Interview with Ludwig Erck (LE)
Conducted by Joyce Reinhardt Larson (JL)
January 10, 1995
Transcription by Lena Paris
Edited and proofread by Peter Eberle
LE: I go by initials usually. Otherwise, people called me Jack.
JL: Oh! That’s easier than Ludwig.
LE: When I went to work for the company I was working for, they didn’t like Ludwig. My middle name was John and they already had a John, so they came up with the idea and called me Jack. That’s been sticking for about sixty years.
JL: When were you born?
LE: February 23, 1914.
JL: Where were you born?
LE: McIntosh County. I was born on a farm.
JL: What is your father’s name, and what village in south Russia did your father's family come from?
LE: I just got a book. Do you want to take a look at that?
JL: This here? Oh! Welk pioneers.
LE: Yep. This is my grandfather.
JL: Who is your grandfather, Johannes Welk?
JL: Are they related to Lawrence Welk?
LE: He was a brother to Lawrence’s father.
JL: How interesting! So that's your parents.
LE: Those were my grandparents. My father passed away during the flu epidemic in 1918.
JL: So it's Johannes and Anna Welk who are your grandparents. Where did they come from in south Russia?
LE: Originally they come from Alsace-Lorraine. Then they moved to…well, it’s in the book. It's a complete history of my grandparents.
JL: I guess in Selz, Odessa, Russia. So where is your father buried?
LE: My father is buried in a country cemetery in Emmons county.
JL: Was your father born in Russia?
LE: Yes, so was my mother. My mother was three or four years old when they came over.
JL: How old was your father?
LE: He was about three years [A33], and he came with his parents, too.
JL: What was your mother’s maiden name?
JL: She was the daughter of Johannes and Anna Welk. What is your mother’s name?
JL: She married…
LE: Gabriel Erck. E-R-C-K.
JL: Was the Erck family from Russia too?
LE: Originally they came from Alsace-Lorraine too. But they settled in another village in Russia; it wasn’t Selz; it was Bessarabia or something like that.
JL: A lot of them that came to North Dakota came from there, it seems to me. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
LE: No brothers. I had four sisters. Two of them passed away.
JL: What are their names?
LE: One is Katherine, then there’s Ann, then there’s me, then Rose and the youngest one was Johanna. She died when she was about four or five years ago. She had diphtheria or something like that.
JL: How did parents decide on children’s names?
Do you have any idea?
LE: Well, our family I know, all of them—except the two youngest ones I’m not so
Sure—but the two oldest sisters were named after their grandparents, and so was I. I had both my grandfathers’ names. Ludwig John: One was Ludwig and other one was John.
JL: So really it was a way of carrying on the family name.
LE: My oldest sister, Katherine, was named after my Erck grandmother and Ann was named after the Welk.
JL: Did you have middle names?
LE: All of us.
JL: Were they important?
LE: Not until I started to work, and then I used my initials mostly [A65]. As far as the company was concerned they used to call me Jack. They did not like Ludwig, I guess. [Laughter]
JL: Well Jack is easier, I don’t know.
LE: That kind of stuck for all these years.
JL: Did your mother tell you anything about the old country in Russia?
LE: Not too much. Well she didn’t know too much either. She was only three or four when she came over with her parents.
JL: Did your father talk about it?
LE: I never knew my father. He died in 1918. I was only about three or four years old.
JL: Did your mother remarry?
LE: No, she was all by her lonesome all those years.
JL: On a farm?
LE: The first year she stayed on the farm, but then she moved to town.
JL: What town was that?
JL: What did she do to raise the kids then?
LE: She still had the farm and had income from the farm.
JL: When did she die?
LE: About fifteen years ago.
JL: So she was quite old when she died.
LE: She was in her 80s; 83 I think it was.
JL: How about your grandparents did they talk about the old country in Russia?
LE: Not too much that I can remember. Of course, I was too young yet.
JL: And probably not interested then either.
LE: No, not in those days. I often wished I had been more interested when I was younger and then they could talk about it with us.
JL: Now you have the questions?
LE: Yeah, I could have asked a lot of questions. I used to spend my summers on the farm [A87] grandparents. My grandfather got around mostly with horse and buggy. [A88]He had a pony that he harnessed up and put it on the buggy, and whenever he wanted to go somewhere he just went with the buggy. He always took me with him.
