The Nation Recognized Welk Genius

Miller, Michael M. "The Nation Recognized Welk Genius." Forum, May 1992.

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 to settle the Dakota prairies.

Ludwig and Christina Welk left their Black Sea Catholic village of south Russia in 1893 for America. They traveled by rail to Eureka, S.D. There they acquired a wagon and 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.

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 ... I jumped into the buggy and I began the three-mile trip to Strasburg ... Now the field straight ahead of me, beckoning me toward my future ... Occasionally I would turn around and look back toward the farmhouse. All the rest of the family had returned to their chores, but my mother stood out where she could see me as I drove down the road; and whenever I turned around she would withdraw her hands from beneath her white apron and wave both arms in the air. I waved back, until finally I came to a turn in the road ... and I could see her no more."

Little did Welk's parents know that their son, who had only a third-grade education and spoke primarily German, would become a legend in American music and 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, an honorary doctorate from North Dakota State University and an 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 states, "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."

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 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 America for their fine coverage relating to the life and musical career of Lawrence Welk.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum.

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