade down Strasburg's Main Street, with people standing four- deep to watch the 50 entries, inculding convertibles carrying Zimmer, Myron Floren and assorted dignitaries.

Parade watchers came armed with cameras and videocams to capture the special day. They chuckled as one tribute to Welk puttered by: a garden tractor pulled a float toting a pint- sized accordion player and his bubble- blowing assistant. A boom box, blaing polka tunes, was strapped onto the tractor's hood.

Zimmer, introduced by the announcer as "Norma Simmer" in true German style, flashed an empty candy barrel and an apologetic smile to kids who waited expectantly for another shower of goodies.

Later, at the formal dedication, she said this was the first time she'd seen Welk's boyhood home. "I'm just thrilled with it. It's so beautiful... with all the rolling hills and trees."

Visitors toured the refurbished sod house wher Welk, one of eight children, was born. They also walked through other buildings like a summer kitchen, a buggy house and restored barn.

"I don't think the farm has seen this many people ever on one day," said accordion player Floren, a member of Welk's band for 32 years.

Welk: City hopes to preserve heritage of German- Russians

(from page 1A)

"I think it shocked us all to see the line," said Larry Welk, Lawrence's 52- year- old son. Now a resident of Santa Monica, Calif., he had not been to the farm in some 30 years.

The visitors included members of the Welk clan who held their own family reunion over the weekend, and officals from North Dakota State University, who are planning to house and promote some of Welk's personal papers as part of German- Russian history.

Welk left Strasburg when he was 24 to start a musical career that took him from the dance halls of the Dakotas to national television. He became known as the "King of Champagne music" for his bubbly dance tunes.

"He never really spoke a lot about his early childhood, except (about) the values and work ethic he acquired here at his home," said his son, who received a standing ovation from the crowd.

"But I think for so many people of his generation, the experiences were painful experiences- a lot of hard work and a lot of sickness and early death and having to brave the elements."

But Welk didn't forget Strasburg, even after he moved to California. He provided money for a park and improvements for the school, among other things.

"He was very proud of the fact that he was from North Dakota," said Margaret Heron, Wel's executive secretary. She now works for the Welk Group, headed by Laryy Welk, which has dealings in real estate and entertainment.

The Welk resoration project came in for some criticism last year when a proposed $500,000 grant for a German- Russian museum in Strasburg was scrapped by Congress as an example of wasteful spending. The Welk farm itself has been restored with private money.

Michael Miller, a German- Russian expert at NDSU, said that with the support of the Welk family, Starsburg organization and university, the farm can draw tourists interested in Welk and German- Russian history.

Te three surrounding counties- McIntoch, Emmons and Logan- have the largest concentration of Germans from Russia in the country, Miller said.

And the champagne music will live on, say Welk's fans.

Adam Gefre of nearby Linton remembers dancing to Welk's music 50 or 60 tears ago. But his children, he said, feel differently.

"After us, it's gone," he said. "But those old people, they still have polkas and waltzes in their heads."

Reprinted with permission from The Bismarck Tribune

Zimmer: Singer
WELK FAN: Lawrence Welk Jr. met one of his grandfather's fans, Rosemary Norby, at Sunday's dedication. Norby of Knox even brought along a postcard she reveived from the bandleader to show the Welk family.
BIG TURNOUT: Traffic was backed up for two miles Sunday as Lawrence Welk fans poured into Strasburg to see the dedication of the famous bandleader's boyhood farm. Sunday's turnout even stunned the event's organizers.

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