March 11, 1903 - May 17, 1992
Fredricks, Shirley Welk. "Eulogy
of Lawrence Welk." May, 1992.
Sunday night I was driving home on a peaceful, clear evening. There was little traffic and I was musing about the life of my Dad who had slipped from our arms just a few hours before. My first thought was of him: young, tanned, vibrant, whizzing along that same road in his Dodge convertible, shouting with pleasure over the wind and sun. He would often say, "See that car up ahead? I bet I can beat that fellow by the next corner. Watch this!" He would zoom off and he would beat him.
Wasn't that what we all loved about him? That rakish air of boyishness, that sense of joie de vivre, that sense of competitiveness. Though he could be careful and conservative, lurking just below the surface was the daredevil, the risk taker - always looking for the golden ring. Sometimes grabbing for it and falling - more often grabbing for it and succeeding.
And wasn't it this man, still and always a child at heart, whose giant imagination and the fantasies it spun, made us believe that we, too, could recapture that playful and creative child within each of us? The best part of us. That was what the world responded to, it was what we responded to.
The word "Irrepressible" was coined for him. I remember being a very small girl when he said, "I'll tell you a secret, its a secret that most people don't know. It's the secret of success. You see, when people try something, they usually give up too soon. They don't know that if they would keep going and just persevere, they would prevail. Just when their projects begin to curve upward, they are too tired and discouraged to see it, so they give up. They don't know that if they hold on and keep trying they would succeed. Shirley, always keep trying." My Mother has often said, "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."
Most people don't know that he had many failures in his life businesses he started that didn't work out, designs he patented that were useless, great ideas that collapsed. It's just that he had so many ideas, designs and projects that some of them did succeed and some were "great".
As a child it seemed as though he would come home about once a week and announce enthusiastically at dinner, "Kids, I've just had a brilliant idea". or "Kids, I think I've just invented something wonderful." These phrases always struck terror in our hearts. Forks would pause in mid-air. Spoons would clatter to the floor. Someone would run to turn off the radio (for many years a major piece of furniture that was taller than I was, regrettably). All eyes would be on him as he outlined, with gusto, yet another impractical scheme while we searched our brains for a response that would sound encouraging but cautionary. Anyone remember the Squeezburger with Accordion fries, Vibrant vegetables and Piccolo pickles? this was to be the prototype restaurant for a nationwide chain that started in Chicago. If you're still hungry you might want to consider his Lawrence Welk's Chicken restaurant for which he wrote the song, "Let's Start Pickin On a Chicken." Or how about his design for an automobile with recessed wings that you could unfold and fly when you wished? Sometimes I thought that this man, who found screwing in a light bulb correctly a fulfilling experience, fancied himself a minor Thomas Edison.
The rigors of travel on the road were an accepted and often relished part of life to him when our family traveled with him. We learned very quickly that personal comfort had a low priority for him. Any old roach motel was fine. Give him hot and cold running water and he felt like a prince. We learned to keep a wary eye out for decent accommodations, urging him to drive on rather than turn into the first available lodging in town.
We learned the euphemisms of the road. "Rustic" meant unpainted rathole. "Cabin" meant spider's playground. And "All the Comforts of Home" meant uninhabitable. "Live Lobsters Dining and Dancing" sounded like an energetic sea party. But my favorite was "Mom's cooking" which meant the chef is a drunk. Dad wasn't the least concerned about status, he didn't even know what it meant. He was living a life rich in ideas and emotional experiences. As long as his surroundings sustained life, what more could you ask?
A deeply ingrained respect for every person made him the confidante of factory workers 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. Playing the macho male could also be hard for him, especially since he gave my Mother so much credit and admiration for being a wonderful Mom and a superb manager. When he tried to punish us as children, he would give us some mild admonition - usually time-out in our rooms, and then slip us some candy about an hour later.
He 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 - a policy that continues in place today.
But life was not all a lovely dream like those of so many children of immigrants, his life was shadowed by the harsh realities of his early years. He had only a fourth grade education, poor health as a boy, grindingly hard farm work to perform and an 18th Century, authoritarian, peasant life in which the family considered themselves successful if they survived another winter. No one would have expected that any astonishing artistic or psychological sensitivity would have flourished there. But his family was musical, brave in the face of daunting adversity with a great faith in God.
The hardships of his boyhood, with deprivations of every kind, provided a major strength when he struck out on his own as a self-taught musician. No 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 still listening.
His curiosity and keen insights into business patterns enabled him to spot trends, to analyze concepts and listen to his intuition. He would say, "You know, my intuition tells me this is right." Nine times out of ten it was.
He could be stubborn and insist that he was correct. However, if later information clarified a situation he could ask forgiveness. Some of his early emotional deprivation made him vulnerable, and therefore defensive. Yet how do we account for his remarkable generosity of spirit - including his desire to surround himself with performers better than himself.
To those of you whom he may have hurt in the past, I know that he would want to offer a sincere apology and ask for your forgiveness. To those of you whom he loved, he would now want you to turn toward the living, and, in his name, nurture the talents of young people, and validate and comfort the elderly.
Now, Dad, we say our last farewell - our hearts brimming with love and thanksgiving for your life.
We thank you for teaching us to be tender and generous with one another.
We thank you for giving us an example of tolerance.
We thank you for teaching us to dance, with our feet and with our hearts.
We thank you for sharing your faults with us, which challenged us and helped us grow.
We thank you for your lifelong dedication to your principles and for your steadfast integrity.
We thank you for infusing our lives with a love of music which will enrich us forever.
We thank you for setting standards of excellence for us. You made us reach for the stars.
Today your grandchildren are carrying forward your legacy into a future that will need your reach and their vision.
Last night your granddaughter slipped a tiny, silver angel into your pocket. That angel will be buried with you today. May choirs of angels lead you into paradise.
Beyond grief, is our gratitude for your remarkable life. Your memory will live on - not only in our minds but in our hearts. Your life was a benediction. Your legacy is our affirmation and celebration of life. In your honor we intone the sublime words of an Irish poet,
"Earth, receive an honored guest."*
* William Butler Yeats