JL: How nice. How far was that from where Lawrence Welk grew up?
LE: Oh, that’s quite aways. I would say 10-15 miles.
JL: Did your ancestors ever get homesick for the old country?
JL: Did they have relatives that were over there yet?
LE: Oh yeah, I think they left a brother and a sister in Russia.
JL: Do you remember that they waited for mail from them?
LE: Oh yah. I remember my mother used to get letters from relatives that were left over there.
JL: Was that a big event to get a letter from them?
LE: It didn't seem that way. She got letters pretty regularly.
JL: How was property inherited in your parents’ and grandparents’ generation? Like your grandparents’ farm, did the oldest son get the farm then or the youngest child?
LE: What I remember—I was kind of young yet then too—they divided it up usually. The land usually was divided among the sons. If there was any cattle, that was divided up among the daughters.
JL: I see, so you can’t say it was really equal, huh.
LE: Well, it was.
JL: It was equal?
LE: Pretty well.
JL: So the value of the cattle was as much as the value of the land?
LE: Yep, just about. I don't know how they figured it out , but everybody seemed to be satisfied all the while.
JL: So there was no conflict about that.
LE: Not that I know of.
JL: Did you speak German as a child?
LE: All the time.
JL: Can you still speak German?
LE: Very little. I haven't actually talked German ever since my mother passed away. That was about fifteen years ago.
JL: You seem to speak English very well.
LE: I went to school for that. [Laughter] That’s just like… I was talking about that one time too, but when I first went to college, I had to take remedial English. [Laughter]
JL: So you made it to college, huh.
LE: Yeah. I even taught school for a few years.
JL: So your mother made sure that you got an education.
LE: Yeah, all the kids had to go to school.
JL: Did the sisters get to go to high school and college too?
LE: Not to college, but they all went to high school.
JL: So you spoke German probably in the grade school years?
LE: Yeah. Well, I think we were speaking German probably all the years before I went to school. After we went to school [A136].
JL: Did your mother know English?
LE: Not very much to begin with, but was pretty good after we grew up. In fact, she had to because I married a girl that didn't know any German; so she had to speak English.
JL: It was way of forcing it, huh.
LE: She didn't mind.
JL: How did it happen that you married a girl that didn't speak German? Wasn’t it a girl from the community?
LE: No, she was from Edgeley [North Dakota]. She didn’t know German except for what I taught her, but it wasn’t so good. [Laughter] [A150]
JL: Was that when you were in college that you got married?
LE: No, after.
JL: Where did you teach school?
LE: A country school out of Strasburg.
JL: Where did you go to college?
LE: Valley City.
JL: So you got your teachers certificate, I suppose?
JL: Do you remember kids of other nationalities in your school?
LE: No, there weren't any; in fact, they were all relatives, I think [Laughter] except one family, but they were still the same nationality.
JL: Was that in Strasburg?
LE: That was in a farm school.
JL: You lived in town, didn't you?
JL: And went out to a farm school?
JL: Was there a school in town?
LE: Yeah, but I wasn't qualified to teach there. In fact, the school we went to had teachers that were Nuns; we went to a parochial school.
JL: I guess I meant when you were in the grade school, did you go to town school or farm school?
LE: Town school.
JL: But you didn't teach in town school?
JL: In what way was church and religion important in your family?
LE: It was mostly all religion, because I went to one that only had teachers that were Nuns, so it was all Catholic school. [A173]
JL: In what language were the churches services and the prayers?
LE: Well, in the beginning they were all German. After the kids got a little bit bigger then everything was in English.
JL: How did people feel about that change when it went from German to English?
LE: I never heard too many adverse comments; so
it must have been all right with them.
Actually, in town there was quite a few different nationalities--Hollanders. They spoke mostly in English, so the people around there had to keep up with that. It worked out pretty good.
JL: What did Baptism and Confirmation mean in your family?
JL: Very important.
LE: Yeah. Ordinarily in those days they didn't wait as long as they do now days to Baptize. Usually the first week after the baby was born he was baptized.
JL: In the home?
