Welk Memorabilia Arrives at NDSU

Truckload of Memories Hail N.D.’s Favorite Maestro

Pantera, Tom. "Welk Memorabilia Arrives at NDSU." Forum, 18 February 1993.

It isn’t ever day North Dakota State University’s Festival Concert Hall features and oompah band, accordion music and a bubble machine.

But then, it isn’t every day the school gets a truckload of memorabilia from one of the state’s most famous sons.

Boxes of sheet music, photographs and personal artifacts from Lawrence Welk, donated by the late band leader’s family, arrived at NDSU Wednesday morning.

North Dakota State University librarian John Bye opens a box of Lawrence Welk memorabilia Wednesday.

The event was marked with a reception hosted by NDSU officials, who lauded Welk as an important figure in the history of American popular culture. The collection came to NDSU from Santa Monica, Calif., where Welk died last May.

“We’ve got a truckload of memories to unload,” NDSU President Jim Ozbun said, “and it’s not very polite to keep the maestro waiting.”

Welk’s “spirit and music created special moments for an entire generation,” Ozbun said. “I remember my parents dancing to Lawrence Welk music in western North Dakota as he was just getting started. His place in music and broadcasting was earned through his talents and the strength of his character.”

The materials included everything from Welk’s desk to private papers, he said. Ozbun said NDSU officials also were hoping to find the honorary doctorate in music NDSU gave Welk in 1965.

“Through the preservation of his collection we will keep his spirit alive for generations to come,” Ozbun said. “Scholars will study his history, musicians will play his songs and people will dance.”

Don Stowell, director of the NDSU Division of Fine Arts, said the music from the collection will be used by the school’s oompah band and other groups.

Dean of Humanities Tom Isern said the Welk collection will be enhanced with other collections related to popular culture. “If we build it, they will come,” Isern said. “Scholars will come.”

Welk’s music still provides an important “cultural experience” for older people, he said.

Old friends and relatives were on hand for Wednesday’s reception. Victor Welk of Fargo, the band leader’s second cousin, provided the accordion music. The bubble machine used was one of the originals from Welk’s TV show.

Library Director John Beecher, who also is chairman of the committee that oversees the Welk collection, said no members of Welk’s immediate family nor any of his TV show’s stars were available.

“Somehow or other, we just couldn’t talk them out of leaving California,” he said, an apparent reference to the frigid temperatures outside the Fine Arts Center.

After the reception, student volunteers began unloading the memorabilia. The unloading was nearly something of an anticlimax; when the back of the truck was opened, the students were confronted with half a trailer of small cardboard boxes on pallets.

The first box opened by librarian John Bye contained sheet music of a kind not normally associated with Welk: an arrangement of the country music standard “Crazy,” written by Willie Nelson and made famous by Patsy Cline.

Bye said it is uncertain when the material actually will be on full-fledged display. Just the preliminary organizational work could take until summer, he said, and a full-blown exhibit may be a year or two away. Parts of the collection may go on display before then, he said. Officials are unsure where the display will be housed.

While many of those attending the event spoke of Welk with reverence, for some of the students unloading the collection it wasn’t that big a deal.

Jodie Heupel, an NDSU freshman from Aberdeen, S.D., said with a laugh she saw the call for volunteers and “there wasn’t anything else to do.”

She said she has seen Welk’s old shows a few times but wasn’t a fan. “My dad listens to polka (music), so that’s as far as it goes,” she said.

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