Salute to Strasburg: Lawrence Welk’s Home Town

"Salute to Strasburg: Lawrence Welk's Home Town." Pioneer Weekender Magazine, 8 November 1970.

Main Street of Strasburg
The farm on which Lawrence Welk was born and lived until he was 21 years old.
The City of Strasburg, North Dakota

The History of Strasburg

The theme of Strasburg’s history is one of struggle. The first Europeans to settle arrived in 1888. Five men from a German community located in southern Russia had been sent to investigate the land opened to homestead in the vast unsettled plains of the Dakotas. The German colony of Strasburg was feeling the yoke their Russian rulers and wanted a few to come to this territory to scout and ascertain the possibilities for settlement. They did not settle down then, but spent the winter in Eureka, South Dakota, after determining the potentials of the land.

May 7, 1889, eleven families arrived from Strasburg, Russia to claim and settle the land. They were greeted by a blackened vast expanse of rolling prairie bearing no sign of domestic life. A prairie fire had whipped through shortly before their arrival and left the country “black” with the prairie rocks glittering in the sun as would a diamond on a black gown.

The first years of harvest were extremely poor. The flax stand was very short; it had to be cut with scythes and what was cut was carried away by wind storms that repeatedly lashed the country. The second year’s crop was also a failure, and entailed extreme suffering and privation for the settlers. People collected buffalo bones for trade for their flour. Meat was almost unavailable because they could not afford to butcher any of their stock, much less buy the little that was on the market.

Beginning in 1891 through 1909 good crops were harvested, although hail did some damage in 1904. Crop failures came in the years 1910 and 1911. However, during the span of fruitful years, the farming community progressed rapidly. Four men shared the cost of a threshing machine to introduce mechanized farming in 1892. A church was built in 1893, a rectory in 1899. In the spring of 1902, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad Company (The Milwaukee Road) branch line was laid to Linton.

The town of Strasburg had its first beginning about two and one-half miles west of the parish church when a store, which was originally located by the church, was moved to the railroad. The church was moved shortly thereafter. The town continued to grow. The original church was replaced by the present structure, Saints’ Peter and Paul Parish Church which became the second consecrated church in the diocese of Bismarck. The Reformed Church was organized in 1916 and a new church building constructed in 1917. Both churches are still in use. A catholic school was proclaimed for the basement of the Catholic Church in 1910. Growth of the school required an increasing number of teachers and in 1910 a convent was opened for the Ursuline Sisters in the old church building which was rebuilt to accommodate them. They moved in April, 1912. (In 1943 the Ursuline Sisters were replaced by the Notre Dame Sisters.) In 1931 the school building, which was built in 1917 as a parochial school, was rented to the school district for its financial administration because the parish was unable to bear the financial burden. In 1935 a gymnasium with provisions for classrooms for the first few lower grades was built.

The population of Strasburg has been keeping itself around 600-700 people in recent years. Although the community may have declined in the numbers, it has tried to make life for its people better. In the later 1940’s a water and sewage system was installed. In 1958 the Strasburg State Bank a real need, was established.

In the late fifties, we found the Civic Club very active in promoting the dairy industry, and by 1960 the Emmons County Cheese Corporation became a reality. Its processing of milk began modestly, but by now reaches at times over 60,000 lbs. of milk daily. In 1966-’67 a new addition to the plant was made.

Another project came under consideration, namely, a home for the aged. The ground work for it was laid about 1960. A non-profit corporation, the Strasburg Betterment Corporation, was established specifically to bring this home to reality. Some money for construction was raised locally, and the other finances were borrowed. The cost of the home was over $700,000, and the home in now operating at full capacity and it doing well otherwise.

Strasburg didn’t forget the recreational facilities. The Lawrence Welk Park, the baseball diamond, the tennis court, and the summer recreational program all attest to the community’s interest in its young people.

Schools, too, are keeping pace with the times. In the early sixties, a new addition to the Public School and new gymnasium to St. Benedict’s were added to the educational facilities. The reorganization of the Public School System in 1966 should also improve educational opportunities for the rural areas. The formation of the Emmons County Central High School will in time show its influence.

Along with all this growth and development, one should not forget the building of new homes and the modernization of the older homes. All these make our community a better place to work and live.

Reprinted from a Souvenir Memory Book published by the Strasburg Schools Alumni Association in 1967.