LE: In church. They had to take them to the church. If I remember correctly, as soon as the mother was able to be up and around, they took the baby to church to be baptized. The same way when they were Confirmed…as soon as they were…I would say about twelve.
JL: Was that all in German?
LE: At first.
JL: You remember it being in German then?
JL: Were your parents and grandparents involved in founding or joining another church?
JL: They always stayed with their Catholic church.
JL: How did your family deal with death? How did
people grieve in those days?
You had a sister that passed away.
LE: I suppose people were just as sad as they are now days.
JL: Did they show it?
LE: Some of them; it all depends upon the person. I don’t think the young children showed it as much, but the older people, I think they showed their sorrow.
JL: Do you remember any funeral songs or things that took place?
LE: I remember some of them, but they were in German.
JL: You do remember those in German?
LE: I don't remember, but I know them.
JL: I thought if you do, you could sing what you know.
LE: No, I can't remember the words of any.
JL: How about wrought iron crosses in the cemeteries, are you familiar with that?
LE: Yes, there are quite a few of them in the cemetery in the Strasburg here.
JL: Did you know of anybody that made the wrought iron crosses?
LE: No, most of those probably were made before my time, because they were there all the years that I can remember.
JL: Your father’s grave, does it have one?
LE: No, there is a regular stone.
JL: Your grandparents either then?
JL: Do you know anything of the various designs on the wrought iron crosses? They mean something I guess.
LE: Yeah, I think in order to describe any, you almost have to look at them.
JL: Some of them are really nice.
LE: Some have been neglected a bunch of years.
JL: How was Christmas celebrated in your family? Did it mean a lot?
LE: Quite a bit.
JL: In what way?
LE: Mostly in a religious way. It was more of a church holiday than private. Of course everybody celebrated. I remember they had—they called them angels. They dressed like angels and went around and sang at different homes.
JL: They sang Christmas carols
JL: Was that in the evening?
LE: Ya, after it got dark they went around from house-to-house.
JL: Were they invited in?
JL: Had cookies and coffee, maybe?
LE: Yeah, usually the people gave them a little donation, but in those days that was during the depression, people didn't have very much.
JL: The people that dressed like angels, were they adults?
LE: Well, they were usually adults. They usually were members that used to belong to the choir.
JL: So they made a pretty noise, huh.
LE: Ya, they sang very nice.
JL: Did you give gifts and have a Christmas tree?
LE: Oh yah. We were talking about that the other day about the trees they used to have. I remember we used to have one at home that had candles on it. I have often wondered how come that they didn't burn down the house.
JL: Probably a bucket of water right close by?
LE: I can't remember that, but we used to light them once on Christmas Eve. That’s the only time that I remember those candles being lit. Probably a good thing that they weren’t lit more often.
JL: Did you buy a Christmas tree from the store?
LE: Yah, we always had a green tree.
JL: When you lit the candles on the tree, did you sing carols or say a prayer?
LE: That's when the angels came around, and they usually sang.
JL: I suppose you had Mass after that.
LE: Midnight Mass. We always went to that.
JL: Were presents opened in the morning?
JL: What was a typical Christmas dinner?
LE: Ham. We’d have ham every Christmas.
JL: I thought you might say goose.
LE: No, we never had goose. I had goose this year. I was down by my granddaughter’s in St. Cloud and she had a goose.
JL: Was it good?
LE: I didn't particularly like it. Of course, goose meat is kind of greasy and she tried to pour off all the grease as she went along cooking it, so it wasn't too bad, but still, you can’t get it all.
JL: Was Easter an important holiday?
JL: Again, I suppose the religious meaning to it.
JL: What did you do for Easter?
LE: Most of those holidays or holy days were religious, everything pertained to church.
JL: Like Good Friday.
LE: All during holy week we usually had services.
JL: You didn't do too much work like on Good Friday?
LE: I can't remember that we did anything on Good Friday.
JL: How were marriage ceremonies performed? In the church I suppose.
LE: Yeah. But that was a big event in all the families. When somebody got married…
JL: …they had a party, huh.
LE: Right, a big one.
JL: Tell me about these parties. I’ve heard about these Catholic weddings.
LE: Some of them lasted a couple of days.
