Interview with Ludwig Erck (LE)
Conducted by Joyce Reinhardt Larson (JL)
January 10, 1995
Transcription by Lena Paris
Edited and proofread by Peter Eberle
JL: The date today is January 10, 1994. I'm doing
this for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at NDSU Libraries.
Ludwig, we will begin with the first question. Can you tell me
your name, your date of birth, and where you were born?
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
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
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
LE: No brothers. I had four sisters. Two of them
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
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.
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
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
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
JL: Did your ancestors ever get homesick for the
JL: Did they have relatives that were over there
LE: Oh yeah, I think they left a brother and a sister
JL: Do you remember that they waited for mail from
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
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
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
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
LE: Not to college, but they all went to high school.
JL: So you spoke German probably in the grade school
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
JL: Yeah, if they don’t have manners.
LE: So it would be a good idea to have the same
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
LE: Your welcome.