Chaplin at Sacred Heart
Never Met Famous Cousin

Wiebe, Joanna K. "Chaplin at Sacred Heart
Never Met Famous Cousin." n.d.

Rev. Thomas A. Welk would rather listen to folk music than the Champagne music of his famous second cousin Lawrence Welk. And Saturday evening ecclesiastical duties keep the Sacred Heart College chaplain from watching Welk’s television show or even attending his March 3 concert in Wichita.

But he respects the man who grew up in the same town as he did, the tiny German-American farm community of Strasburg, N.D.

“Lawrence Welk got going playing the accordion for the big three-day weddings in North Dakota,” Father Welk explained. “He established himself by playing as cheaply as possible for whomever wanted him. What made him so persistent was his background.”

Lawrence Welk was the son of poor immigrants who came from Germany via Russia to North Dakota. There were no trees in the northern state and sod houses had to be dug from the ground, to be heated by the buffalo chips young Lawrence gathered. Lawrence’s father and Father Welk’s grandfather were brothers, blacksmiths with shops on opposite ends of Strasburg. “We still have my grandfather’s anvil,” Father Welk said.

In German families, Father Welk said, there is a tradition of handing down a family instrument from father to son. In the Welk family, it was the accordion, and in the course of events it became young Lawrence’s. When it feel apart because of old age, his father promised to buy him one of the finest new accordions if he would stay on the farm and work off the price.

Thus Lawrence Welk did not leave North Dakota until age 21, speaking not a word of English. Then he began to extend his wedding circuit into other states.

Today, at 70, Lawrence Welk is a successful bandleader and one of the wealthiest performers in show business.

Welk and his Champagne Music Makers will be in Wichita at 8 p.m. March 3 for a concert in Henry Levitt Arena. Tickets and reservations are available at Central Ticket Agency. Featured will be the entire orchestra and 20 vocalists, dancers and soloists in a 2 ½ hour variety show.

Unless He Can find someone to handle his regular Saturday evening services at the college, Father Welk won’t be able to attend his famous cousin’s concert. But he has extended “good old North Dakota hospitality” and has invited him to visit.

He’s never met Lawrence Welk, although he has corresponded with him. “He asked me to let him know when I was ordained, which I did. Although he could not attend, he sent me a gift.”

Now at least Father Tom Welk may have a chance to meet his effervescent relative.


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