JL: I've heard that. So they got married in church, and did after church did they come to the bride’s house?
LE: Well, it all depends. It was usually and event that the girl’s folks put on.
JL: What did they do then? Ate I suppose.
LE: Lots, and drank and danced. They did a lot of dancing in those days.
JL: Did they clear out the barn loft for that?
LE: The ones that I remember were usually in the homes. They cleared a floor in the home for dancing.
JL: Did somebody play the accordion?
JL: I suppose there was music in your family?
LE: Not so much in ours. Some of the families in our relationship had musicians. I know a cousin of mine still plays the accordion.
JL: Is he a Welk too?
JL: What kind of foods did you eat, and what kind of drinks were served at a wedding?
LE: I remember they mixed up alcohol; pretty potent stuff. One hundred eighty proof alcohol.
JL: What did they mix the alcohol with?
LE: Usually burnt sugar. [carmelized sugar]
JL: I remember my dad doing that. You cook that brown sugar and water together.
LE: They browned the sugar first, then they added water.
JL: And then the alcohol, and what was that called?
JL: Hokseit Schnapps?
LE: So there was a lot of that at the weddings?
LE: Quite a bit.
JL: How about beer?
LE: Some of them had homemade beer, but not too much of that at weddings because usually that homemade beer was kind of wild; it got away from you. [Laughter]
JL: What do you remember as a typical big feast?
LE: At a wedding they had everything: chicken, beef, pork, sausage; they had everything.
JL: What kind of German things?
LE: Homemade German sausage. They made kuchen and they had a lot of that.
JL: Wasn't that good!
LE: Oh yah. The cleaning lady brought me some. I invited the ladies from the church over one day to have it.
JL: My mom made some for Christmas, and I just finished the last piece today.
LE: The ladies like that. Of course, all of them are on a diet and that is rich.
JL: To make it good it has to have that good cream and the rich stuff.
LE: But they ate it.
JL: Was there singing that went on at a wedding?
LE: Quite a bit. That's one thing people don't do
nowdays like they used to. Anytime any people got together there
[End side A]
[Begin side B]
JL: Too bad that's not done so much anymore; that’s good entertainment.
LE: Yah, I kind of miss that. They used to have Names Days when they celebrate the saints with their names. Every year they used to celebrate those. They used a lot of singing. I kind of miss that; I love that singing.
JL: Tell me about the Names Days; I am not too familiar with that. Who would get a Saint’s name?
LE: When the children were baptized, they usually tried to pick a Saint’s name.
JL: As a middle name maybe?
LE: Sometimes just the first name too. Every year when that came around we celebrate Names Day.
JL: Was it in really religious families where they did that?
LE: I think in practically all Catholic families in those days.
JL: Is that name something you could talk about?
JL: What was your name?
LE: My name was St. Louis. But we sound it Ludwig in German. My actual name would be Louis.
JL: What was he a Saint for?
LE: He was a Saint; must have done something. You don't hear about those things anymore now days. A lot of those are things of the past.
JL: Do you think that's too bad?
LE: In a way, yes.
JL: It was a meaningful thing?
LE: Because you were named after a Saint. To be declared a saint a person must have done some good in their lifetime. They did away with that now; even the church doesn't recognize some of names were declared saints.
JL: I didn't ask you how many children you had?
JL: And what are their names?
LE: Jerry and Kathy.
JL: Did you give them saints names when they were baptized?
LE: Yah, Jerry’s name is…I always called him [B37 Yeronimus]. Kathy was named after her grandmother.
JL: How old are your kids now?
LE: Jerry was born in ‘38 and Kathy was born in ‘47.
JL: Do they live here?
LE: No, Kathy lives in Cleveland and Jerry lives in Owatonna, Minnesota.
JL: Kind of far away isn't it?
LE: Yah. Last year they were both home. They had an “Open House” party for my birthday. I hit eighty. We had a crowd here. [searching for an album, but couldn’t find it] Yeah, they did a real nice job. Jerry and Kathy took pictures of everybody that was there. Jerry tried at one time to sign in everybody, but after a while he got tired of it. We must have had about l50 people. The community room downstairs was just full.
JL: What a memory. You won't forget that will you?