The Emmons Central High School, which is a Catholic parochial school.
The public school, Catholic nuns taught in the public school until this was banned by the law.
An outside view of the Strasburg Bazaar Store. John Schmaltz, Sr. Meat Market was at Strasburg in 1914. His decedents are still in the meat business at Linton, Bismarck, and Washburn.
The Strasburg Bazaar Store was well known throughout southern North Dakota. The old church, to the left, was built in 1893 and moved to Strasburg in 1902. Later it was changed to the Ursuline Convent then to the Sisters’ home. The new Catholic Church was built in 1909.
Strasburg’s old Post Office – 1936. Mrs. Henry Rodenburg, and Postmaster John M. Klein.
Strasburg as seen many years ago.
St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Strasburg is the largest church of that community. It is the church to which the Welk family belonged and of which Lawrence Welk was a member as a child and young man. Strasburg and Linton celebrate the 4th of July. For many years the two towns alternated in celebration sites.
When Lawrence Welk visited his home in 1968, members of his family got together with him for this picture, taken in the basement of St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church. All of Welk’s brothers and sisters are alive except a brother, Louie. From left: Mrs. Barbara Derrlinger, Miss Eva Welk, Mrs. Agatha Ternes, Lawrence, Mrs. Anna Mary Mattern, John and Mike. John and Eva lived in Aberdeen. Mike and the other three sisters live in Strasburg.
Lawrence Welk donated the park and pool to Strasburg and provides funds for its operation
The Strasburg Depot, looking now much like it has always looked.
Strasburg Main Street
Strasburg Main Street
The Emmons County Cheese Corporation is the biggest business in Strasburg, specializes in white cheddar and Colby. The right side of the building is torn up because of a substantial expansion of the plant.
Landmark in Strasburg for many years has been this home for the Sisters that teach in Emmons Central. Originally of the Ursuline order, the sisters now are Benedictine nuns.
The community home for the elderly – The Strasburg Nursing Home.
Long time Strasburg barber and Dr. Taborare shown on this picture Mr. Conrad Kraft, an old pioneer, is standing in the office of the Strasburg Lumber Company – 1922.
The Old Timers should remember this picture! Michael Baumgartner an Emmons County pioneer was one of the county’s first teachers and was well known in business circles.
Also something of a landmark in Strasburg is the Mattern Ballroom and Bar – one of the first places Lawrence Welk began his career. Still operating as it has for many years, the ballroom was used this week for several women of the city for a rummage sale when this picture was taken.
Mattern Bar in Strasburg.
Welk family farm home. Mike L. Welk, Lawrence’s brother, farmed here until he retired recently.

Welk Recalls His First Job In Ipswich, South Dakota

By Bob Overturf, American-News Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: When Lawrence Welk was home in August this year (1970) he stopped in Aberdeen. The following story about his visit there appeared in the Aberdeen American News.

“In the early days, we were never quite good enough to play WyliePark.”

Lawrence Welk of champagne music fame looked over the South Dakota landscape as he remembered those first days when he played the marriages and barn dances throughout the Aberdeen area.

He was “home” to visit relatives and friends, for one short day, “the only vacation of the summer” for the musician who had just proved to three others he is as professional on the golf course as he is on national television.

His twin 40s on 18 holes of golf looked "pretty good" to Welk who said he usually runs two to six strokes over that.

From Aberdeen, he was going to North Dakota, where he was a scheduled competitor on the golf course with Gov. William Guy.

The early days, “were kind of rough,” Welk told the American-News. “I remember we used to have meal tickets for the Virginia Café, where we could eat at reduced rates. Sometimes when we ran out of money, we could even eat on credit.”

The slim bandleader said, “Aberdeen is a friendly town, People helped us.”

He said, “We kicked around here for about a year when we just started as a band. We played St. Mary’s Hall, and barn dances at Waubay, Eureka, and Ipswich.”

Welk’s talk of the old days was interrupted briefly by a group of women who had been celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary.

They helped him remember the first dance he played where he had permission from his parents to stay away from home overnight.

It was at Ipswich, and each of the women at the anniversary party had been present at the dance. Welk at the time was 21.

“We didn’t have much money in those days,” he said. “At midnight, our job was over, but somebody would take up a collection so we would play another hour.”

“I forgot how much they collected, but I remember it was loose change.” Apparently, the collection was again taken at 1am and maybe again, according to those who were there.

The next morning, when the people of Ipswich, and Welk attended church, from the pulpit came a torrent of criticism.

“The devil came to town, and had people dancing until 3am,” Was the description of the previous night’s activity.

Welk said an apology later was offered, and the band was asked to play at a school program.

“They are my best fans,” Welk said about the women who greeted him at the Aberdeen Country Club.

“Mothers have been neglected on television. Most television shows play to a more active audience, an audience that buys cars or beer.”

“They are our best audience, so we purposely include music in our show they would enjoy.”

The famous native of Strasburg, North Dakota, said, “A long time ago, in the early days I bought a new car for about $750.”

“We had a good day playing at Scatterwood Lake at 10 cents a dance, so I soon got the car paid for.”

“I then went back to Strasburg and drove back and forth on Main Street all day.”

At Selby, Welk met the man he said deserves credit for the orchestra’s acceptance today.

He teamed with George T. Kelly to perform throughout South Dakota’s small towns. “Kelly was the comedian and I play the music.”

And, he said, Kelly provided the business philosophy to keep the combination solvent for two years they were together.

“It was Kelly’s attitude toward pleasing the people, giving them entertainment without charging too much, that is one of the reasons I made it.” Welk said.

The philosophy that built the Welk orchestra and the history of the North Dakotan is being written into a book.

During the conversation, Welk was called away to the telephone, where he settled a minor problem in the book.

“It tells how we could never get more then $100 or $200 while some of the bands were getting $1000 or $2000 for playing.”

“And, it tells how we came up, while other bands went down.”

“America loves music,” Welk said. “Americans like to dance. When we stopped giving them music, they stopped going to hear the bands play.”

He said there is room for more bands on television, “if they play what the people want to hear.”

Welk said, “I always looked toward taking life easy, always saved up for it.”

“But now, I find that I am having too much fun to retire.”

The Aberdeen visit was much like those to almost any area where Welk once played.

“Mr. Welk, you don’t remember me, but you played at my wedding.”

“I played in your band one night, Mr. Welk, when your regular man couldn’t be there.”

“I saw you at the Paladium,” said a woman.

“I remember you from the dance you played a Ipswich,” said another.

Or, “Remember when you played the Surf at Clear Lake, Iowa.”

The man who, in the old days, “was never quite good enough to play WyliePark,” and is having, “too much fun to retire,” shook hands with the reporter and packed his golf gear for his upcoming game with the governor of North Dakota.

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