Lawrence Welk Helped Create Nation’s Image of N.D.

Jacobs, Mike. "Lawrence Welk Helped Create Nation's Image of N.D." Grand Forks Herald, 19 May 1992.

There’s a special feeling of sadness in North Dakota today following the death of Lawrence Welk. Probably Welk did more than any person to sharpen the image of North Dakota in the national consciousness. Many North Dakotans don’t like the image, and Welk himself provided many opportunities for disagreement. There’s no denying that he spotted an opportunity, created a career and in the process pleased millions.

Simply told, Welk’s story is a story of entrepreneurism. He saw a niche and moved to fill it. In the process, he became very, very wealthy. He hobnobbed with celebrities and became a celebrity himself--arguably the biggest celebrity North Dakota has ever produced. The state lays claim to a surprising number of entertainers: singer Peggy Lee, actress Angie Dickinson, writer Louis L’Amour. None achieved quite the status that Welk enjoyed, however. His weekly TV program was so popular that he created his own distribution company.

Welk never forgot North Dakota. He visited frequently. He welcomed North Dakotans as guests on his show and made a point of presenting them to the cameras--and his worldwide audience. He promoted the state.

Nor has North Dakota forgotten Welk. The Welk Heritage Foundation will dedicate the restoration of the Welk homestead near Strasburg on June 7. The homestead recalls Welk’s background as the son of immigrants, and it celebrates the courage and tenacity of the people who settled North Dakota. The memorial pays special tribute to the Germans from Russia, but their story has resonance with the descendants of other immigrants who came to the Great Plains.

It’s true that Welk was often so corny he could make an adult groan. It’s also true that he played music adults could dance to. He has a special role in mass society, and Welk was a kind of bridge, representing both the solo instrumentalist who worked the crowds at country school houses and the leader of an orchestra who created a highly produced TV program watched by millions.

North Dakota is right to be proud of Welk and to have honored him as the first recipient of the Roughrider Award. It’s sad to have him go.

Reprinted with permission of Grand Forks Herald.

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