LE: No, because they did such a wonderful job organizing. They did everything by telephone. It worked out real good.
JL: You had a nice place to do it here.
LE: All kinds of goodies; they had it catered. That worked out real swell.
JL: Did you have a little program too?
JL: It was just your friends and family.
LE: Yah, got together. That was a real nice day. In fact, I was in the hospital at the time, but the doctor excused me. [Laughter] Yeah, he let me go home for the party.
JL: Did you have to go back then [to the hospital]?
LE: Yah, I only had from 8 am in the morning until 8 in the afternoon.
JL: Did you feel okay?
LE: Yah, I felt wonderful!
JL: You should have a party everyday, huh.
LE: Yah. But about two weeks before that I had a stroke. That was my first outing after that.
JL: Who was your doctor?
JL: I don't know the name.
LE: He's down at Dakota.
JL: And boy Merit Care is so close.
LE: I've always gone to that Dakota.
JL: Do you remember some of the German cooking that your mother did?
LE: After my wife passed away, I made up a cook book of all the…. My wife was German, but she didn't know any German or German cooking. She learned a lot and made all of those.
JL: Are they her old recipes then?
JL: My wife’s. She learned most of those from my mother. My wife didn’t know any German at the time when we got married. My mother didn’t know any English so they had a heck of a time getting together, but my wife learned all of those things.
JL: They learned from each other, I bet.
LE: Yah, it worked out real good.
JL: What are some of the things in your cookbook - like Knepfla and Strudel?
LE: Yah. I can’t even think of those things anymore.
JL: Because you don’t get them anymore, right.
JL: Do you miss it?
LE: Yah, some of those things I miss.
JL: [Cheese knepfla] my kids like that.
LE: Those I like too.
JL: When the adults had company at home, were the children allowed to join them?
LE: Not ordinarily. In our home we had—well it would be called the dining room now. The elders took their company in that room, and the kids stayed out in the kitchen.
JL: That's the way it was, huh.
LE: Separated. They still should do that.
JL: Do you think so?
LE: Some of these places, I don't care to go there anymore because the children seem to butt in and interrupt all the time.
JL: Yeah, if they don’t have manners.
LE: So it would be a good idea to have the same thing.
JL: You know I talked to my dad about that. My dad is 76, and he said something interesting to me. He said, "I just wish we wouldn't have always been told to leave the room.” He said, “I could have learned so much more if I could have listened to the adults.” That was interesting to me that he said that; that they weren’t allowed to visit with the folks either.
LE: Well we did a lot of this with my mother. Of course we only [B111]. I remember, of course with four sisters, most of us belonged to the choir at the time. We did a lot of singing.
JL: In the home, too.
LE: Yah, in the home.
JL: What are some of the songs you sang as a child.
LE: You got me. [Laughter] If someone would mention the name, I'd remember.
JL: Did you go to dances?
LE: Oh, I just loved to dance.
JL: So where were the dances when you were a teenager?
LE: In the public hall. Yah, I used to kick up my heels. I kind of like dancing.
JL: Who went to those dances?
LE: Most everybody - some adults used to go if they weren't too old.
JL: Is that like a Saturday night affair?
LE: No, it usually was during the week.
JL: You probably had local bands that came and played?
LE: At home we used to get quite a few outside bands. They were pretty well organized.
JL: What was the attitude of the older generation toward entertainment? Did your grandparents approve of dancing?
LE: When they got together, they used to go to dances.
JL: Do you remember any games you played as a child on the school ground or when your cousins came over?
LE: I know we used to play ball.
LE: We used to play that too.
JL: You would made up your own entertainment with no radio or television?
LE: The first radio we got had a great big speaker.
JL: That was a big event.
JL: Do you remember any healing techniques that were used?
LE: The only thing I remember was the Liniment that was used for everything and cured everything.
JL: Where is the Liniment now?
LE: I haven't seen any for years.
JL: Do you ever hear about Brauche? Women that were a kind of healer?
LE: We lived on a farm, and most of us kids were born there. They used midwifes. Of course, I don't know anything about that.
JL: Were any of your relatives midwives?
JL: Did your parents or your grandparents use any other expressions in other languages that you know of like Russian?
LE: Not that I can remember.
JL: Blat Deutsch.
