Welk's German-Russian Heritage Will be Preserved

Miller, Michael M. "Welk's German-Russian Heritage Will be Preserved." Grand Forks Herald, 29 May 1992.

Lawrence Welk

FARGO -- The community of Strasburg and the state of North Dakota have lost their most famous native son, bandleader Lawrence welk.

As I reflect upon my youth growing up in Strasburg, I have fond memories of Welk's visits to his hometown. Welk would come home to visit his brothers and sisters. He would take time to visit the schools and play his accordion at the nursing home. I can recall the fall of 1960 when Strasburg's native sons, accordionist Mike Dosch, drummer Johnny Klein and Welk performed at the memorable high school homecoming festivities.

Today, Welk's hometown prepares to dedicate the Ludwig and Christina (Schwahn) Welk homestead at Pioneer Heritage near Strasburg on June 7, in memory of Welk and the Germans from Russia pioneers who settled the Dakota prairies.

Ludwig and Christina Welk left their Black Sea Catholic village in south Russia in 1893 for America. They traveled by rail to Eureka, S.D. There they acquired a wagon and a team of oxen for their trek northward to Emmons County, N.D. Besides being a farmer, Ludwig Welk became a blacksmith, like his father.

They had lost their first child, Anton, before leaving Russia. When they emigrated in 1893, Christina was carrying their second child, John. There were eight children in all in the Welk family. The following were born in the sod house still standing on the homestead: Barbara, 1885; Anna Mary, 1896; Louie, 1898; Agatha, 1900; Lawrence, 1903; Michael, 1905; and Eva, 1909. Still living today is Anna Mary, a resident of the Strasburg Nursing Center, and Eva, living in Aberdeen, S.D.

Lawrence Welk recalls in his autobiography, "Wunnerful, Wunnerful!," "On March 11, 1924, I woke up early in the morning. I was 21 years old ... My father and I had made a bargain, and we had kept to the letter and spirit of the agreement. He had kept his word and I was free to go. Now, it was up to me to prove that my dreams were more than dreams."

Little did Welk's parents know that their son with only a third grade education, who spoke primarily German, would become a legend in American music who would bring so much love and joy to so many people. Welk would go on to receive North Dakota's first Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award, the Citation of Service to millions of Americans through Popular Music, a honorary doctorate from North Dakota State University and a honorary diploma from Strasburg High School, presented on the national television program "This Is Your Life" in 1957.

In the book, "Champagne Music: The Lawrence Welk Story," he wrote, "Music was, and always will be, my life. I'm deeply, humbly proud of the place my orchestra and I have been able to create in the hearts of so many people across the nation. It would be very nice to be remembered as a man who brought music to America."

As Mike Jacobs of the Grand Forks Herald stated in his comments, "Lawrence Welk helped create nation's image of North Dakota. Probably Welk did more than any person to sharpen the image of North Dakota in the national consciousness" (Comment, May 20). Barbara Phillips' headline in her Wall Street Journal article eloquently provides an accolade to music of Lawrence Welk, "It Was Wunnerful While It Lasted."

Since his death on May 18, North Dakota and the nation have acknowledged the man who was always loyal to his native state and to his musical family throughout the world. Welk was an American legend whose champagne music and his German-Russian heritage will stand the test of time.

I, too, want to extend my appreciation to the newspapers, television and radio stations throughout the Dakotas and the United States for their fine coverage relating to the life and musical career of Welk.

Miller is a bibliographer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.

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