LE: A flat German.
JL: I am not so sure what it is; you probably do?
LE: The only German that I know is what they used at the time. I don't know what they called it.
JL: Do you remember a German newspaper that you got in your home?
JL: The North Dakota Herald, Dakota Freie Presse and Der Staats-Anzeiger.
LE: Der Staats-Anzeiger was one my mother used to have.
JL: Did she read that a lot?
JL: What was she looking for in the newspaper?
LE: Whatever she found was interesting.
JL: Do you think they ever looked for news from the old country?
LE: I don't think so, because I never heard her mention anything.
JL: Just the general news.
LE: A lot of times some of the local people had their names in the newspaper.
JL: Do you remember watching the early days of Lawrence Welk?
LE: I can remember watching him.
JL: Was that a big deal in your home because he was a relative?
LE: Not really.
JL: Did you know him? So he would have been what to you?
LE: Second cousin. He was first cousin to my mother. His folks lived next door to my grandpa.
JL: In Strasburg when they left the farm, and Lawrence was long gone wasn't he?
LE: He was gone quite a few years by then.
JL: Do you remember ever talking about Lawrence?
LE: Yes, they talked about him quite often.
JL: Were they proud of him?
LE: Very much so. He was a type of man that anybody would be proud of. Never did anything that was scandalizing.
JL: He was a good clean man.
LE: All those years he was in the public eye, never heard anything adverse about him.
JL: Do you think there was ever any resentment that he didn't take over the farm? Was that his dads wish?
LE: No, the way I understand they had an agreement that when he became of age he could leave the farm, and pursue a music career.
JL: He probably knew he wasn't cut out to be a farmer.
LE: As a youngster, he was sickly all the time so he wasn't much of a farmer.
JL: Did you ever meet his wife?
LE: Several times. She never came around very much, but whenever they came home my youngest sister used to baby-sit for them.
JL: For Larry, Shirley and Donna.
LE: I don't know if they had all of those children at the time.
JL: Which family member do you remember best? Your mother, your grandparents did you respect them a lot?
LE: I spent a lot of time on the farm with my grandparents, almost all summer.
JL: That was the Welks, and how about the Ercks?
LE: There weren't too many Ercks around. My aunt lived in town. My grandpa Erck passed away even before my father. My grandma was in her 90s when she passed away.
JL: Did you get to know her as well as the other grandparents?
LE: Yes, I think so. She stayed with her daughter who lived in town.
JL: As far as looking up to someone, who comes to mind that you learned a lot from?
LE: I would say my grandparents on the Welk side, because I associated with them more often than the other ones. I learned everything about farming from my uncle, because I stayed with them during the summer.
JL: How would you characterize the German Russians in the community and what were they like?
LE: You don't expect me to say anything adverse about them. I think I got along pretty well with all of them.
JL: Was your mother strict with you?
LE: In certain ways. I still stick a lot to what she taught us. One thing was, I still put on suit, shirt and tie when I go to church on Sundays which she insisted on. I still do that on Sundays when I go to church.
JL: You didn't do any work on Sundays either, did you?
LE: No, didn't do any work.
JL: Just the things that had to be done.
LE: There were a lot of things my mother taught us, as she didn't have very much money to go on. That was during the depression. I know one thing she said that stuck with me all those years by her saying, "If you don't have the money you don't need it."
JL: So she was pretty much on saving, and were your grandparents like that?
LE: In fact, my grandparents were very much so. They used to have the reputation of being tight. Most of those old timers were.
JL: They hung on to what they had, as they had to work hard for it.
LE: Right. They didn't waste things.
JL: Was your mother a gentle person, one you could talk to her about anything?
LE: That was one thing about our family, we seemed to get along very well all those years. In fact, I think more so after a few years, as the girls all got married and I was still home. She was afraid that I wouldn't find anybody. You know how mothers are?
JL: They encouraged people to get married younger in those days.
LE: I know as I was always at home.
JL: How old were you when you were married?
JL: That's still young.
LE: My mother thought that was old.
JL: It's been interesting, and is there anything else you would like to say?
LE: I hope I have given you satisfactory answers.
JL: Oh yes, its been very informative. Thank you so much.
LE: Your welcome.